By News-Register wire services • News-Register wire services • 

'Cats clinch conference crown Sunday

Courtesy of Linfield sports information

SPOKANE, Wash. – Completing a pair of weekend doubleheader sweeps over its next closest competitor, Linfield locked up a Northwest Conference record-tying 11th consecutive championship Sunday afternoon at Diane Marks Field. The front-running Wildcats handed challenger Whitworth 6-0 and 5-3 defeats, knocking the Pirates (22-12, 14-8 NWC) out of the title picture.

The ‘Cats (28-6, 22-2 NWC) extended their stranglehold on the league's hardware, equaling the lengthy run of 11 straight titles by Pacific Lutheran, which claimed the trophy every season from 1987 until 1997.

Grace Middelstadt went 4-for-7 in the two games, scoring three runs and stealing two bases to lead Linfield offensively. Lefty Montana McNealy struck out six batters in two scoreless relief appearances in the pitching circle.

In the first game, Ashley Garcia and Erin Carson both drove in two runs and Karina Paavola and struck out seven batters to become only the second player in Linfield history to surpass the 500-strikeout plateau. The senior righthander also collected her 15th pitching victory of the season and 70th win of her career. Paavola limited the Pirates to two hits and no walks through the first six innings, then handed the ball to McNealy to apply the finishing touches in the seventh.

Linfield scored three runs in both the third and seventh innings. Paavola and McNealy combined to register Linfield's 13th shutout of the season.

Middelstadt recorded a hit all four of her plate appearances in the second game, and Haylie Watson launched her fifth home run of the season, a two-run shot that gave the Wildcats the early lead in the second inning.

Whitworth answered with three runs in the bottom of the frame, but Linfield erased the Pirates' only lead of the four-game series with a three-run fourth inning. Middelstadt tripled, Maddy Dunn doubled, and Katy Brosig had a single to turn the tide back toward the Wildcats' favor.

Still battling in the late going, the Pirates put the tying run at the plate in the bottom of the seventh, but McNealy earned the save, striking out the last two batters she faced to end the game and complete the four-game series sweep on the road.

Wildcats starter Shelby VandeBergh pitched five innings to earn the win, raising her season record to 9-2.

 Linfield plays its final NWC series during the coming weekend. The Wildcats host Willamette for Senior Day on Saturday, then visit Salem to conclude the four-game set with the Bearcats on Sunday. Action begins both days at noon.


Linfield 7, Whitworth 3

Linfield 2, Whitworth 0

SPOKANE, Wash. – Shelby VandeBergh, Karina Paavola and Montana McNealy teamed for 27 strikeouts and Linfield piled up 19 hits to produce an important Northwest Conference doubleheader sweep of title-contending Whitworth Saturday at Diane Marks Field. The eighth-ranked Wildcats won the opener 7-3, then served up a 2-0 shutout in the nightcap.

Four Wildcats tapped three hits in the twinbill, with freshman Erin Kinney accumulating a team-best seven total bases that included a single, double and her third home run.

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