Written by Student Assistant Jake Bilyeu
TACOMA, Wash. – The third-seeded Pacific Lutheran University softball team came within a run of claiming the Northwest Conference Tournament Championship on Sunday afternoon at Diana Marks Field. The Lutes downed the 24th-ranked Pirates 13-2 in a mercy rule shortened opening game to force a decisive final game of the tournament before falling 3-2 in the final game of the championship round.
The Lutes' proved their worth throughout the year with a strong regular season and even stronger performances in the postseason and will have to wair and see if they can grab an at-large berth to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
The Lutes (23-16) knew they needed to build momentum early in their first game if they wanted to extend their afternoon and their season, and they couldn't have come up with a better start. Nichole Schroeder and Gracen Malich began the second inning with two hits, planting the seed for a strong inning that saw three runs come home.
The 24th-ranked Pirates (35-9) responded with two runs in the third, but the Lutes countered with 10 runs across the next three innings. The two biggest plays of the run came from Anna Overland and Corina Jones, who drove in five runs collectively on two doubles in the fourth and fifth inning. After taking a 13-2 lead, the Lutes held the Pirates scoreless in the sixth to claim victory via mercy rule.
PLU cranked out 15 hits in game one with Overland finished two-for-four with four RBIs. Elli Rassbach tallied the win, throwing five innings and striking out two.
But the Lutes still had one more game that they needed to win to secure the title at the double-elimination tournament. After giving up a run in the second, the Lutes responded with Nichole Schroeder, who sent Kathryn Hatlen home on a fielder's choice in the top of the fourth. The Pirates made the biggest plays of the game in the bottom of the inning, though, as a single and a fielder's choice gave the Pirates a two-run lead.
The Lutes pulled within a run after Emily McConnell drove in a run on a single in the fifth inning, but left two runners on base to end the inning. The Lutes had another big chance to tie the game in the seventh, but ultimately fell short after a line drive to first base was caught, ending the game in a 3-2 Pirate victory.
Emily McConnell powered the Lutes at the plate in game two, collecting three of the Lutes' six hits.
"We had a great day all around, and I am very proud of this team both today and all year," head coach Brandi Gordon Bennett said. "Elli pitched her heart out and put us in a position to win both games today in a very gutsy performance. We had an explosive day at the plate in game one, and the team fought hard all the way to the end."
Despite coming in with limited playoff experience, the Lutes seemed poised to make history throughout the tournament. While the season has come to a close, the Lutes are holding their heads high as they return home after playing the most complete games of their careers.
"What made me the most proud is in an atmosphere of high pressure they stayed calm and played like they'd been there before," Gordon Bennett said. "This was a special group and I'm blessed to have had the opportunity to have this group as my first year as a head coach."