By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
TACOMA, Wash. -- Willamette University broke a 2-2 tie by scoring two runs in the top of the ninth inning on back-to-back singles by Troy Conway (Sr., 2B, Moorpark, CA/Moorpark HS) and Connor Bailey (Jr., LF, San Diego, CA/Scripps Ranch HS), as the Bearcats edged past Pacific Lutheran University, 4-2, in an elimination game at the 2018 Northwest Conference Baseball Tournament on Saturday, April 21. With the win over PLU, the Bearcats advanced into the NWC Tournament Championship game(s) on Sunday versus George Fox University.
Against Pacific Lutheran, Brandon Murillo (Fr., RHP, Rancho Cucamonga, CA/Los Osos HS) recorded the win for the Bearcats with two innings of scoreless relief in the eighth and the ninth. Willamette starting pitcher Nathan Gilman (Jr., RHP, Chino Hills, CA/ Diamond Ranch HS) went seven innings against the Lutes, who won the NWC regular season title, and allowed just two runs.
Earlier on Saturday, the Bearcats fell to George Fox, 4-2, in the winner's bracket game of the four-team tournament. GFU is undefeated in the tournament, so Willamette will have to defeat the Bruins twice on Sunday in order to win the NWC Tournament Championship and grab the NWC's automatic NCAA Tournament bid. The first game on Sunday is set for 12 p.m. (PDT). If necessary, the second game is scheduled for 3 p.m.
"We played good baseball all day," Willamette Head Coach Aaron Swick said. "This team has been resilient the whole season. Nathan was outstanding and we played stellar defense. I'm looking forward to playing for a Northwest Conference championship tomorrow."
Willamette is 25-15 on the season. PLU ended its season at 23-16. George Fox also is 23-16.
George Fox Builds 3-0 Lead over First Five Innings, Holds Off Bearcats, 4-2
In the winner's game on Saturday, George Fox tallied a single run in the first, fourth and fifth innings to take a 3-0 lead. Willamette pulled within 3-2 in the sixth inning, but the Bruins added an insurance run in the seventh. strong efforts from relief pitchers Isaac Olson and Matt Voelzke allowed GFU to clinch the 4-2 win.
The game began with AJ Valencia of GFU receiving a walk. Austin Baek was hit by a pitch, sending Valencia to second. Sam Swenson singled to left to drive in Valencia. Kyle Esquerra singled to right with two outs, loading the bases. Pitcher Brandon Nelson (Jr., RHP, Murrieta, CA/Vista Murrieta HS) got out of the jam by forcing Voelzke to fly out to center.
George Fox kept a 1-0 lead until the top of the fourth, when Voelzke hit a leadoff single and went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Dillon Blankenship. Voelzke reached third on a ground out and scored on a single by Valencia. Swenson blasted a solo home run in the fifth inning.
Conway doubled to left center to start the sixth for Willamette. Bailey batted next and smacked a triple to left, driving Conway across the plate. Bailey scored on a sacrifice line out to right by Jack Brett (Sr., C, Aurora, CO/Regis Jesuit HS), as the Bearcats cut the margin to 3-2. The Bruins scored one run in the seventh, with Valencia providing a leadoff triple and Baek following with an RBI single. Perry Van Eckhardt (Sr., CF, El Cerrito, CA/El Cerrito HS) registered a single with two outs in the seventh, and Brett earned a single with one out in the eighth, but the Bearcats were unable to create momentum in either inning.
Atherton, who pitched the first six innings for GFU, improved to 3-3. He allowed six hits and two runs. Nelson fell to 6-6 for the Bearcats, but allowed only two runs in four innings.
On offense, five players earned two hits, while both teams recorded eight hits overall. For Willamette, Bailey was 2 of 4 with a triple, one run and an RBI, while Brendan Natuzzi (So., 3B/P, Napa, CA/Justin-Siena HS) finished 2 for 4 with a double. For the Bruins, Swenson was 2 of 4 with a homer, one run scored and two RBIs. Valencia went 2 for 3 with a triple, scored twice and earned one RBI. Esquerra was 2 of 4.
Key Hits by Conway and Bailey Give Bearcats the Edge in 4-2 Win versus PLU
The singles by Conway and Bailey provided the difference on offense, while the pitching of Gilman and Murillo helped supply success on defense in Willamette's 4-2 win over Pacific Lutheran, as the Bearcats played back-to-back games. PLU had a break between it's games after the Lutes began Saturday's schedule with a 6-5 win over Linfield College.
Willamette scored the game's first run in the opening stanza. Van Eckhardt batted first and sent a single up the middle. He stole second before moving to third when Conway hit an infield single toward the mound. Bailey drove home Van Eckhardt with a sacrifice fly to left. Another sacrifice fly increased the Bearcats' lead to 2-0 in the top of the third. After Conway singled and Bailey doubled, Brett provided the sacrifice fly to left.
The Lutes achieved three hits in the bottom of the third, but Gilman limited PLU to one run. Tori Doten doubled near the left field line to begin the stanza. A bunt single by Adam Stump moved Doten to third. Matt Vick grounded into a 5-4-3 double play, allowing Doten to score. Connor Cantu doubled to right, but was stranded at second when Anthony Gosline grounded out to second.
Two innings later, Doten started the fifth for the Lutes by hitting a single through the left side. He went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Stump and reached third on a wild pitch. Doten scored to tie the game 2-2 on a sacrifice fly to right by Vick.
PLU left the bases loaded in the sixth and Willamette left three runners on base in the top of the seventh. Neither team had a base runner in the eighth, but Willamette created offense in the top of the ninth.
Pinch-hitter Nicholas Di Fiori (Fr., UT, Monrovia, CA/Bishop Amat HS) singled to shortstop as the first batter in the inning. Tyler Vandemark (Fr., OF, Modesto, CA/Joseph A. Gregori HS) ran for Di Fiori. Tyler Janitz (Jr., SS, Modesto, CA/Joseph A. Gregori HS) provided a sacrifice bunt to send Vandemark to second. One out later, Van Eckhardt was intentionally walk. Conway singled to right center, driving in Vandemark with the go-ahead run and advancing Van Eckhardt to third. Bailey singled to left to bring Van Eckhardt across the plate.
Murillo faced just six batters during his two innings of relief for Willamette, as he moved to 1-0 on the season. PLU reliever Alex Gregory, who pitched the final 2 1/3 innings, fell to 5-2. Conway was 3 for 5 with a run and an RBI for WU. Bailey went 2 of 4 with a double and two RBIs. Van Eckhardt was 1 for 3 with two walks and scored twice. Doten led the Lutes by going 2 of 4 with a double and two runs.