Rusty Rae/News-Register##
Linfield’s baseball team celebrates its Northwest Conference title run after the trophy presentation Sunday. The ‘Cats had to come through the consolation round by winning four straight games after a first round loss.
Rusty Rae/News-Register## Linfield’s baseball team celebrates its Northwest Conference title run after the trophy presentation Sunday. The ‘Cats had to come through the consolation round by winning four straight games after a first round loss.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##
Linfield’s Cameron Fox (10) slides home to score for the ‘Cats in the sixth inning of their game with Whitworth.
Marcus Larson/News-Register## Linfield’s Cameron Fox (10) slides home to score for the ‘Cats in the sixth inning of their game with Whitworth.
Marcus Larson/News-Register
Linfield s #2 hits a game tying RBI double in the bottom of the ninth.
Marcus Larson/News-Register Linfield's #2 hits a game tying RBI double in the bottom of the ninth.
Marcus Larson/News-Register##
Linfield starting pitcher Cason Cunningham started the first game against Whitworth.
Marcus Larson/News-Register## Linfield starting pitcher Cason Cunningham started the first game against Whitworth.
By Rusty Rae • Sport Editor • 

Adversity to advantage! Cats roll to NWC title after 1st game loss

 

Adversity can be advantageous.

In the case of Linfield’s baseball team, the tribulation from losing its first round game Friday coalesced its talent into a potent group, which then swept through the loser’s bracket of the Northwest Conference Baseball Tournament, culminating with a pair of wins over Willamette Sunday at Roy Helser Field, 7-2 and 6-4, earning the NWC’s automatic berth in the NCAA playoffs.

The character of the team, which, like a gradually developing photograph, finally matured, a reflection of head coach Scott Carnahan and his staff’s perseverance, as well as the team’s temperament.

“We came together at the right time. We found it (team chemistry) in the tournament – the whole team played well – and without Hilpert (senior Scott Hilpert, a .383 hitter, and league leader in homeruns, who broke his leg last weekend and listened to the game from his hospital bed in Walla Walla) – it has been a great ride,” Carnahan said among the bedlam of the final victory Sunday evening.

The tournament victory was not lost on the ‘Cats, who want their head coach exiting on a memorable post season. Carnahan, also the Linfield athletic director, retires at the end of the current season, winds up with a trip, most likely to Tyler, Texas, for the first round of the DIII playoffs, as a result of his Wildcats’ tourney win.

The Wildcats learn the location of their regional playoff destination May 14, prior to the May 18-22 tournament.

Linfield improved to 28-11 on the season. The Wildcats, the number one seeded team in the tournament, had a 13-game conference win-streak entering the weekend series, but lost the opening game against Whitworth, 4-3, in a contest the locals dominated statistically.

Whitworth scored four runs on four hits, but had a home run in the top of the 11th frame for the extra-frame victory.

“We could have had a three-game tournament, but we were unable to get the key hit that would have put us over the top in regulation against Whitworth. But in hindsight, everything worked out – and perhaps for the better,” Carnahan said.

“Ben Andrews played phenomenally in the tournament and Jake Gellos caught 38 innings. Newman was awesome – he was unbelievable, really coming through the last game with his four innings of pitching without a run.”

GAME 7: Linfield 6, Willamette 4 (Championship)

Linfield scored its initial two runs on first-inning solo home runs by second baseman Brady Rediger and designated hitter Ryan Pladson, to lead a stretch of three straight scoring frames to begin the winner-take-all championship game, giving Linfield an early 4-0 lead.

The Bearcats did not go lightly into the cold evening, capitalizing on a leadoff walk in the fifth, scoring first on Aaron Fong's RBI single to left, then cutting the deficit to 4-2 on Perry Van Eckhardt's two-out base hit.

With Willamette reliever Brendan Natuzzi giving up only a scratch single through the fifth inning, the Bearcats tied the score at four, totaling two runs on just two hits. Del Prado smacked a leadoff double, Bailey drew a walk and both advanced on Brett's sacrifice, despite a controversial “safe” call at third. Cameron Igarashi drew a bases-loaded walk to bring the Bearcats within one, 4-3, and Kyle Paguio knotted the score with an RBI single to right center.

The score held until the bottom of the eighth, when the ‘Cats loaded the bases on a Joey Cassano leadoff single and consecutive walks to McMinnville’s Cameron Fox, who played center field in Hilpert’s stead, and Ben Andrews.

Tension mounted as the count ran full against Pladson, who fouled off three more pitches before taking ball four, pushing across the go-ahead run. Ryan Ross took another free base, scoring Fox, before Jett Gallager finally got out of the jam with a pair of strikeouts.

Willamette threatened in the ninth, as Fong drew a leadoff walk. But Newman rang up his fourth strikeout of the game, and the defense turned its second double play of the evening to end the contest.

Newman, who pitched Linfield to a complete-game victory in the team's first elimination game against PLU Saturday, threw the final four innings to earn the win, his eighth of the year. Brady Rediger homered in both games, totaling six hits, and Ross and Senior Pladson each drove in three runs in the two-game championship series with Willamette.

Linfield 7, Willamette 2

Linfield appeared in early trouble when Perry Van Eckhardt shot a single to center and stole two bases before Mason Fessler drew a walk. But the Wildcat defense turned a clutch 6-4-3 double play, extinguishing the Bearcat fire.

Rediger sparked the offense with a solo home run in the first over the left-field fence. Fox followed with a double down the left-field line, and the next two hitters reached on a walk and fielder's choice before Ross drove home a second run with an RBI single.

More power hitting led to a third Linfield run in the second. Rediger gave the hosts a baserunner, and Andrews capitalized with a two-out double, making it 3-0.

Rediger, in his third straight plate appearance, found first base, this time from a walk, and Andrews did the same, giving Linfield two runners with one out. Pladson and Ross each supplied RBI hits to center before sophomore Jared Evans scored Pladson on a sacrifice fly to left.

Junior Carter Buuck experienced his best pitching performance of the year, throwing five scoreless innings with four strikeouts.

Willamette finally got on the scoreboard in the sixth, on Bailey's two-run bomb. But reliever Dylan Peters, shutting the door on the Bearcats, recorded four straight outs to end the game.

Linfield 6, PLU 5 (PLU eliminated)

After dropping the first game of the Northwest Conference Tournament, top-seeded Linfield overcame a 3-0 hole finding a way to move past Pacific Lutheran, 6-5, Saturday morning at Roy Helser Field.

Junior Ross scored the game-winning run on a wild pitch against the Lutes. Newman was marvelous for the ‘Cats, throwing a complete game and allowing five runs, while consistently preventing Lute rallies. Contrary to the previous sunny day, teams experienced spotted showers and sunbreaks with blustery wind gusts playing tricks with fly balls.

Soldiering through the conditions, the Linfield right-hander struck out six while giving up 11 hits and only two walks in a complete-game victory.

The major inning for the Wildcats was the bottom of the fifth, in which the ‘Cats scored five runs on four hits. Andrews delivered a bases-loaded, one-out double down the left-field line, tying the game. Linfield tacked on two more runs in the frame when Ross smashed a two-run RBI single to bring home Pladson and Andrews.

The Lutes threatened in the final inning after a two-out, two-run home run from the NWC's leading hitter,Landon Packard. But the rally was snuffed by Newman, who struck out Jacob Bockelie to end the game.

GAME 5: Linfield 8, Whitworth 3 (Whitworth eliminated)

Linfield again faced an early deficit, trailing 2-0, after Tyler Bailey led off the top half of the second with a home run to left and Ryan Bird sent another ball over the opposite fence in the fourth.

Andrews responded with a solo bomb in the bottom half of the frame, and a Jared Evans two-out double led to the tying run when Alex Hendra-Brown shot a RBI single to left field.

The ‘Cats captured a slim 3-2 advantage in the third. Cassano led off with a double, advanced on a Fox groundout and scored on a wild pitch.

Whitworth knotted the score at 3 on McGowan's RBI single. Linfield's defense turned a key double play on the previous at-bat to prevent further damage.

Reliever Matt Strang took the mound to start the eighth, and promptly registered a 1-2-3 inning, thanks in part to a serious stretch at first by Pladson for the 1-4-3 final out.

Rediger’s homer heroics gave Linfield the permanent lead, blasting a two-run round-tripper in the seventh. Linfield took advantage of three bases-loaded situations to push its advantage to 8-3 in the eighth. With two Wildcats already in scoring position, Whitworth elected to intentionally walk Hendra-Brown. Daniel Zavala made them pay for the decision, plating Pladson with a laser RBI single.

An error and Rediger single on back-to-back plays moved two more runs across, but Linfield missed out on gaining a five-run advantage with two close calls at the plate, one a totally blown call by the home plate umpire drawing the displeasure of Carnahan and earning the ‘Cat skipper a warning.

Whitworth (23-15) threatened to rally in the ninth, achieved consecutive singles from Cody Simmons and Garrett Hughes, but Connor set up Matthew Nelson for a sky-high fly ball to center, ending the game.

Whitworth 4, Linfield 3 (Linfield to consolation bracket)

An 11th-inning solo home run by Whitworth right fielder JT Phelan earned the victory for the Pirates against top-seeded Linfield, 4-3. The Wildcats (24-11) outhit the visitors 9-4, owned a 2-1 advantage after a sixth-inning rally and knotted the score in the bottom of the ninth, but missed many scoring opportunities, leaving 10 runners stranded.

Linfield keeps the competitive juices flowing prior to the regional playoffs with four nonleague games against conference opponents. Saturday, the ‘Cats take on Pacific and Pacific Lutheran in Forest Grove, and return home to McMinnville for a Senior Day doubleheader against George Fox Sunday at noon.

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