By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SPOKANE, Wash. -- Texas Lutheran University scored a run in the bottom of the 10th inning to defeat Willamette University, 6-5, in the championship game of the NCAA Division III Spokane Regional at Avista Stadium on Sunday, May 20. The Bulldogs, ranked #6 in the D3baseball.com Top 25, moved to 38-9 on the season and advanced to the NCAA Division III World Series set for May 25-29 in Appleton, Wisconsin. Willamette, which tied the school record for victories set in 1998, finished as the regional runner-up with a 31-19 record. It is the first time the Bearcats have played 50 games in one season.
A single by Keaton Boysen with one out and runners at first and second drove in Ben Marvin with the game-winning run for the Bulldogs.
Willamette forced the extra inning when Perry Van Eckhardt (Sr., CF, El Cerrito, CA/El Cerrito HS) blasted a leadoff homer off the right field pole in the top of the ninth inning to tie the score at 5-5.
"They (Texas Lutheran) executed and took advantage of the opportunities they had," Willamette Head Coach Aaron Swick said. "I'm just extremely proud of my players, my team."
The Bearcats took an early lead with two runs in the top of the first inning. Van Eckhardt began the game with a single to right center and Troy Conway (Sr., 2B, Moorpark, CA/Moorpark HS) single through the right side. Connor Bailey (Jr., LF, San Diego, CA/Scripps Ranch HS) sent a sacrifice bunt toward the pitcher to move the runners into scoring position.
With two outs, Brendan Natuzzi (Jr., 3B/RHP, Sonoma, CA/Justin-Siena HS) hit an RBI single to right field to drive in Van Eckhardt. Conway scored on a single through the left side by Eric Del Prado (Sr., 1B, El Segundo, CA/Loyola HS).
The Bearcats increased their lead to 3-0 when Bailey smacked a solo home run over the left field fence with one out in the third inning. It was his 15th home run of the season, moving him into second on Willamette's single season list. The hit was Bailey's 64th of the season, tying him with Mitch Gregg (1999) for the Willamette record.
After Bailey's home run, Jack Brett (Sr., C, Aurora, CO/Regis Jesuit HS) belted a double and Conway contributed a single to put runners at second a third. The Bulldogs turned a 4-6-3 double play to get out of the inning.
Matt Steindorf (Jr., RHP, Granite Bay, CA/Granite Bay HS), who opened the Spokane Regional by pitching the first seven innings and throwing 98 pitches in Willamette's 10-5 win over 15th-ranked Chapman University (Calif.) on Thursday, started the championship game and tossed 115 pitches over the first eight innings. He recorded three strikeouts, including one for the final out of the second inning. He limited the Bulldogs to just two hits during the first six innings.
The defense provided several strong plays in the first five innings. In the third, Tyler Janitz (Jr., SS, Salida, CA/Joseph A. Gregori HS) assisted on the second out after moving to his right to catch a ground ball. He then avoided Natuzzi, who also charged toward the ball from third base, in order to throw to Del Prado at first.
In the fourth, Cameron Igarashi (Sr., RF, Honolulu, HI/Mid-Pacific Institute) caught a line drive in right field for the second out and Van Eckhardt grabbed a fly in center for the third out. In the fifth, Van Eckhardt made a stellar catch at the the fence in center field for the second out and Conway covered plenty of ground from second base to end the inning with a catch in left center.
The Bearcats left two runners on base on both the fourth and fifth innings, but produced a run in the sixth for a 4-0 lead. Aaron Fong (Sr., 3B, Honolulu, HI/Punahou School) singled to left to start the stanza. He stole second base, went to third on a sacrifice bunt by Igarashi, and scored when Van Eckhardt's suicide sqeeze bunt resulted in a hit between home and the mound.
Janitz provided a nifty flip throw to Conway at second for the second out in the bottom of the sixth. Janitz fielded the grounder behind second base and had little time to complete the play. Steindorf caught a line drive for the third out.
Texas Lutheran tallied its first run in the bottom of the seventh. Tyler Cauley reached base when his bunt toward third led to an errant throw by Steindorf. Boysen reached on a fielder's choice, as Cauley was thrown out at second. Matthew Lemon singled to move Boysen to second. With two outs, Brandt singled to third and went to second on a throwing error. Boysen scored an unearned run on the play.
In the bottom of the eighth inning, the Bulldogs scored four runs to move in front 5-4. Riley Schaefer doubled down the right field line to start the frame. He eventually scored on a single by Thomas Varner. Cauley followed with a two-run homer down the left field line to tie the game. Boysen hit an infield single to third and crossed the plate on a double by Lemon.
Van Eckhardt's leadoff homer in the ninth tied things up.
"He made a mistake inside, and I just got my hands on it and it went down the line," Van Eckhardt said. "I was just praying it would stay fair."
In the top of the 10th, the Bearcats received three walks and had the bases loaded with one out, but Drew Waller went to the mound and forced a fly ball to right and a foul out near first to stop the threat.
Marvin walked for TLU to open the bottom of the 10th. Varner advanced him to second with a sacrifice bunt toward third. Cauley was intentionally walked. Boysen earned the game-winning single on the first pitch he faced.
Wallker improved to 5-2 for the Bulldogs with the win. Joey Faudskar (So., RHP, Phoenix, AZ/Pinnacle HS) fell to 0-1 with the loss. Faudskar pitched all of the ninth inning and to three batters in the 10th.
For TLU, Varner and Lemon were both 2 for 4 at the plate, while Boysen and Schaefer each went 2 for 5. The Bulldogs registered three extra-base hits on Cauley's home run plus doubles by Schaefer and Lemon. Van Eckhardt went 3 of 6 for Willamette with two runs and two RBIs. Cownay, Brett and Natuzzi each provided a 2-for-5 performance. WU's extra-base hits were the home runs by Bailey and Van Eckhardt, and a double by Brett.
As he has one all season, Van Eckhardt provided key plays in a variety of ways. He hit a single to start the game, provided a great catch in center, drove in a run on a suicide squeeze that became a hit, and blasted the 18th home run of his career to tie for eighth all-time at Willamette.
"There are a lot of things I can do to create energy for our team," Van Eckhardt said. "I just want to help the team win."