By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SPOKANE, Wash. -- Willamette University broke a 3-3 tie by scoring four runs in the fifth inning and went on to down University of Texas-Dallas, 10-3, in an elimination game at the NCAA Division III Spokane Regional on Sunday, May 20 at Avista Stadium. Willamette, 31-18 overall and 3-1 in the Regional, advanced to take on Texas Lutheran University for the Regional title.
The Bearcats and TLU will play the first of a possible two championship games starting at 3:15 p.m. (PDT) on Sunday. Willamette has to defeat the Tornados twice to win the Regional title and advance to the NCAA Division III World Series in Appleton, Wisconsin. If the Bearcats force a second championship game against Texas Lutheran, the winner-take-all matchup will be played on Monday, May 21 at the Whitworth University baseball field starting at 11 a.m. (PDT).
"We scored early and we scored often," Willamette Heat Coach Aaron Swick said.
With two outs in the top of the fifth, Brendan Natuzzi (Jr., RHP/3B, Sonoma, CA/Justin-Siena HS) walked and stole second base. Eric Del Prado (Sr., 1B, El Segundo, CA/Loyola HS) reached base on an error by the first baseman. Natuzzi scored on the play, putting Willamette in front, 4-3. Tyler Janitz (Jr., SS, Salida, CA/Joseph A. Gregori HS) singled to center and Aaron Fong (Sr, 3B, Honolulu, HI/Punahou School) followed with an RBI double down the left field line.
A wild pitch allowed Janitz to score and Fong to reach third. After the catcher tracked down the ball, he made a wild throw to the plate in an effort to throw out Janitz, giving Fong an opportunity to score from third. Willamette ended the inning with a 7-3 lead.
Willamette maintained its four-run margin until the top of the ninth, when the Bearcats added three runs to their total. Jack Brett (Sr., C, Aurora, CO/Regis Jesuit HS) smacked a solo home run to right field with one out. Natuzzi doubled, and gave way to pinch-runner Tyler Vandemark (Fr., OF, Modesto/Joseph A. Gregori HS). Vandemark scored on a single by Del Prado, who scored the final run on a bases-loaded walk issued to Perry Van Eckhardt (Sr., CF, El Cerrito, CA/El Cerrito HS).
The win for the Bearcats featured strong pitching from Natuzzi, who started on the mound, and from Brandon Murillo (Fr., RHP, Rancho Cucamonga, CA/Los Osos HS), who tossed the final five innings. Murillo improved to 2-0 with the win. He allowed six hits and no runs, while recording one strikeout and one walk. Natuzzi, typically a relief pitcher, made his second start of the postseason, and allowed three runs and eight hits with four strikeouts and no walks.
In the top of the first, Willamette scored three runs to take the lead. Van Eckhardt was hit by a pitch to start the game, and then stole second base. Troy Conway (Sr., 2B, Moorpark, CA/Moorpark HS) walked. A double-steal advanced the runners to second and third. A wild pitch with one out brought in Van Eckhardt. Brett drove in Conway with a double to center field. Brett crossed the plate on a double by Del Prado with two outs.
UT-Dallas cut the lead to 3-2 in the bottom of the inning. Josh Covey was hit by a pitch as the leadoff batter. He went to second on a wild pitch. An infield single by Barry Casey sent Covey to third. Connor Scruggs drove Covey home with a double to right field. Casey scored on a single by Rodney Corbin. Brett threw out Corbin on an attempted steal and Natuzzi got out of the inning with a strikeout.
The Comets tied the score in the bottom of the third, before Willamette scored the final seven runs of the game.
Brett finished 2 of 4 with a homer, a double, two runs scored, one walk and two RBIs. Natuzzi went 2 of 4 and scored once. Fong went 2 for 3 with a double, a run and an RBI. Janitz and Del Prado each went 2 for 5. Del Prado belted a double, scored twice and drove in two runs. Janitz scored once.
Top hitters for the Comets were Corbin and Scruggs. Corban went 4 for 5 with a double and two RBIs. Scruggs was 3 of 5 with two doubles and an RBI.