By Robert McKinney, Athletics Communications Director, (503) 370-6110
HILLSBORO, Ore -- Freshman starting pitcher Brandon Nelson (RHP, Murrieta, CA/Vista Murrieta HS) threw six strong innings, helping Willamette University open the baseball season with a 4-1 win over nationally-ranked Pacific Lutheran University on Friday, Feb. 5 at Ron Tonkin Field. The Bearcats broke a 1-1 tie with two runs in the seventh inning and added one run in the eighth.
Eric Del Prado (So., LHP/INF, El Segundo, CA/Loyola HS) struck out three batters in two scoreless innings of relief for the Bearcats. Jackson Watt (Sr., RHP, Rocklin, CA/Whitney HS) picked up the save and earned one strikeout while facing four batters in the top of the ninth.
Willamette is 1-0 on the season. Pacific Lutheran, ranked #17 in the D3baseball.com Top 25, is 0-1.
The Bearcats tallied the game's first run in their opening at bat. Troy Conway (So., 2B, Moorpark, CA/Moorpark HS) walked with one out, and then advanced to third on a double down the left field line by Mason Fessler (So., 3B, Woodburn, OR/Blanchet Catholic School). Conway scored on a sacrifice fly to right field by Ty Wyatt (So., 1B, Keizer, OR/McNary HS).
After Conway's run, Nelson and PLU starting pitcher Kyle Rossman kept both teams off the scoreboard until the top of the sixth, when the Lutes tied the score at 1-1.
With two outs, Landon Packard walked and Cole Johnson was hit by a pitch. Brett Johnson placed a single up the middle to drive in Packard. Runners were left at first and second when Nelson forced Frank Airy to send a pop-up to second base.
Willamette surged in front with two runs on three hits in the bottom of the seventh.
Jack Brett (So., C/DH, Aurora, CO/Regis Jesuit HS) opened the inning with a single to right against reliever Garrett Brown. Brendan Natuzzi (Fr., INF, Napa, CA/ Justin-Siena HS) pinch-ran for Brett, and advanced to second on a single up the middle by Tyler Janitz (Fr., INF, Modesto, CA/Joseph A. Gregori HS). Perry Van Eckhardt (So., OF, El Cerrito, CA/El Cerrito HS) hit a sacrifice bunt to put both runners in scoring position.
Connor Bailey (Fr., RF, San Diego, CA/Scripps Ranch HS) drove in Natuzzi and Janitz with a single up the middle. Brown escaped the inning without further damage, but the Bearcats led 3-1.
Del Prado shut down Pacific Lutheran in the top of the eighth with a strikeout, a groundout and a fly out. With two outs in the bottom of the inning, Cole Pursell (Fr., C, Oceanside, CA/El Camino HS) was hit by a pitch and Gordie Clary (Sr., RF/LHP, Vacaville, CA/Vacaville HS) followed with a pinch-hit single. Janitz singled to left center, allowing Pursell to score from second base.
In the top of the ninth, Watt walked Airy to open the inning, but the next batter, Kory VanderStaay, batted the ball toward the mound for a 1-6-3 double play. After hitting Connor Cantu with a pitch, Watt struck out Ben Welch to end the game.
The Bearcats outhit the Lutes, 8-7. Janitz went 3 for 4 at the plate for Willamette with one run and one RBI. Fessler was 2 for 4, including his RBI double. Brett, Clary and Bailey each recorded one hit.
For PLU, Brett Johnson was 2 for 4 with an RBI, while Welch finished 2 for 5. Cantu was 2 for 3 with a double. During the first six innings, the Lutes held a 6-2 lead in hits, but left two runners on base in the second inning and two more after tying the score in the sixth.
Nelson faced runners on first and second in the second inning after Cole Johnson and Brett Johnson earned back-to-back singles with one out. Nelson escaped the inning by getting Airey to pop-up and VanderStaay to ground out.
Willamette will play two games on Saturday, Feb. 6. First, the Bearcats will take on Whitman College at Ron Tonkin Field at 11 a.m. (PST). Later, WU will battle Linfield College at 5 p.m. in McMinnville, Oregon.