Written by Student Assistant Jake Bilyeu
TACOMA, Wash. – The third-seeded Pacific Lutheran University softball team extended its season another day on Saturday, punching its ticket to the championship round of the 2017 Northwest Conference Tournament. The Lutes dropped its opening game 7-0 to host and top-seeded Whitworth University before downing fourth-seed George Fox University 3-2 in an extra innings elimination game for the right to face the host Pirates again on Sunday.
The Lutes (22-15) and 24th-ranked Pirates (34-8) will face off at noon on Sunday with PLU needing to win twice against Whitworth to earn the 2017 NWC Championship and the league's automatic berth to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
The Lutes struggled in their first showdown Saturday, as the Pirates pitcher Madi Perez struck out four and allowed just four hits for the shutout. The Pirates scored seven runs across three straight innings, and, despite hinting at a rally in the seventh, the Lutes could not provide a counter-attack, and the Pirates advanced to the final round with a 7-0 victory.
Two of PLU's four hits came off the bat of Nichole Schroeder who finished two-for-three at the plate.
Then, with the threat of elimination looming, the Lutes engaged in a back and forth battle with George Fox (20-17). The Bruins struck first with a run in the second inning, but then Gracen Malich evened things up in the fifth inning, driving home a run on a single. Schroeder came through for the Lutes after the Bruins took a 2-1 lead, as she doubled to send Samantha Simundson home and tie the game again.
From there, the game entered extra innings where, after holding the Bruins scoreless, the Lutes were able to claim victory after Anna Overland singled to allow Emily McConnell to score, giving the Lutes a 3-2 victory.
Schroeder again had a big game at the plate, going three-for-three with an RBI while Overland finished two-for-four. Elli Rassbach went the distance inside the circle, netting her second win of the tournament after striking out seven and yielding just one earned run.
"We are excited for the opportunity to be playing Sunday, and we proved that this team deserves to be playing tomorrow," head coach Brandi Gordon Bennett said "I'm proud of them, and even though we did not play our best softball in game one, our team found a way to come back and win the second game."
The Lutes are now faced with their final challenge of the weekend: they must defeat NWC Regular Season Champion Whitworth in consecutive games. The Lutes defeated the Pirates in Tacoma two weeks ago, but duplicating that performance in Spokane may require the Lutes to bring out the best performance they've got.
"We are going to focus on us and bring great energy for 14 innings tomorrow and do what we have been preparing for since September," Gordon Bennett said. "All of the hours that they have worked have put them in this position."
The Lutes take the field at noon in their attempt to claim their first conference championship since their national title run in 2012.