Written by Student Assistant Christian Bond
TACOMA, Wash. – The Pacific Lutheran University baseball team has momentum on its side for the double elimination Northwest Conference Tournament after closing the regular season with a three-game sweep of nationally-ranked California Lutheran University. The third-seeded Lutes open the tournament on Friday at 5 p.m., facing second-seeded Willamette University in McMinnville, Oregon.
Jacob Gleichman will get the start on the mound for the Lutes (22-10, 17-7 NWC) against Willamette. He spent his first two years at Columbia Basin College in Pasco, Washington. He was drawn to PLU after meeting members of the team. He saw the success the program has had, and wanted to be a part of it.
"The intensity and competition," Gleichman said. "There is nothing like playoff baseball. Playing in Linfield is a competitive, thrilling environment. I can't wait to strap up the cleats with my brothers and go compete."
Gleichman will graduate in May, but his experience with PLU won't be finished. Gleichman, along with 10 other classmates, and two faculty members will be taking a trip to Nicaragua. In seven days, the PLU students will installing freshwater wells, along with teaching a local village about hygiene.
The wells will provide freshwater for years to come. Without the wells, locals have to hike three miles before finding drinkable waters. The service of Gleichman and fellow classmates will change their lives forever.
Gleichman was introduced to the trip by Dr. Mark Mulder and Dr. Amanda Feller. Even though Gleichman is earning internship credit for the trip, he has always enjoyed putting others before himself.
"Being able to have this awesome opportunity not only to serve those in need, but to have it count as my required internship seemed too good to be true," Gleichman said. "Anything Dr. Mulder does is always superb. Knowing he is the one in charge really assured my decision."
Gleichman's willingness to put the good of the group before himself has led to success on the mound. In 10 starts this season, the Sammamish, Washington native has thrown 63 2/3 innings, giving up 55 hits, and only 22 earned runs. He's walked 11, but struck out 33 batters. He's pitched to a solid 3.13 earned run average.
"Pitching is interesting," Gleichman said. "It is both an independent battle amongst yourself as well as a battle against the other team. You also fight for the other eight guys behind you. I think keeping the focus on the team and doing what is best for your teammates rather than focusing on how good of a job you did personally, just reflects the importance of putting the team and those around you first."
Gleichman will look to help his team into round two of the Northwest Conference Tournament with a win over Willamette on Friday. Friday's winner returns to the diamond on Saturday at 3 p.m. and will face the winner of the Linfield-Whitworth University game while the loser hits the field at noon.
Apr. 21: PLU vs. Willamette at Roy Helser Field in McMinnville, Ore. (5 p.m.)
Series History: Willamette owns a 60-56 advantage in the all-time series since 1980, including winning all three encounters this season. The Bearcats won the opener 9-5 on April 1 before waking game two in walkoff fashion with a 5-4 victory. Willamette cemented the home sweep the following day, outlasting the Lutes 4-3 with a balk in the 10th inning providing the decisive score.
About the Bearcats: Willamette (26-12, 18-6 NWC) is making its first appearance in the NWC Tournament, securing the two seed after closing the regular season by winning nine of its final 10 games.
The Bearcats rank second in NWC with a team earned run average with a 4.33. Matt Steindorf has been their ace, leading the conference with seven wins in 12 games with 54 strikeouts and a 3.86 ERA. Benjamin Whitten has five wins while Jett Gallagher has five wins and four saves.
The Bearcats bat .273 as a team, good enough for fifth in conference. Speed is a weapon for Willamette, as Perry Van Eckhardt and Mason Fessler have combined for 26 stolen bases on the year. Connor Bailey is the Bearcats' top hitter, owning a .333 average at the plate with 25 RBIs and 17 extra base hits.
About the Wildcats: Linfield (24-10, 19-5 NWC) is the top team and host of the tournament after winning 10 of its final 11 games of the regular season. The Wildcats are the best pitching team in the conference with a 3.28 ERA that is over a run better than the second best pitching squad in the league. Cason Cunningham leads the way, owning a 1.65 ERA in 65 1/3 innings pitched.
The Wildcats are solid with the sticks as well, leading the conference with a .308 batting average and a .458 slugging percentage. Linfield's swatted 34 home runs and have the third fewest strikeouts (197) in the conference. Three Linfield hitters rank in the top five for batting average. Scott Hilpert is hitting .383 with 12 home runs, Brady Rediger is hitting .380, and Ryan Pladson is at .372.
About the Pirates: Last season, Whitworth (22-13, 12-12 NWC) won the regular season and made it all the way to the championship game before falling to PLU. This season the Pirates barely got in with the fourth and final postseason spot, owning an identical 12-12 NWC record as George Fox University but getting the nod after winning two of three against the Bruins.
On the mound the Pirates own a 4.50 team ERA. Matthew Young is the team leader in strikeouts with 39 on the year while owning a 5-2 record with one complete game. Kelly Fitzpatrick has been a tough reliever for Whitworth, collecting four saves with 17 strikeouts in 17 2/3 innings of work.
Whitworth leads the league in scoring, generating 235 runs while boasting the fourth best team batting average in the conference (.279). Matthew Nelson is the best RBI man in the conference, knocking in 44 on the year. He's hit 11 home runs this season while teammate Jordan McGowan has driven in 32 runs, fourth most in conference.