Bearcats Hit 4 Homers in Game 1, Win Twice versus 17th-Ranked PLU, 9-5 and 5-4

Connor Bailey (So., LF, San Diego, CA/Scripps Ranch HS)
Connor Bailey (So., LF, San Diego, CA/Scripps Ranch HS)

By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications

SALEM, Ore. -- Willamette University blasted four home runs in the first game, and Perry Van Eckhardt (Jr., CF, El Cerrito, CA/El Cerrito HS) hit a walk-off double in the second contest, as the Bearcats won both games of a Northwest Conference doubleheader against 17th-ranked Pacific Lutheran University, 9-5 and 5-4, on Saturday, April 1 at John Lewis Field.

Willamette upped its record to 19-11 on the season, 12-5 in the NWC. PLU fell to 17-7 overall, 15-5 in the NWC. The Lutes lead the NWC standings with Willamette in second place (even with PLU in the loss column). Linfield College holds third place at 11-5, while Whitworth University and Whitman College are tied for fourth place at 8-9.

The teams will play one game on Sunday, April 2 to complete the three-game series. First pitch is set for 12 p.m. (PDT).

In the first game on Saturday, Willamette trailed 5-2 after 3 1/2 innings, but the Bearcats belted four solo home runs -- one each in the fifth, sixth, seventh and eighth innings -- to rally for the win. WU's homers were by Troy Conway (Jr., 2B, Moorpark, CA/Moorpark HS), Van Eckhardt, Mason Fessler (Jr., DH/INF, Woodburn, OR/Blanchet Catholic School), and Connor Bailey (So., LF, San Diego, CA/Scripps Ranch HS).

Fessler's homer in the bottom of the seventh gave Willamette the lead for good at 6-5. The Bearcats added two more runs in the seventh and one in the eighth. Anthony Gosline and Cole Johnson each hit a home run for PLU in the opener. 

The second game ended when pinch-runner Aaron Fong (Jr., INF, Honolulu, HI/Punahou School) scored from second base in the bottom of the ninth inning on Van Eckhardt's one-out double to right center. Jack Brett (Jr., C, Aurora, CO/Regis Jesuit HS) started the bottom of the ninth with a pinch-hit single for WU. Fong, who ran for Brett, went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Conway. Van Eckhardt's game-winning double was recorded on the 10th pitch of his at bat.

Bearcats Earn Six Extra-Base Hits in 9-5 Win to Open Series

Willamette gained a slim 14-13 edge in hits during the first game, but connected for four homers, one triple and one double. The Lutes belted two home runs.

PLU took a 2-0 lead in the top of the second. Jacob Bockelie singled, and then Cole Johnson powered a home run over the right field fence. The Bearcats got one run back in the bottom of the inning, when Eric Del Prado (Jr., 1B, El Segundo, CA/Loyola HS) hit a leadoff double and Bailey hit an RBI triple.

With two outs in the third inning, Van Eckhardt singled, stole second and scored on a single to right field by Fessler. Van Eckhardt's run tied the score at 2-2.

In the top of the fourth, Anthony Gosline blasted a three-run homer to give Pacific Lutheran a 5-2 lead. Matt Vick, who singled with one out, and Ben Welch, who singled with two outs, also scored on the play.

The Bearcats started their comeback by producing a run in the bottom of the fourth to get within 5-3. Bailey beat out an infield single toward shortstop. Tyler Esquivel (Jr., RF, Filmore, CA/Filmore HS) moved Bailey to second on a sacrifice bunt. Tyler Janitz (So., SS, Modesto, CA/Joseph A. Gregori HS) sent Bailey to third on a ground out toward second, and Brett followed with an RBI single. 

Willamette's solo home runs did most of the remaining damage. Conway smacked a ball over the fence in right field to open the fifth inning and Bailey belted a leadoff homer in the sixth to tie the game. It was the fifth consecutive inning in which the Bearcats scored one run.

Fessler hit the next home run with two outs in the seventh. Afterward, Del Prado and Bailey walked. Both runners advanced one base on a wild pitch. Cameron Igarashi (Jr., RF, Honolulu, HI/Mid-Pacific Institute) poked a two-run single down the right field line to give Willamette an 8-5 lead. Van Eckhardt blasted a home run with one out in the eighth.

Matt Steindorf (So., RHP, Granite Bay, CA/Granite Bay HS) pitched the first seven innings for Willamette and improved to 6-2 with the win. Dawson Campos (Fr., RHP, Reno, NV/Galena HS) tossed the final two innings and allowed just one hit to earn his first save. PLU starter Jacob Gleichman fell to 4-2 with the loss.

For Willamette, Van Ekchardt and Bailey each recorded three hits, with Bailey going 3 for 3 and Van Eckhardt finishing 3 for 5. Nine Bearcats had at least one hit. For PLU, Welch, Gosline and Bockelie all went 3 for 5.

Bearcats Improve to 8-1 in One-Run Games in NWC Play

Willamette's 5-4 victory in the second game was the Bearcats' eighth win in nine games decided by one run in Northwest Conference action this season.

In the second inning, WU took a 1-0 lead. Bailey connected for a leadoff double to center. He reached third base on a ground out by Esquivel, and then scored on a ground out by Cole Pursell (So., C, Oceanside, CA/El Camino HS).

The Lutes tied the score in the top of the third. With one out, Welch singled to right and Gosline walked. With two outs, Kory VanderStaay hit an RBI double down the left field line for a 1-1 tie.

WU tacked on two runs in the fourth for a 3-1 advantage. Fessler walked and Del Prado single to left center. One  out later, Esquivel beat out an infield single between third and shortstop. A wild throw by Gosline from third base allowed Esquivel to reach second, while Fessler and Del Prado scored.

Each team produced one run in the fifth inning, leaving the Bearcats with a 4-2 led. Landon Packard drove in PLU's run with a sacrifice fly. Fessler brought home Willamette's run with an RBI single.

The Lutes left the bases loaded in the seventh. Runners were on all three bases with one out, but WU pitcher Brandon Nelson (So., RHP, Murrieta, CA/Vista Murrieta HS) worked out of the jam by causing Packard to foul out and VanderStaay to fly out.

Willamette left two runners on base in the eighth after loading the bases with no outs. Pursell flied out and Janitz hit into a 6-4-3 double play to end the inning.

PLU tied the game at 4-4 with two runs in the top of the ninth. With two outs, Welch doubled down the left field line. He went to third on a wild pitch. Gosline was hit by a pitch and Packard walked. VanderStaay drove in Welch and Gosline with a double to right center. Bockelie grounded out with runners at second and third.

Brett's single, Fong's pinch-running, Conway's sacrifice bunt and Van Eckhardt's double to right center created the winning run in the bottom of the ninth.

Each team recorded 10 hits in the second game. Del Prado of Willamette went 2 for 4 with a run scored. Eight other Bearcats contributed one hit. Welch topped PLU by going 4 for 4 with a walk and two runs. He was 7 of 9 during the doubleheader.

Jett Gallagher (Jr., RHP, Santa Cruz, CA/Santa Cruz HS) pitched the final two inning for the Bearcats, as his record went to 4-1. Jacob Mortensen, who threw the final 4 1/3 innings for the Lutes, fell to 0-1.