By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
McMINNVILLE, Ore. -- Matt Steindorf (Jr., RHP) pitched a complete game and the Willamette University Bearcats rallied from a 3-0 deficit to defeat Pacific Lutheran University, 6-5, in the first round of the 2017 Northwest Conference Baseball Tournament on Friday, April 21 at Roy Helser Field. Willamette improved to 27-12, while Pacific Lutheran dropped to 22-11.
Eric Del Prado (Jr., 1B) blasted a two-run double down the left field line to score Aaron Fong (Jr., SS) and Perry Van Eckhardt (Jr., CF) with the tying and go-ahead runs for a 5-4 lead in the bottom of the seventh. Earlier in the inning, Van Eckhardt singled home Kyle Paguio (So., 3B) to pull Willamette within 4-3. The Bearcats scored a total of four runs in the seventh to take a 6-4 advantage into the eighth.
The Bearcats outhit the Lutes, 12-10, including an 11-4 advantage after the second inning. Willamette improved to 12-2 on the season in one-run games against NWC opponents.
"This was a total team effort," Willamette Head Coach Aaron Swick said. "Lots of different guys contributed."
Willamette will play Whitworth University in the winner's bracket game on Saturday, April 22 at 3 p.m. (PDT). Whitworth outlasted Linfield College, 4-3 in 11 innings, in the tournament's opening game. Linfield and PLU will meet in the first elimination game of the tournament on Saturday at 12 p.m. The winner of Saturday's first game and the loser of the Willamette versus Whitworth game will battle each other at 6 p.m.
On his way the complete-game victory, Steindorf threw 125 pitches. He struck out three batters -- including a strikeout to end the game -- and allowed two walks. He gave up only four hits after the second inning.
"Matt has been a bulldog all year and he proved tonight why he is one of the best pitchers in our conference," Swick said.
Pacific Lutheran took an early 2-0 lead. With one out in the top of the first inning, Anthony Gosline singled to left field. Landon Packard batted next and belted a two-run homer to right. One out later, Cole Johnson and Jacob Bockelie hit back-to-back singles, but Steindorf forced Brett Johnson into a pop-up to end the inning.
Matt Vick hit a leadoff double for the Lutes in the second stanza. He went to third on a sacrifice bunt near the plate by Connor Cantu, and scored on an infield single by Ben Welch.
WU cut the deficit to 3-2 in the bottom of the third. With two outs and Troy Conway (Jr., 2B, Moorpark, CA/Moorpark HS) at first base, Van Eckhardt singled to right center, sending Conway to third. Later, Van Eckhardt beat the throw while stealing second base. Conway stole home on the play. Van Eckhardt advanced the final two bases on a pair of wild pitches.
An unearned run in the fifth inning gave the Lutes a 4-2 advantage. Brett Johnson reached base with one out on a throwing error by Fong at shortstop. Vick hit a single to move Johnson to second, and then Cantu walked to load the bases. Johnson scored on a short grounder by Welch that resulted in a great play by Paguio, who grabbed the ball and threw to first while charging in from third.
Paguio opened Willamette's half of the seventh inning with a single to center field. Fong bunted near the plate and beat out the throw. Conway popped out on a bunt, but Van Eckhardt followed with an RBI single.
With two outs, Del Prado delivered a low line drive that landed just past third about two feet into fair territory. Tha ball surged into the outfield, while Fong and Van Eckhardt scored and Del Prado went to second.
Del Prado crossed the plate when Connor Bailey (So., LF, San Diego, CA/Scripps Ranch HS) batted next and singled to left center. Bailey stole second and went to third on a wild pitch, but Brett Johnson in right field made a diving catch on a line drive by Jack Brett (Jr., C, Aurora, CO/Regis Jesuit HS).
"We had quality swings the second and third time through the order, and eventually we were able to string some hits together," Swick said regarding the seventh inning.
Bockelie smacked a solo home run to open the top of the eighth for PLU to cut Willamette's lead to 6-5. In the bottom of the eighth, Fong singled with two outs and Conway was hit by a pitch, but both runners were left on base.
In the top of the ninth, Welch singled to left field. He went to second on a sacrifice bunt near the first base line by Gosline. Packhard grounded out to send Welch to third. Steindorf struck out Kory VanderStaay to finish the complete-game win.
"The team has battled all season," Swick commented. "They believe in the process and have total confidence in one another."
Fong was 4 for 4 at the plate with a run scored for the Bearcats. Van Ekchardt went 2 of 4 with two runs, a walk and an RBI to go along with several key catches at the warning track in center field. Bailey was 2 for 3 with a walk and an RBI. Conway hit a leadoff double in the first inning.
For the Lutes, Bockelie was 3 of 4 with a home run. Welch went 2 of 5 with two RBIs, while Vick was 2 of 4 with a double and a run. Packard's two-run homer was his sixth home run of the season.