Written by Student Assistant Jake Bilyeu
TACOMA, Wash. – After nabbing a win at the end of last weekend, the Pacific Lutheran University softball team finds itself just a few strong performances away from the Northwest Conference Tournament. The Lutes host rival University of Puget Sound for senior day on Friday afternoon, and they'll follow that up by visiting the Loggers to wrap up the regular season on Saturday afternoon, all while vying for one of the four NWC Tournament berths.
The Lutes (17-13, 13-11 NWC) currently sit at third place in the conference standings, two games ahead of fifth place Willamette University, who face Pacific University this weekend. The Lutes control their own destiny heading into the final weekend of NWC play and can guarantee a spot in the playoff for the first time since 2013 by winning at least three of the four games. Head coach Brandi Gordon Bennett isn't worried about the pressure. Instead, she's been enjoying the thrill of leading her team to success in her first year at the helm.
"It's good for us to be in the playoff hunt this year, and I'm excited to potentially be working with them past this weekend," Gordon Bennett said. "The team has welcomed me with open arms since day one, and to really have that mentality coming in has been awesome."
As senior day approaches, Gordon Bennett is optimistic, feeling that the team has prepared enough to advance past this weekend.
"Our preparation has been good this week, and we're using our time wisely to stay ready to play some great games," Gordon Bennett said. "Coming off of a big win helps with momentum, but, above all, we just have to play good softball this weekend."
PLU's tournament chances got a big boost on Sunday after earning a 7-1 victory over league leaders Whitworth University. The upset win came just one week after earning a series split against nationally-ranked Linfield College.
Whether or not their season continues past this weekend, many Lutes will still be taking their home field for the final time this Friday. The Lutes' seniors will have to find calm in a storm of emotions on Friday as they aim to extend their season, and their softball careers.
"It kinda makes me nervous approaching my last home games," Gracen Malich said. "It's been a great few years, I've made a great groups of friends, and we're just staying bonded and staying focused on this weekend."
Malich has built a new relationship with Gordon Bennett, her third head coach at PLU, and she's confident that this will be far from the last time they take the field together.
"Coach has done a great job being prepared for everything this year," Malich said. "Before the season started she spoke with us, and always had a plan for everyone, and I plan to continue working with her after I'm done playing with her. I'll always be a Lute."
Apr. 14: PLU vs. UPS at PLU Field in Tacoma, Washington (12 PM)
Apr. 15: PLU vs. UPS at Logger Field in Tacoma, Washington (12 PM)
Series History: The Lutes and Loggers have met on 144 occasions with PLU holding a commanding 111-31-1 lead in the all-time series. The Lutes have won 23 of the last 25 in the series, including three of the four games contested last season.
About the Loggers: Puget Sound (12-23, 5-19 NWC) heads across town having dropped nine of its last 10 games. The Loggers were swept by Linfield last weekend before splitting a pair of games on Tuesday afternoon. The Loggers tallied three runs in the second inning against Lewis & Clark College, securing the 4-2 victory before suffering a 9-1 setback to Pacific to cap off the day.
Jessica Gott is UPS's top bat, owning a .374 batting average at the plate with 15 extra base hits and 24 RBIs. Jaci Young has driven in 17 RBIs while Kristi Nagamine has 16 RBIs.
Young and Erica Gott have handled the bulk of the pitching duties for UPS, both owning 38 strikeouts on the season. Young boasts a 4.25 earned run average while Gott leads the team with six victories inside the circle.