Written by Student Assistant Christian Bond
TACOMA, Wash. – The Pacific Lutheran University baseball team sits atop the Northwest Conference standings after two weeks of conference action and looks to build on that lead this weekend with a four-game series in Oregon against Linfield College.
The Lutes (7-2, 5-1 NWC) took all three games in their series against Lewis & Clark College last weekend at home with, 7-1, 3-2, and 9-7, victories. At the end of games two and three, Tanner Williams was standing in unfamiliar territory. The senior picked up his first career win on the mound in game two. In game three, he'd earn his first career save.
"It feels great," Williams said. "Definitely something I never thought I'd do here at PLU."
Before this season, Williams had never pitched an inning for the Lutes. He saw his most playing time as a sophomore during the 2015 season. Williams played in 20 games, compiling 16 hits in 48 at bats. He worked eight walks, and drove in 11 RBIs. Things looked bright for Williams until a bite was taken out of his progression.
Tyler Thompson may have moved on from the PLU baseball program, but his teeth haven't. During the early weeks of spring practice of the 2016 season, the team was scrimmaging. Williams was trying to earn a spot as the team's catcher.
A pop fly was hit in foul territory up the third base line. Thompson was playing third, and made an effort to get to the ball, Williams did the same from behind the plate. The two collided. Williams left knee was hyperextended on the play, as Thompson's face smashed into his left elbow. The teeth marks are visible to this day. Thompson needed a few root canals, but was able to play during the 2016 season. Williams wasn't as fortunate.
"At first, I thought he had the worst of the situation," Williams said. "He couldn't eat for a few days, and all I had was a sore knee and bite marks. I found out my ACL was torn a few weeks after and was pretty shook. We had a good team and I was looking forward to being a part of the success of last year."
Williams was anxious to get healthy to help his team in the 2017 season. His willingness to play multiple infield positions, including catcher led to a funny idea. His teammates wanted to see what he could do on the mound.
Williams is listed as an infielder, but has made three appearances on the mound this season. He's gone 4 ⅔ innings and struck out two batters. The mound may be unfamiliar territory for Williams, but his contributions have been crucial to the Lutes' early season success.
"It's good to be a part of the team again and help in any way possible," Williams said.
The series begins on Saturday with a doubleheader getting underway at noon. The series continues on Sunday with the NWC finale at noon followed by a non-conference game after the conclusion of game one.
Mar. 4 & 5: PLU vs. Linfield at Roy Helser Field in McMinnville, Oregon (12 PM)
Series History: All time, the Wildcats have a big advantage of the Lutes, owning a 86-32 lead in the series. The two teams have played 10 times over the past two seasons. PLU has won six of those ten matchups, going 4-1 against them in 2015.
About the Wildcats: Linfield (6-4, 4-2 NWC) sits tied for second with Willamette University in the Northwest Conference standings, each holding a 4-2 conference record. Linfield played a bizarre game against Chapman University in Tucson, Arizona on Feb. 11, scoring 19 runs that game, but failed to come up with the win, as Chapman scored 20.
Outfielder Scott Hilpert is leading the conference in batting average, hitting .477 with three home runs. He also leads the conference in runs batted in with 19. He'll be tough out all series long for the Lutes.