Written by Student Assistant Jake Bilyeu
TACOMA, Wash. – After a four year absence, the Pacific Lutheran University softball team is back in the postseason, opening up the double-elimination Northwest Conference Tournament on Friday afternoon in Spokane, Washington. The third-seeded Lutes will open on Friday against second-seeded Linfield College at 2:30 p.m.
The Lutes (20-14, 16-12 NWC) split their four meetings with 22nd-ranked Linfield on the road this season back on April 1 and 2 in McMinnville, Oregon. The host Wildcats took the opening game on both days, securing 5-1 and 6-5 wins while PLU took the nightcap both days, earning a 3-0 shutout on Aptil 1 and a 5-3 win to cap the series. Friday's winner will move one game closer to the NWC Championship game, facing the other first round winner at 2:30 p.m. on Saturday while the loser faces an elimination game on Saturday at noon.
"I think the big thing I've communicated is that we have the talent to be successful," head coach Brandi Gordon Bennett said. "We've been successful against each of these teams, and we just need to stay focused on the process and go in with the will to compete."
The Lutes and Wildcats will be joined by host and top-seed Whitworth University and fourth-seeded George Fox University. With a double elimination format, it's crucial for the Lutes to build momentum early, as they hope to fend off having to play in elimination games for as long as possible.
"We have to make sure that we're ready as a team," Kathryn Hatlen said. "These games are just like any other game, and so all 24 of us players have to stay prepared."
Hatlen ranks second in the NWC in batting average this season, sporting a .410 average in 105 at-bats and is ready and eager to lead the Lutes on their postseason journey.
"They look like they have good spirits," Gordon Bennett said. "We're all excited about this opportunity, and the players seem focused and geared up."
Gordon Bennett brings postseason experience to her players, who lack that same experience, having made postseason runs as an assistant at both Seattle University and Harvard University. As a coach, she's leading them into the unknown with the same game plan that she's had all season, and it should help the team avoid distractions as the spotlight gets brighter.
"We're aiming to do what we always try to do, which is to just win every inning," Gordon Bennett said. "We can't sit back and wait for something to happen, we have to force the issue."
The Lutes will try to do just that against the Wildcats on Friday, as the team hopes to play through the weekend.
Apr. 21: PLU vs. Linfield at Diana Marks Field in Spokane, Washington (2:30 p.m.)
Series History: PLU and Linfield have met 137 times on the diamond with the Lutes owning a 78-59 edge in the all-time series. The two teams have split the regular season meetings in each of the last two years.
About the Wildcats: Linfield (32-8, 21-7 NWC) won 10 of its final 12 regular season games to secure the second seed in the conference tournament. The juggernaut Wildcats have won six of the seven NWC Tournaments contested including four in a row.
Linfield has been a tough squad away from home, owning a 22-2 record away from home and a 17-1 mark in true road games. Cheyenne Fletcher leads the NWC in batting average, owning a .448 mark at the plate, scoring a team-best 40 runs. Emily Allen is hitting at a .386 clip while leading the Wildcats with 36 RBIs.
Inside the circle, Shelby Saylors has been the workhorse, pitching 133 innings, striking out 82 with a 16-4 record and a 2.05 earned run average.
About the Pirates: Top-seeded and 24th-ranked Whitworth (32-8, 23-5 NWC) secured the regular season title despite dropping three of its final five games of the regular season. The Pirates had ripped off 14 consecutive wins before PLU snapped the streak with a 7-1 victory on April 9 in the final game of the weekend series. From there Whitworth closed the season with a road split against second-seeded Linfield.
Whitworth has enjoyed the comforts of home on a limited basis this season with just six of its 40 games being contested in Spokane.
Myranda Ramirez leads the Pirates at the plate with a .407 batting average while Michelle Silva leads the team in extra base hits (19) and RBIs (42).
Inside the circle, Madi Perez has been the star, owning a 1.63 ERA with 71 strikeouts in 150 1/3 innings of work. Perez has a 20-3 record while earning three saves.
About the Bruins: George Fox (19-15, 15-13 NWC) won six of its final nine games of the regular season to secure the fourth and final spot in the postseason tournament. The Bruins finished off the regular season with a split against Lewis & Clark College, downing the Pioneers 3-0 in the opener before falling 10-3 in the nightcap.
Annie Veatch leads the squad with a .377 batting average with six home runs and 28 RBIs. Inside the circle, Madison Sorensen has a team-best 12 wins, tossing 13 complete games and posting four shutouts on the season with 88 strikeouts.