McMINNVILLE, Ore. - Not giving the NCAA Division III national tournament selection committee an opportunity to deal out heartbreak as it did a year ago, Pacific Lutheran punched its own ticket to NCAA postseason play Sunday by winning the Northwest Conference softball tournament title at Del Smith Stadium.
Senior Stacey Hagensen shut down the tournament host, No. 1-ranked and defending national champion Linfield Wildcats, limiting the prolific offensive machine to just two hits in a 3-0 whitewash. Earlier in the day, Linfield scored three runs in the bottom of the sixth to eliminate Willamette, 4-2. Next, the Wildcats came back in the first game against the Lutes, scoring three runs in its final at-bat to win, 3-2, and forcing an "if necessary" game against the No. 5-ranked Lutes. Hagensen, the NWC Pitcher of the Year in 2011, made sure that her teammates and their fans would get to celebrate a national tournament berth.
Pacific Lutheran has defeated Linfield four times in seven games played this season between the two conference rivals.
The Lutes scored two runs in the first inning against Linfield starter Shelby VandeBergh, the Wildcats' No. 3 pitcher who earlier this year beat PLU in Parkland. Glenelle Nitta reached first base on a Linfield error, the team's bugaboo throughout the tournament, and Hagensen and Kaaren Hatlen followed with singles with Nitta scoring on Hatlen's hit. Katie Lowery drove in Hagensen when she grounded out to short.
As it turned out, Hagensen and Lutes needed only one of those runs. Not taking any chances, however, PLU added the game's final tally on Amanda Hall's fourth homer of the season in the fourth inning.
Hagensen retired Linfield in order in four of the first six innings and took her shutout in the seventh when the 'Cats got a one-out single and a walk, which was the first free pass allowed by the PLU senior in 51 innings. The walk came on a 16-pitch at bat. With Linfield looking at two opportunities to tie the game with a swing of the bat, Hagensen instead closed out the game with a pop up and fly out.
In the earlier contest between the two teams, Pacific Lutheran was one out away from winning the conference tournament championship when the Wildcats pulled out the victory.
Pacific Lutheran's Hatlen and Linfield's VandeBergh were locked in a scoreless pitcher's duel until the sixth when the Lutes scored both of their runs. With two outs in the inning, Hatlen hit a single, Lowery walked and Matsunaga reached on an error. Hall followed with a double to left field, driving in Hatlen and Lowery. VandeBergh was pulled from the game in favor of Karina Paavola, who got out of the inning.
Hatlen, already with a pair of wins over Linfield this season, took her shutout into the bottom of the seventh.
With a runner on second and two out, a pinch hit single accounted for the first run. Another single put two runners on base and brought Hagensen to the pitcher's circle in favor of Hatlen. Hagensen hit Jaydee Baxter with a pitch to load the bases, and Staci Doucette followed with a two-run, game-deciding single.
Hatlen took the hard-luck loss and the win went to Paavola. The Lutes managed just three hits in the contest compared to eight for the Wildcats.
Having to play a second game against Linfield only magnified PLU's resolve to win the tournament, and that goal was accomplished a couple of hours later.
- PLU -