Wildcats win in wild walkoff
With the score tied 1-1 in the bottom of the 13th inning, Linfield center fielder Kramer Lindell hit a pitch from George Fox reliever Alex Keenan down the left field line that could not have been closer to being called foul. The ball trailed away from left fielder Matthew Zeller, and Linfield base runner Jake Wylie kept chugging around the bases, eventually scoring from first base and setting off an explosion of cheering from fans and players alike.
“It was right on the line,” said Lindell, who was 3-for-6 Sunday. “Luckily it was fair.”
Linfield’s dugout emptied as Wylie slid feet first into home plate, easily beating a late throw from Zeller. Half of the team engulfed Wylie, still on the ground at home, while the other half swarmed Lindell between first and second base. Eventually, the two piles combined into one, celebrating Linfield’s third conference championship in the last four years.
The win comes almost a year after the No. 1-ranked Wildcats (29-5, 18-3) were swept by the Bruins, ending any hopes of Linfield winning another conference title and severely downgrading Linfield’s chances at making the postseason. Going into this weekend, the Bruins were actually a half-game ahead of the Wildcats for first place because they had played three more games, but Linfield won 6-1 and 10-3 in Saturday’s doubleheader.
“I was more thinking I wanted pay back for what they did,” senior Tim Wilson said. Wilson, who had his 16-game hit streak stopped Sunday, didn’t seem to mind in the afterglow of the marathon win. “They knocked us out, we had a chance to knock them out this year. That was the biggest thing for me.”
“It was beyond satisfying, obviously,” Linfield coach Scott Brosius said. “When the season starts, this is our goal, to win a conference championship. It feels great.
“That’s a good team over there. Those were three hard fought games. To be able to do it here at home is also pretty special. Pretty neat day.”
Sunday’s game moved along at a fast pace thanks to two efficient pitching performances by starters Tom Zarosinski and Linfield’s Zach Brandon. Both allowed one run in nine innings before turning it over to the bullpen. Keenan came in for George Fox and Justin Huckins pitched the final four innings for Linfield, allowing two hits to earn the win.
Unluckily for Keenan, the only hit he gave up was Lindell’s in the bottom of the 13th. The ball landed on the white paint 10 feet into left field, and Wylie kept hustling from second to third to home.
“He’s not known for his speed,” Lindell joked about Wylie. “I was happy he made it.”
Wylie was 3-for-4 with two runs scored and two walks Sunday.
“I think we were all running along with (Wylie) in the dugout,” Brosius said. “We were following him the whole play. It’s one of those things that as you’re watching it while it develops, it never feels like it’s going fast enough. It’s a great way to win a game.”
In the postgame celebration, Wilson clapped his hands together and said more to himself than anyone else, “Texas, baby.” A year after missing the postseason and a chance to play at home in the West regionals which Linfield hosted, the Wildcats instead had to watch as Whitworth won at Roy Helser field and advance to the Division III World Series. This year, with the NWC’s automatic bid to the postseason in hand, the Wildcats will play in the West regional in Austin, Texas, hosted by Concordia-Texas.
“It’s good to have a guaranteed spot in the regionals,” Lindell said. “We’ve definitely had it in our minds the whole year.”
Notes: Linfield scored six runs in the bottom of the eighth inning in game one of the series Saturday to come away with the 6-1 win. Linfield pitcher Chris Haddeland earned the win after pitching his sixth complete game of the year. He allowed six hits and one run and struck out seven in nine innings. … In game two, Linfield scored eight runs in the third, fourth and fifth innings to pull away from the Bruins and win 10-3. Aaron Thomassen won for Linfield. … Thomassen and Haddeland both earned their ninth wins of the season Saturday, giving them the most wins by a pitcher this season at the Division III level. … Linfield will find out Thursday what it will be ranked in the first of three releases of the regional rankings. The NCAA releases the rankings in the three weeks leading up to the announcement of the playoff field.