Director of Athletic Communications
It was better late than never for Pacific Lutheran University as the Lutes tied it with a run in the eighth and scored three in the ninth to claim a 6-3 win over fourth-ranked Linfield Sunday afternoon at Roy Helser Field. This was PLU’s first series win against the Wildcats since 2006.
Pacific Lutheran’s second straight comeback win gave Linfield its second conference loss in only three games after the Wildcats lost only two North West Conference games in 2014. The win gives PLU the early lead in the NWC race and continued one of the best rivalries in the NWC.
“This is a big rivalry in baseball, and it goes back 10 years,” said PLU head coach Geoff Loomis. “This weekend featured two evenly-matched teams playing three incredibly exciting games. The series between these two programs is always competitive, and that’s how rivalries are born.”
The Lutes rallied back from a 3-0 loss in the series opener Saturday to earn a pair of comeback wins and improve to 8-3 overall and 2-1 in conference play, while Linfield fell to 8-3 overall and 1-2 in the NWC.
The late-inning excitement began with two outs in the top of the eighth. Linfield led 3-2 when first-year pinch hitter Jacob Bockelie stepped to the plate and was hit by a pitch to put the tying run on base.
Senior Bo Pearson replaced Bockelie as a runner on first, and he came all the way around to tie it up when junior Drew Oord hit a clutch double down the right field line.
Linfield tried to add pressure in the bottom of the inning after Scott Hilpert reached on a two-out single. Hilpert took off for second on an 0-1 count, but senior Curtis Wildung fired down to second to nab the runner and send the game to the top of the ninth.
Wildung wasn’t done coming up with big plays for the Lutes. The senior catcher stepped into the batter’s box with one out and worked a 3-1 count before turning on a ball and pulling it well over the fence, but 20 feet to the right of the foul pole.
On the ensuing pitch, Wildung made sure the ball stayed fair as he sent his first home run of the season over the fence in right center to give the Lutes a 4-3 lead.
PLU added two more runs in the inning to pad the lead and give closer A.J. Konopaski, a senior, a bit of breathing room.
Sophomore Ben Welch walked and advanced to second on a wild pitch, prompting the Wildcats to intentionally walk first-year Connor Cantu to set up a double-play opportunity with one out and runners at first and second. Sophomore Jacob Clements hit into a fielder’s choice to put runners at the corners with two outs, and senior Collin Nilson came through with his fourth hit-and second double-of the day.
Nilson drove a deep fly ball off the base of the centerfield wall to score Welch from third and Clements from first and make it 6-3 Lutes.
Konopaski pitched the ninth for his second save in as many days, extending his program record to 23 career saves. Linfield threatened in the frame with a one-out double by Eric Lawson and a walk to Corey VanDomelen putting the tying run at the plate, but the Lutes’ senior closer induced a pair of fly outs to seal the win.
Sophomore Kyle Rossman started on the mound for the Lutes and limited the Wildcats to two earned runs on seven hits in six innings pitched. He pitched out of a bases-loaded, no-out jam in the second inning, allowing only one run in the frame.
Senior Jake Otness earned the win after throwing two shutout innings in relief, with senior A.J. Konopaski wrapping it up for the Lutes.
Riley Newman started and threw only 2.2 innings for Linfield, allowing one run on six hits before handing off to Joseph Stevick.
Stevick threw 4.1 innings, allowing one run on three hits. Cody Walker took the loss after giving up four runs in only 1.2 innings, and Garrett Miller came in to get the final out for the Wildcats.
Senior Collin Nilson was nearly perfect at the plate, coming up with four hits in five at bats – including a pair of doubles – and driving in four of the Lutes’ six runs. Sophomore Jacob Clements scored three of those runs to go with a double for the Lutes.
Junior Tyler Thompson, junior Drew Oord and senior Curtis Wildung all tallied a pair of hits in the win, and junior Tyler Thompson adding a diving stop in the bottom of the fourth to keep the ball in the infield and save a run for the Lutes.
Lawson led Linfield with three hits and two runs batted in, while Jo Carroll added a pair of hits in four at bats.
PLU scored first, picking up a two-out run in the top of the first inning.
Clements doubled down the left field line and came in to score on Nilson’s first single of the day.
Linfield scored the next three, tying it up in the second inning on a bases-loaded fielder’s choice and combining three hits with a PLU error to score two more in the bottom of the fourth.
Pacific Lutheran got one back in the top of the fifth, as Nilson’s two-out double scored Clements from first, with neither team scoring again until PLU’s late-game heroics in the eighth and ninth.
For the weekend, PLU limited a Linfield team that had averaged eight runs per game to a total of eight runs in three contests.
The Lutes have now outscored opponents 14-2 in the final three innings of play, including a 10-1 ninth-inning advantage.
Pacific Lutheran hosts Pacific next weekend in the Lutes’ 2015 home-opening series.
The teams will play a doubleheader on Saturday beginning at 11 a.m. before finishing the series Sunday at 12 p.m. 🅼