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March 11, 2012

Huge Statement! Lutes Sweep Aside No. 1 Linfield

McMINNVILLE, Ore. - They are what you might call a couple of huge statement wins.

Pacific Lutheran scored six runs in the top of the seventh inning of the second game for a 6-2 victory, and that combined with a 9-5 win in the opening game on Sunday gave the Lutes a Northwest Conference softball doubleheader sweep of the defending national champion and No. 1-ranked Linfield Wildcats at Del Smith Stadium.

With the sweep, the Lutes improve to 11-1 in the conference and 13-5 overall, while Linfield is now 12-2 overall and 10-2 in the NWC.

A couple of huge statement wins indeed.

"I was so proud of them for battling 14 innings against a really good team, and Linfield is a really good team. They just didn't give up, they fought to the very end," PLU head coach Erin Van Nostrand said of her team.

The second game rally seemed unlikely as Linfield's Karina Paavola cruised into the top of the seventh and final inning with a shutout. Katie Lowery and Haley Harshaw started the rally with back-to-back base hits. After an out, Montessa Califano tied the game with a triple, her third of the season, over the left fielder's head. Stacey Hagensen hit an opposite field triple to drive in Califano with the go-ahead run, and Kaaren Hatlen followed with a home run, her second of the day and fifth of the season, to make it 5-2 PLU. 

The Lutes weren't done, however, as Amanda Hall hit a double and came home on another double by Lindsey Matsunaga. When it was all said and done, the Lutes had scored their six runs on seven hits. Linfield's only error of the inning did not affect the scoring.

Hatlen retired Linfield in order in the bottom of the seventh, including a strikeout of Grace Middelstadt for the third out, to finish her complete-game effort. She limited the high-powered Linfield offense to two earned runs on five hits while fanning two and walking two. With the win, she improved to 5-0 this season.

"I told (Kaaren) after the game that I have never been more proud of a single player ever," Van Nostrand said. "To step up there and do what she did, to compete and compete over and over again. She was confident and poised. She was awesome."

Pacific Lutheran finished the game with 12 hits including two apiece by Hatlen, Hall, Lowery and Harshaw. Califano and Hatlen both drove in two runs for the Lutes.

Paavola suffered the loss, her first against six wins, giving up five runs on 10 hits in 6 1/3 innings.

In the opener, the Lutes scored six runs in the first three innings to build a 6-3 lead, and they iced the game with three more runs in the top of the sixth inning.

PLU scored a pair of two-out runs in the first inning when Hagensen hit a double and Hatlen followed with a homer over the fence in right field.

Linfield got three runs back on three hits and a PLU error in the bottom of the first, but undaunted, the Lutes scored three times in the top of the second. Matsunaga led off with a single, Glenelle Nitta reached on the first of four Linfield errors, and both runners moved up a base on Kylee Oshiro's sacrifice bunt. Califano followed with a two-run single, and she came around to score on Linfield's second error of the inning.

Pacific Lutheran made it 6-3 with another run in the third when Hatlen led off with a double and pinch runner Spencer Sherwin eventually scored on Matsunaga's ground out.

The Wildcats chipped away at their deficit, scoring solo runs in the fourth and fifth innings to make it 6-5 in favor of PLU entering the top of the sixth. That's when the Lutes put the game away, and it came with a big swing from Matsunaga. With Hagensen and Hatlen on base following singles, Matsunaga drilled her fifth homer of the season to put the Lutes ahead 9-5, and that is how the game ended.

Hatlen was 3-for-3 with two runs and two RBI to lead PLU's 11-hit offense. Matsunaga was 2-for-4 with two runs scored and four RBI, Hagensen had two hits and two runs scored, and Califano had a pair of hits and two RBI.

Hagensen went the seven-inning distance, allowing five runs, four earned, on 11 hits while walking none and striking out five. With the win, the 2011 NWC Pitcher of the Year improved her season record to 7-3.

Linfield starter Lauren Harvey suffered her first loss of the season, allowing six runs on four hit in four innings.

Pacific Lutheran returns to Northwest Conference action next weekend when it travels to Newberg, Ore., to face George Fox in a four-game series. The teams play a pair of doubleheaders on Saturday and Sunday, with first pitch both days at noon.

- PLU -