By Ben • Ben Schorzman • 

'Cats open conference with a sweep

Avenging a 2-1 series loss to Pacific from last season, the Linfield Wildcats handed the Boxers three losses over the weekend and extended their winning streak to 10 games.

“This conference is hard to sweep,” Linfield coach Scott Brosius said Sunday. “There are quality teams here. Pacific is a defending co-conference champion, so we knew going into this weekend, they have a good No. 1 guy that we were able to beat in that first game. … It’s a tough league to get those sweeps.”

The Wildcats racked up 32 hits over the three-game series, and the starting pitching was more than good enough. Sophomore Chris Haddeland, who graduated from McMinnville in 2011, threw a complete game in game one Saturday, and Linfield won 10-2. In game two, pitcher Aaron Thomassen allowed one run in six innings to get the 6-1 win. In the series finale Sunday, Zach Brandon took a shutout into the ninth inning but held on for the 4-3 win.

“Our pitchers threw well this weekend,” Brosius said. “If they continue to pitch like that they’re going to give our hitters to score some runs and win the game.”

The Wildcats play (10-1) at 2 p.m. today at home vs. Montana State-Billings. The solid pitching over the weekend helped save the bullpen. The Wildcats only used five pitchers in the three games.

“All the guys threw well,” Brosius said, “and especially with the Tuesday game we were hoping to keep a couple of arms fresh, and we were able to save a couple of guys for Tuesday.”

Haddeland set the tone Saturday. He allowed two unearned runs on four hits with eight strikeouts. Haddeland also walked three batters.

From the plate, the Wildcats had 13 hits, including 10 combined in the sixth, seventh and eighth innings. Linfield trailed 2-1 vs. Pacific’s ace, Rob Dittrick, before breaking through for two runs in the sixth, three in the seventh and four in the eighth.

“(Dittrick) is the type of guy you just have to keep trying to grind on,” Brosius said. “He’s been a real successful pitcher in our conference.”

Jake Wylie was 5-for-5 with five RBIs and a run scored in the first game. Wylie finished with seven hits in the series. Shortstop Corey VanDomelen and second baseman Tim Wilson each had five hits in the three games.

“Jake was huge for us this weekend,” Brosius said of Wylie.

In the second game Thomassen allowed one run on seven hits, and Justin Huckins allowed two hits with no runs over the final three innings. The Wildcats scored five of their six runs over the first four innings of the game to jump on the Boxers.

In the series finale Sunday, Linfield had to hold on. Brandon worked quickly in the early innings and rarely had to work out of trouble before the ninth inning. Brandon got one out but had runners on second and third base when Brosius brought in Garett Speyer. Speyer held on (barely) striking out the final batter with the tying and go-ahead runners on second and third.

The Wildcats had 10 hits Sunday, which is below their average through their first 11 games this season. Linfield is averaging 11.3 hits a game this year and has outhit teams 124-60. The Wildcats don’t hit a lot of home runs, but 1-9 in the batting lineup can string hits together.

“I like our team offensively,” Brosius said. “I think we have some depth in our lineup. Everyone is capable of driving in runs and putting up quality at bats. I don’t know that this weekend that we necessarily had everyone in the whole lineup clicking, but that’s why we have depth.”

The Wildcats popped into the D3Baseball/NCBWA rankings last week at No. 22, and this week’s rankings come out today. During the 10-game winning streak, Brosius said he liked the way his team has focused.

“I like the way we’re playing right now,” Brosius said. “What you want to do over the course of the season is keep building, keep getting better. Every weekend you’ll have some guys swinging well and others not so much and you just have to keep building and improving each week.”

The Wildcats are tied at 3-0 in the Northwest Conference with George Fox. After today’s game vs. Montana State-Billings, Linfield plays a three-game series this weekend at Willamette.

Notes: The Wildcats opened last season with a sweep of Lewis & Clark. … Overall, the Wildcats have swept 32 NWC-series in 10 years. ... Wylie finished the weekend with a line of 7-for-13 with seven RBI, and two extra base hits, and raised his season batting average to a team-high .463. … The Wildcats’ starting pitching staff combined to throw 23 1/3 of the 27 innings and allowed three earned runs.

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