Written by Student Assistant Sarah Cornell-Maier
TACOMA, Wash. - A combination of well-timed hitting and clutch defense helped lift the 22nd-ranked Pacific Lutheran University baseball team to two wins on Sunday against Northwest Conference rival Pacific University, completing the three-game sweep over the course of the weekend. The Lutes pounded the Boxers 13-3 in the opener before securing the 4-2 win in the nightcap.
In both games, the real action didn't start until the latter half of the game. In game one, the PLU (12-3, 10-2 NWC) bats showed up later than they wanted, with only two hits in the first four innings of play. However, in the fifth inning a light bulb went off for the hitters. Jacob Clements started out the inning with a hard double up the left field line, and Connor Cantu pushed a solid bunt onto the grass, reaching first safely and advancing Clements to second. Ben Welch then came up to the plate and launched a ball into left field for an RBI double, scoring Clements before a Tanner Williams sacrifice fly brought in Cantu. Cole Johnson doubled to right field, driving in Welch for an RBI before the Lutes scored two more runs on errors to end the inning with five runs on four hits.
In the next inning, the Lute hitters proved they had woken up as Clements smacked a single to center field before stealing second. Cantu then walked, and was followed by a Welch single to load the bases. Landon Packard then showed up with sacrifice fly to right field, getting the RBI as Clements scored. That was followed by a blazing two RBI double from VanderStaay, driving in Welch and Cantu. Cole Johnson drove VanderStaay in from second with an RBI single.
In the bottom of the seventh inning, the Lutes didn't let the Boxers off the hook as they drove in four more runs, with two batters being walked before an RBI single by Welch, putting two runners on base for Tanner Williams. Williams drove in a run on an RBI single, advancing to second on an error by the Pacific outfield. Welch then scored on a wild pitch, allowing Williams to advance to third before being driven in on an RBI sacrifice fly by Packard.
First-year pitcher Chad Gideon had a powerful performance, only allowing six hits out of the 27 batters he faced.
"I wanted to pitch well enough to win the series right away and it worked out for me," said Gideon. "My defense played great, like always. We were able to explode offensively late in the game to bury them which was awesome."
In game two, the Lutes struggled to get players on base, with only one hit in the first five innings of play. In the bottom of the sixth, Landon Packard hit a soaring triple to center field, and was then driven in with on a double from Kory VanderStaay. After reaching the base, VanderStaay turned around and did a celebratory dance towards the dugout.
"Whoever hits the first double of the season comes up with something and most of the players do that for the rest of the year whenever a double is hit," he said. "It's just a fun way for the hitter to celebrate with the players in the dugout."
In the bottom of the seventh, both Frank Airey and Connor Cantu were walked, putting two on base for Ben Welch. Welch drove in a run with an RBI single, and then advanced to second on a wild pitch, allowing Cantu to advance to third. Landon Packard then came up to the plate and drove in two runs with a powerful two RBI double to right field. Although this was the last offensive scoring of the game, the Lutes managed to keep the Boxers (8-10, 3-9 NWC) at bay, stranding five of their runners on base in the final two innings.
Head Coach Nolan Soete was impressed with the overall performance on Sunday. "Overall we had a lot of quality at-bats today. Welch, Packard, and VanderStaay set the tone all weekend," he said. "I was also really impressed with the bullpen all weekend."
The Lutes are now sitting comfortably in first place in the Northwest Conference with a record of 10-2 in conference play. The team is traveling next weekend to play four games against Whitworth University in Spokane, Washington.