Written by Student Assistant Sarah Cornell-Maier
TACOMA, Wash. – The 18th-ranked Pacific Lutheran University baseball team started off its weekend of games with an 11-5 win against Northwest Conference rival Whitman College before coming from behind to shock the Blues with a 9-8 walkoff victory in the nightcap for the doubleheader sweep on Saturday at PLU Field.
The Lutes (16-5, 14-3 NWC) fought hard in the first game, coming up with 14 hits and were consistent throughout the game, only going three innings without generating any runs.
After a three-run first inning for the Blues (11-14, 6-8 NWC), the Lutes came into the bottom of the first inning hungry. After a lead-off double from senior Ben Welch, senior Landon Packard got on base and advanced to second thanks to Anthony Gosline. Then senior Kory VanderStaay came up to the plate and showed why he is the one of the best hitters in the NWC, with a screaming three-run home run over the right field fence. Jacob Bockelie then got on base, and on a Jacob Clements double to left center field to give PLU the 4-3 lead.
"As a lead off I am always trying to set a tone early in the game. I want to see pitches up in the zone that I can handle so I can get on base for our middle of the order guys," said Welch.
In the second inning, Packard drove in Welch to give the Lutes a 5-3 lead.
A sacrifice fly from VanderStaay in the fourth inning brought in Gosline, while a single to left field from Cantu drove in Bockelie in the bottom of the fifth inning, with Welch then driving in Cantu on a single to center field.
In the bottom of the seventh, Gosline sent a rocket of a single through the right side, bringing in both Cantu and Matt Vick to bring the score to 10-5. VanderStaay scored on a wild pitch in the bottom of the 8th inning, solidifying the win for the Lutes.
The Lutes fielding proved just how strong they were, accounting for a large portion of the outs in the game. VanderStaay, Jacob Clements, and Cantu all came in clutch to help the Lutes defense
"We have the best defense in the country, so there's never a doubt in my mind that we will make the plays our pitchers need us to," said Clements.
Andrew Curran pitched 2 1/3 innings of relief to secure the win, improving to 3-1 on the season while WC starter Nick Johnson lasted just four outs after yielding five earned runs. Whitman's Steven Ainsworth absorbed the loss after allowing three earned runs in two innings or work.
The Lutes entered the second game with a similar lineup, only changing pitchers and catchers. The first five innings proved to be a pitching duel between a pair of freshman in Blues' pitcher Eric Ma and Lutes' pitcher Chad Gideon. The pitchers each gave up a run in the third inning, with the Lutes getting their run when a combination of Gosline's base running and a single from Jacob Bockelie brought Gosline in to score.
After another three full innings with no runs, the Lutes had a rough top of the seventh inning, giving up five runs on a combination of RBI hits from four different players on the Blues.
The Lutes fought hard to try and stay in the game, but couldn't manage to catch up to the Blues' offense until the final inning. A clutch single for VanderStaay brought in Welch in the bottom of the 7th inning, and a strong double from Gosline in the bottom of the 9th brought in Cantu.
A sacrifice fly from Landon Packard drove in Welch in the bottom of the ninth, and Gosline was driven in from a groundout by Packard. Marques Carlson came in clutch in the bottom of the ninth, driving in two runners on a powerful double to right field before getting replaced by pinch runner Austin Gormley.
Cory Ng came in as a pinch runner for Brett Johnson, who drew a walk to get on base. Ng tied the game, scoring on a wild pitch while a Cantu single plated Gormley for the game winning score as the Lutes tallied seven runs in the final frame.
"With our offense we never feel that we are out of a game no matter the score and we proved that today," said Ben Welch.
Tanner Zuber came in as a relief pitcher for the top of the eighth, striking out two batters on his way to the win.
"The ninth inning was crazy," said Clements. "Everyone contributed that inning, and a lot of guys come off the bench and stepped up for us. That was the definition of a team effort and a team win."
"We played good defense all day," said Head Coach Nolan Soete. "The ninth inning comeback in game two was special. Cantu started it off and finished it. Ben Welch had a big day at the plate and Marques Carlson had a clutch double in the ninth that gave us a shot to win it. Whitman is a good team, we need to play well tomorrow."
The Lutes return to action Sunday at 11 a.m. with another doubleheader against the Whitman Blues at PLU Field.