By Jerod Young • Jerod Young • 

Wildcats maintain dominance

Linfield softball locked up its 10th consecutive Northwest Conference championship Wednesday with an 8-0 win in game one vs. Willamette, but the Bearcats had something to say about that in game two.

While Willamette couldn’t do anything to spoil the excitement of Linfield clinching a 10th straight conference title, they had the opportunity to put a dent in the Wildcats confidence, and they did with a 2-1 win in game two.

The Wildcats saw its conference win streak halted at 19 games with the loss. With one weekend of regular season left to go, Willamette finds itself in a five-team race over the remaining three playoff spots.

“It was a disappointing finish to the series,” Linfield coach Jackson Vaughan said. “Overall, we were pretty dominant most of the series, but you have to tip your cap to Willamette for what they did in game two.”

What freshman starter Victoria Bradshaw did to Linfield was allow one run on one hit — that was all the Wildcats would get in game two.

“You have to give her some credit, but you have to give us credit for not playing well,” Vaughan said.

The star of game one for the ’Cats, and series for, was junior Ashley Garcia. Garcia went 4-for-7 at the plate in the series, and was a perfect 4-for-4 with a pair of doubles in Linfield’s win in game one.

Bearcats starter Hayley Glantz struggled early, and the Wildcats took advantage. Glantz walked the first three hitters in the first inning, loading the bases for Garcia, who plopped a single to right-center field that scored Grace Middelstadt. McKenna Spieth broke the game open with a two-run double, followed by a Katy Brosig single to center that scored Garcia. The outbreak gave Linfield a 4-0 lead with one out in the first inning.

Sophomore Erin Carson started the second inning bringing Middlestadt home on an RBI double and was followed by back-to-back doubles by Karleigh Prestianni and Lisa Yamamoto, which gave the Wildcats a 6-0 lead after two innings.

“We really wanted to come out and have a strong start against them,” Garcia said. “We wanted a strong first inning. If you get a good lead in the first, it’s hard for teams to come back.”

It was Garcia that closed out the game an inning early.

After another RBI hit from Carson in the fifth inning to make it 7-0, Prestianni led the sixth inning off with a double. Garcia came up and promptly hammered a single to left-center field that scored Prestianni.

Along with her four hits, Garcia had three RBIs and one run scored.

“We won out, so if I didn’t get it done, (Haylie) Watson was going to get it done,” Garcia said. “I just went up to that final at bat with the mentality of just needing a base hit. I’ve hit off that pitcher before, so I just had a lot of confidence.”

Karina Paavola was in charge of keeping Linfield’s lead intact, and had an impressive outing. Paavola had a perfect game going into the fourth inning before giving up a base hit to Bearcats’ leadoff hitter Jenna King. Paavola gave up three hits total before giving way in the sixth inning to Maddy Dunn. The win was Paavola’s 17th of the season. She finished with eight strikeouts and two walks.

The Bearcats loaded the bases with one out in the fifth inning, Paavola responded by striking out Erin Norris, and snagged a grounder by King for the third out.

“Karina pitched really well today and has made good improvements,” Vaughan said. “Her last outing here against PLU wasn’t her best, and I thought she pitched more like herself today.”

Bradshaw, Willamette’s pitcher in game two, dominated the Linfield lineup.

Brosig had the Wildcats lone hit, and scored its lone run on a fielding error by Bradshaw.

Willamette scored both runs in the fourth inning. Amanda Fernandes singled to left-center field with one out and Erin Bueser hit an RBI double to center. Courtney Galli followed with a single that scored Bueser.

Shelby VandeBergh started in the circle for Linfield. She surrendered six hits and no walks while striking out three in five innings of work. Montana McNealy relieved VandeBergh to begin the sixth inning, and she struck out the side in order.

Linfield again put two runners on base with two outs in the bottom of the frame, but Bradshaw struck out Spieth swinging to end the rally.

“We gave it a good effort in the second game,” Garcia said. “They have a really good pitcher who had good command of the strike zone, which made it hard to hit.”

Chelan Guischer drew a walk from Bradshaw with one out in the seventh inning, and a sacrifice bunt by Middelstadt advanced her to second. With two outs, Carson hit a line drive that was snatched on the run by center fielder Yvonne Drabin, securing the upset.

Though the Wildcats have clinched the Northwest Conference title, and will host the conference tournament April 20-21, there are still four games left for Linfield. The Wildcats visit Pacific Lutheran at noon Saturday before heading to Puget Sound to meet the winless Loggers at noon Sunday.

Vaughan insisted his team hasn’t checked out on the regular season.

“I warned them about being complacent,” Vaughan said. “This is the earliest we’ve locked up the title in a while. I don’t know if that played into it, it’s hard not to be over-excited. It’s usually come down to the last weekend before we’ve won it in the last few years.”

This time, though, Linfield doesn’t have to wait until then.

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