END TO 2011: With the Northwest Conference tournament coming to a bitter end, the Pacific Lutheran University softball team looks to the NCAA to decide its fate and whether it will continue on to the NCAA Division III national tournament. Even without a berth to the tourney, the Lutes enjoyed a fantastic season which saw them win more than 30 games for the first time since 2003 when the team went 32-3 under then head coach Rick Noren.
COACHING CLINIC: The 2011 season continued coach Erin Van Nostrand's improvement over the past three seasons. At the helm since 2009, Van Nostrand has improved upon her previous year's winning mark in every season. The 2009 season saw the team go 18-22, but in 2010 the Lutes won 23 games under the young coach. This year marked another level of improvement with the team finishing ranked No. 6 in the West Region and just out of the national top 25 (coaches poll) with their record of 31-13. In just three seasons of work, Van Nostrand has flipped the Lutes' winning percentage from .450 in 2009 to .705 this season, showing the strides the program is making to return to national prominence in the coming years.
SETTING RECORDS: Should the season be over, this year saw an offensive outbreak from the Lutes, as the team improved its overall batting average 27 points from 2010 en route to breaking several team and individual offensive marks. The Lutes broke the single-season team home run record with 39, taking down the old record of 36 set by the 1999 and 2003 Lute teams. Lindsey Matsunaga, a frosh shortstop out of Hawaii, led the Lutes with 10 homers this season, tying her for second with Tharen Michael (1999) on the single-season list. Two-time first team All-America catcher Shannon Fritzke clubbed 14 homers in 2002. Amanda Goings broke into the single-season hits records, recording 61 hits which was good for a tie for sixth with Sheree Deskin (1998) and Karen Stout (1988). Glenelle Nitta has the dubious distinction of breaking the hit by pitch record with 14 (formerly 10, Andrea Wells, 2005). Kaaren Hatlen is second now with 12 hit by pitches. Hatlen and Matsunaga each finished the season with 44 RBI, which ties them for seventh in the single-season RBI list with Brenda Dobbelaar (1990) and Gretchen Ruecker (2006). Hatlen is also fifth in single-season doubles with 15.
DRASTIC IMPROVEMENTS: On the mound, junior Stacey Hagensen made drastic improvements from 2010 when she finished 4-7 with a 3.49 ERA. This season, Hagensen led the Lutes in pitching, going 21-6 with a team low 2.30 ERA. The earned-run mark was good for fourth in the conference behind three Linfield pitchers, and the 21 wins was the highest in the conference. Of the six losses that Hagensen sustained in 2011, three came to the offensive arsenal at Linfield College, the No. 1-ranked team in the nation, and Hagensen beat the Wildcats in her first appearance against them this season. It is one of only two losses suffered by Linfield this season.
NWC TOURNEY: Pacific Lutheran finished 2-2 at the Northwest Conference tournament held last Friday and Saturday at Linfield College in McMinnville, Ore. The Lutes beat Whitworth in their opener, 3-0, and then lost to Linfield, 11-2 in five innings, both on Friday. Playing a loser-out game on Saturday morning, PLU handled Whitworth once again, this time 8-0 in six innings. In the final game of the season for the Lutes, Linfield was too much in the NWC championship game, taking the game 11-6 to ensuring that the No. 1-ranked team in the nation took the automatic bid to the national tourney. Several Lutes shined at the plate when the pressure was on this past weekend. Amanda Goings hit an astounding .667 in the four games of the tourney with eight hits, two RBI, and four runs scored. Haley Harshaw hit .500 for the Lutes with five hits and two RBI, while Lindsey Matsunaga hit .400 in the four games.
WAITING AND HOPING: Now the Lutes will have to wait and hope that the national tournament committee looks favorably on some of the valuable in-conference and non-conference wins that the Lutes have accumulated this year. An important factor in the thinking of the national selection committee is a team's regional ranking, and PLU pulled down the No. 6 West Region ranking in last week's poll. Linfield was ranked No. 1, followed by East Texas Baptist, Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (the only other team besides PLU to beat Linfield this season), Texas-Tyler, Redlands, and then PLU. Laverne is ranked seventh, followed by Mary Hardin-Baylor (Texas). Though the Lutes lost five of six against Linfield this season, the one win at home will stand out to those selecting teams, for the Wildcats (41-2) only dropped two games all season. The Lutes also split road games with Redlands earlier this season, giving the Lutes a strong case regionally for national recognition and a bid to the tournament. Just a note of consideration, however, is that in other Lute sports, the national committee has shied away from picking PLU as an atl-arge team despite the on-field achievements PLU has made. Men's soccer, volleyball, and baseball have all been overlooked by national selections committees after wonderful seasons in 2009 (soccer, baseball) and 2010 (baseball, volleyball). Historically, some PLU teams, as well as other NWC teams, have received national tournament at-large bids. Bottom line, don't assume that the Lutes are either out, or in, when the national tournament field is selected.
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