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Emory's comeback ends Lutes' season; Two Lutes named to All-Tourney Team

Ben Welch / Photo by Amanda Williams
Ben Welch / Photo by Amanda Williams

DEMOREST, Ga. – A historic 2015 season came to an end for the Pacific Lutheran baseball team Saturday as fifth-seeded Emory scored twice in the bottom of the eighth inning to defeat the second-seeded Lutes 7-6 in the NCAA Div. III South Regional at Loudermilk Field.

Pacific Lutheran ends the season with a 32-14 record, the second-most wins in team history, and a 2-2 mark in its second trip to the regional tournament. Emory, the 2014 NCAA Div. III national runner-up, improves to 29-13 and advances to the South Regional championship game Saturday afternoon against third-seeded Birmingham-Southern.

A pair of Lutes were named to the South Regional All-Tournament Team. Pitcher Kyle Rossman tossed eight innings of two-run ball in his lone start of the week to earn recognition, while shortstop Ben Welch finished with seven hits in the four games to also pick up the all-tourney honor.

Chris Bishop started for the Lutes on only two days of rest and pitched seven innings, yielding four runs in the first before settling down to give up only one more over the next six frames. He threw 118 pitches and struck out five while allowing eight hits. AJ Konopaski took his first loss of the season after allowing two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning.

Pacific Lutheran scored three runs in the top of the first, as Frank Airey singled and Landon Packard and Collin Nilson loaded the bases on consecutive walks. Welch hit a two-out single through the right side to score two, and Jacob Clements followed with a single through the left side to put the Lutes up 3-0.

That lead did not last long, as Emory scored four in the bottom of the inning on three hits, a fielder's choice and a walk. But PLU bounced back with two more in the top of the second to reclaim the lead. Airey worked a full-count walk and Packard doubled to left center to put runners on second and third. Infield singles by Tyler Thompson and Welch brought both runners home to make it a 4-3 game.

The Lutes maintained that lead until the bottom of the fifth, when the Eagles strung together a double and two singles to tie it up. PLU once again took a one-run lead in the top of the seventh, with Welch starting the inning off by singling through the left side. He advanced to second on a balk and reached third on a sacrifice bunt. After a lineout picked up the second out of the inning, Connor Cantu singled to left to put PLU up 6-5.

Konopaski came in to relieve Bishop in the bottom of the eighth, looking to seal up the win with a two-inning save. After Konopaski picked up the first out, a hit batter and single through the right side put the tying run in scoring position and the go-ahead run on first. Wes Peacock took advantage of the opportunity tripling to center to turn the one-run PLU lead into a 7-6 Emory lead. Konopaski got a strikeout and a groundout to end the inning, but the damage was done.

PLU still had a chance in the top of the ninth, facing the same Kyle Monk against whom the Lutes scored four runs in the comeback victory on Wednesday. Bo Pearson was hit by a pitch and Cantu reached on a fielder's choice to keep the tying run on first with two outs. Airey singled through the right side to leave runners at the corners, but Packard grounded out to third to end the game.

Welch finished the day with four hits and three runs batted in for the Lutes, while Airey reached base five times courtesy of three hits and two walks. Pearson also tallied a pair of hits, while Airey and Packard each scored twice. Peacock drove in four runs for Emory, while Philip Maldari tallied two hits and drove in two runs. Monk earned his 10th save of the season for the Eagles.