By Jerod Young • Jerod Young • 

Wildcats looking for vengeance

The last time Linfield softball played Pacific Lutheran, it was in the Division III national championship game in Salem, Va. last May. It was a 3-0 win for the Lutes, and Pacific Lutheran pitcher Stacey Hagensen had the game of her life.

Not only was she named the tournament’s Most Outstanding Player, but she shut out Linfield for the second time that season. Hagensen allowed three Wildcat hits, and helped the Lutes win their first national title. It was the last in a long string of duels between the two rivals. Aside from the national championship, Linfield and Pacific Lutheran played eight times in 2012, with PLU winning 6-of-9 vs. the 2011 defending national champions. The Lutes won all the games when they mattered most, too. They defeated Linfield 3-0 to win the Northwest Conference Tournament championship, then sent the ’Cats to the loser’s bracket in the NCAA finals with a 5-3 win last May. Then came the final punctuation to the season in the championship final.

The bitter rivalry resumes for the first time this season at noon Saturday, and the teams will play a doubleheader.

Before No.9-ranked Linfield (18-5, 10-2) can set its sights on a rematch of the title game, the ’Cats take on winless Puget Sound (0-21, 0-12) at noon Friday in a doubleheader.

The Loggers are in a rebuilding situation. Last season, Puget Sound finished sixth in the Northwest Conference with 11 wins. The Loggers were seventh in the conference in offense and sixth in pitching. This season, Puget Sound ranks sixth in both categories.

Both Linfield and Pacific Lutheran have returned to form this season, and like last year, the Wildcats are first in the conference, but the Lutes are right behind with 15 wins.

Pacific Lutheran is not as strong offensively this season as it was last year. Same is the case for Linfield. Last season, the Wildcats ranked first in offense, while the Lutes ranked third. Both teams were ranked No.1 and No.2 in pitching last season. Both are slightly lower this year.

Linfield comes in third behind George Fox and Lewis & Clark in total offense. Pacific Lutheran comes in to the weekend series ranked fifth in the category. The two come in at the same spots for pitching.

Pacific Lutheran enters the weekend series against Linfield coming off of a long trip to Texas where it took on three schools in three days. The Lutes swept Mary-Hardin Baylor and East Texas Baptist. Pacific Lutheran finished the trip Wednesday at Texas-Tyler.

Both Linfield and the Lutes will stay in close proximity to one another Friday. While Linfield takes on Puget Sound at home, Pacific Lutheran will stay on the road and play at Willamette in preparation for Saturday’s big games.

Like the Lutes, the Wildcats make their return to McMinnville after a long road trip.

Linfield returns home after a stint in Southern California. The trip started March 20 with a doubleheader at La Verne. The Wildcats swept both games against the Leopards, and outscored La Verne 15-1.

Megan Wallo had an impressive series against the Leopards. She tallied five hits and an RBI in the sweep. Ashley Garcia finished the series with four hits.

The Wildcats left La Verne and faced Cal Lutheran in a doubleheader March 21. For the second straight day, the Linfield offense was too much for its opponent. The Wildcats outscored the Kingsmen 17-6. Wallo excelled with another two-hit game. Karleigh Prestianni and Haylie Watson also had two hits. Watson led the team with three RBIs. Wallo responded with two more hits in game two, bringing her a total of nine hits in two days. Prestianni led the team with two RBIs.

From there, Linfield went to Orange County to close out the road trip March 22 against Chapman.

The Wildcats lost the first game to the Panthers 3-2. It was Linfield’s first loss since March 10, but it responded in game two with a 12-1 win. Erin Carson led the team with four hits and three RBIs. Lisa Yamamoto and Grace Middelstadt also had three RBIs for Linfield.

The Wildcats finished the California trip 5-1 and outscored their opponents 46-11.

Prestianni returns to Linfield with a .433 batting average, the second highest in the conference. Yamamoto is second in the conference with 29 RBIs and is tied for first with Lewis & Clark’s Amanda Rabith with five home runs. Middelstadt leads the conference with 17 stolen bases.

The Wildcats have been dominant in the circle too. Montana McNealy leads the conference with a 1.07 ERA, and Karina Paavola is the conference leader with nine wins and 54 strikeouts.

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