Bearcats Clinch NWC Tournament Berth by Rallying for 7-4 Win against Loggers

Mason Fessler (Jr., INF, Woodburn, OR/Blanchet Catholic School), left, and Eric Del Prado (Jr., 1B, El Segundo, CA/Loyola HS), right
Mason Fessler (Jr., INF, Woodburn, OR/Blanchet Catholic School), left, and Eric Del Prado (Jr., 1B, El Segundo, CA/Loyola HS), right

By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications

TACOMA, Wash. -- The Willamette University Bearcats rallied from a 3-0 deficit after three innings to take a 5-3 lead in the top of the sixth inning on their way to a 7-4 victory over University of Puget Sound in the second game of a Northwest Conference doubleheader on Saturday, April 8. The win, combined with other conference results on Saturday, allowed the Bearcats to clinch their first ever NWC Tournament berth. Puget Sound won the first game, 3-2.

Willamette not only clinched an NWC Tournament berth, but clinched no worse than the #3 seed in the four-team tournament which will follow the regular season.

The Bearcats also remained in the running for the NWC regular season title. Linfield College now holds first place at 14-5, with Willamette at 14-6 and Pacific Lutheran University at 16-7. Linfield has five regular season games remaining, while Willamette has four and PLU has one.

Willamette is 22-12 overall. Puget Sound moved to 11-17 on the season, 7-12 in the NWC.

In the second game on Saturday, Mason Fessler (Jr., INF, Woodburn, OR/Blanchet Catholic School) hit his fourth home run of the season, a solo shot that started a four-run outburst by the Bearcats in the sixth inning.

The teams will complete the three-game series with one game on Sunday, April 9. First pitch is set for 12 p.m. (PDT).

Beacats Rally, but Loggers Win in 9th Inning of Opener

Willamette battled back from a 2-0 deficit in the first game to tie the score in the top of the ninth, but Puget Sound pushed across a run in the bottom of the ninth for a 3-2 win. It was only the second one-run loss against nine wins for the Bearcats in NWC play.

Jack Gries of Puget Sound hit a leadoff double in the the bottom of the first. After Cal Muramaru walked, Corey Roberts struck out. Mason Quinlin earned an infield hit to load the bases.

Rica Barraza struck out, and then James Dejesus singled through the right side to drive in Gries with the game's first run. WU starter Matt Steindorf (So., RHP, Granite Bay, CA/Granite Bay HS) struck out Nolan Wiler to end the inning.

The Loggers increased their advantage to 2-0 in the third inning. Muramaru started the inning with a single. He went to second and third on a throwing error by Steindorf. Quinlan hit into a fielder's choice, but an error at the plate allowed Miramaru to score.

Tyler Janitz (So., SS, Modesto, CA/Joseph A. Gregori HS) was hit by a pitch and later scored for Willamette in the fifth inning. He went to second and third on a single to center by Jack Brett (Jr., C, Aurora, CO/Regis Jesuit HS). Janitz scored on a sacrifice fly to right field by Kyle Paguio (So., 3B, Stevenson Ranch, CA/West Ranch HS).

Connor Bailey (So., LF, San Diego, CA/Scripps Ranch HS) singled to open the ninth inning. Pinch-hitter Cameron Igarashi (Jr., RF, Honolulu, HI/Mid-Pacific Institute) walked. Janitz advanced both runners on a sacrifice bunt. One out later, Bailey scored and Igarashi went to third on a wild pitch. Puget Sound reliever Eric Crispell, who threw the final three innings, ended the threat with a strikeout.

In the bottom of the ninth, Dejesus singled for the Loggers. Wiler hit a sacrifice bunt toward first to move Dejesus to second. Ian Hughes drove in Dejesus with the winning run on a single up the middle.

Dejesus was 3 of 4 at the plate with a run and one RBI. Muramaru went 2 of 3 and scored once. Bailey finished 2 of 4 with a run scored for the Bearcats. The Loggers gained an 8-4 edge in hits.

Crispell improved to 2-1. He struck out four batters. Puget Sound starter Joshua Zavisubin allowed three hits and one run in six innings, while recording three strikeouts. Steindorf, who also pitched six innings, gave up six hits and two runs (one earned). He struck out six batters. WU reliever Dawson Camps fell to 0-2 with the loss.

WU Outscores Loggers 7-1 in Final 7 Innings for 7-4 Win

The Bearcats rallied again in the second game. They trailed 3-0 after two innings, but went on to score seven of the game's final eight runs.

Puget Sound plated an unearned run in the first inning and added two runs in the second stanza. With two outs in the second, Gries singled to right. Mau Makoa doubled to right field. Hughes also doubled, driving home Gries and Makoa.

Willamette cut the margin to 3-1 in the top of the third. Cole Pursell (So., C, Oceanside, CA/El Camino HS) was hit by a pitch and went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Aaron Fong (Jr., INF, Honolulu, HI/Punahou School). After Troy Conway (Jr., 2B, Moorpark, CA/Moorpark HS) walked, both runners advanced on a wild pitch. Pursell scored on a ground out by Perry Van Eckhardt (Jr., CF, El Cerrito, CA/El Cerrito HS).

The Loggers kept their two-run lead until the top of the sixth. Fessler's home run blast to left field pulled WU within 3-2. Back-to-back doubles by Eric Del Prado (Jr., 1B, El Segundo, CA/Loyola HS) and Bailey tied the score.

With one out, Bailey reached home on a single up the middle by Janitz, who went to second on the throw. Janitz advanced to third on a single by Pursell and scored on a squeeze bunt by Fong, giving the Bearcats a 5-3 lead.

Puget Sound pulled within 5-4 in the bottom of the sixth, but the Bearcats added an insurance run in the eighth and one more in the ninth. In the eighth, Janitz reached first on an error by the pitcher and eventually scored. Van Eckhardt singled to start the ninth inning, went to second on a ground out by Fessler, and took third on a stolen base. Bailey brought in Van Eckhardt with a single to center.

Bailey made an outstanding catch in left field on a ball hit by Gries to open the bottom of the ninth. With two outs, Hughes doubled to left. Quinlan flied out to left to end the game.

WU starter Benjamin Whitten (Fr., RHP, Danville, CA/San Ramon Valley HS) upped his record to 4-1 with a five-inning appearance. He struck out three batters. Dawson Enright (Fr., RHP, La Mesa, CA/James Madison HS) tossed the last four innings to pick up his first collegiate save. He struck out four batters and allowed just one run. Merle Rowan-Kennedy fell to 3-3 with the loss.

Pursell was 2 of 3 with a runs scored, while Bailey finished 2 for 5 with a double, a run and an RBI. Janitz scored twice and had one RBI. For Puget Sound, Hughes was 3 for 4 with two doubles and two RBIs. Gries went 2 for 5 with two runs scored.