By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
NEWBERG, Ore. -- George Fox University broke a 4-4 tie with five runs in the seventh inning and went on to defeat Willamette University, 9-5, in a non-conference game on Friday, April 27 at Morse Athletic Field. The match-up started a three-game regular season series that will conclude on Sunday, April 29 with a doubleheader at Willamette, starting at 12 p.m. (PDT). The win on Friday, improved GFU to 24-18 on the season, while the Bearcats fell to 27-16.
Willamette still leads the season series four games to three, including a pair of victories over the Bruins to win the 2018 NWC Baseball Tournament last Sunday. The Bearcats earned the NWC's automatic bid into the NCAA Division III Tournament, which will begin with regional action from May 17 through May 21.
The game featured four home runs. Perry Van Eckhardt (Sr., CF, El Cerrito, CAEl Cerrito HS) homered for the Bearcats, while Matt Voelzke, Jerred Seamons and Bryan Branstatter each homered for George Fox. The Bearcats also received a triple from Aaron Fong (Sr., SS, Honolulu, HI/Punahou School) and a double from Jack Brett (Sr., C, Aurora, CO/Regis Jesuit HS).
"It was a good ball game with the difference being a couple of big swings by George Fox," Willamette Head Coach Aaron Swick said.
The Bruins put up four runs in the first inning. After AJ Valencia walked, Houston Thom provided a sacrifice bunt toward third. Valencia scored on a single down the left field line by Austin Baek. With two outs, Kyle Esquerra singled, moving Baek to third. A wild pitch sent Esquerra to second, but Baek held at third. Jerred Seamons belted a three-run homer to left field.
Willamette plated three runs in the top of the second to cut the margin to 4-3. Brett singled to start the inning. Brendan Natuzzi (So., 3B/P, Napa, CA/Justin-Siena HS) and Eric Del Prado (Sr., 1B, El Segundo, CA/Loyola HS) also singled. All three hits went through the right side of the infield. Brett scored on Del Prado's hit.
Tyler Janitz (Jr., SS, Modesto, CA/Joseph A. Gregori HS) advanced Natuzzi and Del Prado with a sacrifice bunt. With two outs, Fong tripled to center field to drive in both runners. GFU starter Alex Jondal caused Van Eckhardt to fly out to left field to end the threat.
Van Eckhardt smacked a solo home run for the Bearcats to open the top of the fifth inning and tie the score at 4-4. It was Van Eckhardt's fifth home run of the season and the 17th of his career.
Neither team scored again until the Bruins tallied five runs in the seventh. Branstatter started the stanza by blasting a leadoff homer to left field. Jantzen Tamanaha singled and later scored on a single by Tristan Guillen. Voelzke drove in the last three runs on a homer to left.
Willamette scored one run in the eighth when Connor Bailey (Jr., LF, San Diego, CAScripps Ranch HS) singled to left, went to third on a double by Brett, and scored when Del Prado hit a sacrifice fly for the second out. The Bearcats were unable to score again. Voelzke secured the win for GFU by facing just three Willamette batters in the ninth.
Reliever Mikah Takashige improved to 2-0 with the win for the Bruins. WU reliever Jason Snare (Fr., LHP, Seattle, WA/Bainbridge Island HS) moved to 1-2 with the loss.
Baek was 4 for 5 with two runs and an RBI for George Fox. Seamons, Esquerra and Guillen each finished 2 for 4. For the Bearcats, Brett was 2 of 2 with a run and two walks. Natuzzi went 2 for 4 and scored once. Fong and Del Prado each contributed two RBIs, with Del Prado also scoring one run.