By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
McMINNVILLE, Ore. -- Linfield College scored two runs in the bottom of the eighth inning to break a 4-4 tie and went on to defeat Willamette University, 6-4, in the championship game of the 2017 Northwest Conference Baseball Tournament on Sunday, April 23 at Roy Helser Field. The Wildcats led 4-0 after three innings, but Willamette battled back to tie the game with two runs in the fifth and two runs in the sixth.
Linfield won the NWC Tournament Championship and also received the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Baseball Tournament.
The Wildcats upped their record to 28-11 on the season. Willamette fell to 28-14. It is the most wins for the Bearcats since going 29-16 in 2001.
Joey Cassano singled to center field for Linfield to start the bottom of the eighth. He went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Brady Rediger. Cameron Fox and Ben Andrews walked to load the bases. Ryan Pladson and Ryan Ross also walked to send Cassano and Fox across the plate. Two strikeouts ended the inning.
Aaron Fong (Jr., 3B, Honolulu, HI/Punahou School) walked for the Bearcats as the leadoff batter in the ninth. He stayed at first base when Troy Conway (Jr., 2B, Moorpark, CA/Moorpark HS) struck out. Perry Van Eckhardt (Jr., CF, El Cerrito, CA/El Cerrito HS) belted a line drive towared second, but Rediger grabbed it and then threw to first base to double off Fong for the game's final out.
Bearcats Fall to Wildcats in Championship Game
Linfield took a 1-0 lead in the first inning of the championship game when Rediger blasted a solo home run to left field. It was his second home run of the day. With two outs, Pladson homered down the left field line, giving the Wildcats a 2-0 edge.
In the second inning, Jake Gellos singled to left, Cassano walked, and Rediger singled to load the bases for Linfield. Gellos scored an unearned run one out later when Andrews hit a fielder's choice toward third and the throw home was wild. Van Eckhardt made a nice catch on a line drive in center for the second out, and a fielder's choice to third ended the threat.
In the third, Daniel Zavala singled for the Wildcats, went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Gellos, and eventually scored on a single by Cassano.
Willamette cut Linfield's margin to 6-2 in the top of the fifth.
Igarashi started the rally with a base on balls. Kyle Paguio (So., 3B, Stevenson Ranch, CA/West Ranch HS) sent Igarashi to second with a sacrifice bunt near the plate. Fong connected for a single to left to drive in Igarashi, and then reached second on the throw home. Fong went to third on a ground out by Conway, before scoring when Van Eckhardt singled to center.
The Bearcats kept momentum in the sixth inning, by plating two runs to forge a 4-4 tie. Eric Del Prado (Jr., 1B, El Segundo, CA/Loyola HS) doubled to left center. Connor Bailey (So., LF, San Diego, CA/Scripps Ranch HS) walked. Jack Brett (Jr., C, Aurora, CO/Regis Jesuit HS) reached first on a sacrifice bunt, as Del Prado beat out the throw to third.
Igarashi walked to send Del Prado across the plate. At the end of a lengthy at bat, Paguio singled to right center to bring home Bailey with the tying run. Fong batted next and hit a fly ball to right field. Ross made the catch and threw Brett out at the plate. A strikeout ended the inning.
Linfield's two runs in the eighth inning gave the Wildcats the lead for good. Reliever and regular starter Riley Newman pitched the last four innings for Linfield and improved to 8-2. Willamette relief pitcher Jett Gallagher, who pitched three innings against Whitworth University on Saturday, tossed the last 2 2/3 innings in the title game. He fell to 5-2 on the season.
Rediger was 3 for 4 with a homer, a run and an RBI for Linfield. Cassano went 3 for 3, score once and drove in one run. Zavala was 3 for 5 with a run scored.
Fong finished 2 for 3 with a run and an RBI for the Bearcats, while Van Ekchardt was 2 of 4 with a walk and an RBI. Fong went 9 for 13 (.692) during the tournament.
Bailey Hits Home Run, but Linfield Wins First Game, 7-2
Earlier on Sunday, Linfield downed the Bearcats, 7-2, to force the second game. The Wildcats led 6-0 after four innings.
In the first game, Rediger began the bottom of the first with a solo home run to left field. Cameronn Fox batted next and doubled down the left field line. With one out and Fox at third base, Ross provided the Wildcats with an RBI single to left. In the second inning, Rediger hit a leadoff single and later scored from first on a double near the left field line by Andrews.
Linfield tacked on three runs in the fourth inning. Pladson and Ross each hit an RBI single, while Jared Evans brought in the third run with a sacrifice fly to left field.
The Bearcats pulled within 6-2 in the top of the sixth. Del Prado was hit by a pitch with two outs. Bailey blasted a two-run homer to left field. A single and two walks loaded the bases, but a strikeout ended the inning.
Andrews received a leadoff walk in Linfield's half of the sixth. He scored later in the inning.
Linfield pitcher Carter Buuck tossed the first 5 2/3 innings and improved to 1-1 on the season. He allowed three hits and one run, while recording four strikeouts and three walks. Dylan Peters tossed the final 3 1/3 innings to claim his second save. WU starter Benjamin Whitten (Fr., RHP) fell to 5-2 after allowing three runs in 1 2/3 innings.
Rediger went 3 of 4 with a homer, three runs, a walk and an RBI. Ross was 3 of 5 with two RBIs. Bailey was 2 of 3 with a homer, one run and two RBIs.