By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
McMINNVILLE, Ore. -- Brendan Natuzzi (So., UT, Napa, CA/Justin-Siena HS) hit a single up the middle with two outs in the bottom of the 10th inning to drive home Perry Van Eckhardt (Sr., CF, El Cerrito, CA/El Cerrito HS) with the winning run, as Willamette University defeated Whitworth University, 4-3, at Roy Helser Field on Sunday, March 4. The game started on Saturday, March 3 at the Santiam Christian School baseball field in Adaire Village, Oregon, but was suspended due to darkness after nine innings with the score tied at 3-3. Willamette held Whitworth scoreless in the top of the 10th, before the Bearcats scored the winning run in the bottom of the inning.
In Sunday's regularly scheduled game, Whitworth starter Matthew Young limited Willamette to two runs (one earned) over seven innings to help the Pirates grab a 10-4 victory. Whitworth ended the day with a 7-7 overall record and a 2-1 mark in the Northwest Conference. Willamette moved to 8-9 on the season, 4-5 in the NWC. The Pirates won the NWC series, two games to one.
Van Eckhardt was the first batter for Willamette in the bottom of the 10th inning of the suspended game. He walked on a full-count pitch. Connor Bailey (Jr., LF, San Diego, CA/Scripps Ranch HS) flied out to center field for the first out. A couple pitches later, Van Eckhardt stole second base. Eric Del Prado (Sr., 1B, El Segundo, CA/Loyola HS) grounded out to second to advance Van Eckhardt to third. Natuzzi followed with the game-winning hit up the middle.
Natuzzi also picked up the pitching win. He entered the game with one out in the top of the ninth on Friday after pinch-runner Grayson O'Neil of Whitworth scored the tying run on a single by Tyler Bailey. Natuzzi struck out Liam Fitzpatrick, but walked Ben Wintringer, which loaded the bases. Natuzzi forced pinch-hitter Cael McKeirnan to ground out to second base.
When the game resumed in the top of the 10th inning on Sunday, Natuzzi caused Casey Isa to fly out to left field. Taylor Poffenroth batted next and sent a liner toward the mound. Natuzzi caught the ball on the fly for the second out. Natuzzi struck out Mathew Pulliam to end the inning.
Natuzzi improved to 2-0 on the season. In his 1 2/3 innings against the Whitworth on Saturday and Sunday, he held the Pirates without a hit, while recording two strikeouts and allowing two walks. For the season, Natuzzi has thrown a total of 5 1/3 innings in three appearances with a 0.00 ERA and eight strikeouts.
It was the second time Natuzzi has earned the game-winning hit and the pitching victory in the same game this year. In a 7-6 win over Whittier College on Feb. 3, Natuzzi registered the winning RBI with a sacrifice fly in the top of the eighth inning. He pitched the final three innings to achieve the win.
Brett, Del Prado Hit Homers in Saturday's Portion of 10-Inning Win
While the efforts of Van Eckhardt and Natuzzi stood out on offense when the suspended game resumed on Sunday, it was home runs by Jack Brett (Sr., C, Aurora, CO/Regis Jesuit HS) and Del Prado, plus a defensive gem from Cameron Igarashi (Sr., RF, Honolulu, HI/Mid-Pacific Institute) that led Willamette's highlights before the game was stopped on Saturday.
The Pirates held a 1-0 lead after scoring once in the top of the second. Bailey opened the inning with a single up the middle. Fitzpatrick walked and Wintringer moved the runners to second and third with a sacrifice bunt. Ian Sugrue received a walk to load the bases. Isa hit into a fielder's choice, with Bailey while Sugrue was thrown out at second.
In the bottom of the second, Brett smacked a leadoff homer down the right field line to tie the game. Two innings later, Del Prado added a leadoff homer to right center, as the Bearcats took a 2-1 lead. Natuzzi batted next and reached first on an error. Brett doubled near the left field line to send Natuzzi to third. After Tyler Janitz (Jr., SS, Modesto, CA/Joseph A. Gregori HS) walked, Mason Fessler (Sr., DH/INF, Woodburn, OR/Blanchet Catholic School) hit into a double-play. Natuzzi scored from third, while the Pirates secured the 6-4-3 double play.
Taylor Poppenroth belted a solo home run with one out in the top of the seventh to pull Whitworth within 3-2. In the top of the ninth, O'Neil pinch-ran after Spencer Locati singled with one out. JT Phelan drove O'Neil to third on a double to center field. Bailey brought O'Neil across the plate with a single through the right side for a 3-3 tie.
The game might not have been suspended due to darkness if not for a great play by Igarashi in the top of the eighth. With one out and runners at first and second, Isa belted a line drive into right center. Igarashi charged in diagonally from right field to get to the ball. He launched into an all-out dive at the last moment and made the catch. A fielder's choice followed to end the threat.
Brett was 2 of 4 at the plate for Willamette. Natuzzi went 2 of 5 with a run and an RBI. For Whitworth, Poppenroth, Bailey and Joel Condreay each recorded two hits.
Young's Pitching for Pirates Helps Whitworth Down Bearcats
Strong pitching by Young kept Willamette at bay for much of Sunday's regularly scheduled game. He threw 95 pitches over seven innings and allowed eight hits and one walk. By the time he left the game in the eighth inning, the Pirates held an 8-2 lead.
Whitworth plated one run in the second inning and two more in the third for a 3-0 advantage. In the second, Bailey singled for the Pirates with one out. Two walks loaded the bases, and a ground out by Sugrue allowed Bailey to score. In the third, Poffenroth and Condreay hit back-to-back doubles to create one run. Condreay scored later on a balk.
Troy Conway (Sr., 2B, Moorpark, CA/Moorpark HS) hit a single for the Bearcats with one out in the bottom of the third. Igarashi singled to right center, pushing Conway to second. Conway went to third and Igarashi was thrown out at second when Van Eckhardt hit into a fielder's choice. Conway scored on an error by the pitcher covering first as the Pirates attempted to complete a double play.
Bailey batted next for Willamette and momentarilly appeared to tie the game with a two-run homer down the left field line. The umpires decided the ball left the stadium outside the foul pole. Bailey went on to walk, but Willamette trailed 3-1 at the end of the inning.
Whitworth gained control with five runs in the top of the sixth on three hits and four walks. Nicholas Nerud drove in the first run with a double to right center. The next two runs scored on walks with the base loaded. Locati brought home the final two runs with a single to center, giving the Pirates an 8-1 margin.
The Bearcats picked up one run in the seventh and two in the eighth. Natuzzi, Brett, Janitz and Conway all singled to create the run in the seventh. Bailey singled up the middle to start the eighth, and then Del Prado smacked a two-run homer to left to pull Willamette within 8-4. Locati hit a two-run homer in the ninth to complete Whitworth's scoring.
Willamette outhit Whitworth 12-9, but couldn't overcome nine walks allowed by five Bearcat pitchers compared to one walk given up by the Pirates. Brandon Nelson (Jr., RHP, Murrieta, CA/Vista Murrieta HS) allowed four hits and three runs. He pitched five complete innings and fell to 2-3 on the season. Young improved to 2-2 with the win for Whitworth.
Five Bearcats contributed two hits apiece. They were Igrashi, Bailey, Natuzzi, Brett and Conway. Del Prado's homer provided two of Willamette's three RBIs. Conway also registered an RBI for the Bearcats. Locati went 2 for 5 with a home run, four RBIs and a run scored for Whitworth. Bailey was 2 for 4 and scored twice for the Pirates.
Up Next for the Bearcats
Willamette is scheduled to play three Northwest Conference games next weekend at Whitman College in Walla Walla, Washington. The Bearcats and the Blues will play two games on Sat., March 10, starting at 12 p.m. (PST). Willamette and Whitman will close out the series with one game on Sunday, March 11 at 12 p.m.