Wildcats wrap up NWC early
Courtesy of Linfield sports information
NEWBERG – Nick Fisher homered twice and Clayton Truex also took a one-hit journey around the bases as top-ranked Linfield wrapped up a second consecutive Northwest Conference championship with an 8-3 victory against its fiercest league rival, George Fox, on a rainy Saturday afternoon at Morse Field.
The Wildcats (29-4, 19-2 NWC) gained enough distance from second-place Willamette, which lost to Whitworth 8-6 in Game 3, to claim the conference title outright and earn the league's automatic bid into the NCAA Division III playoffs. Even should Linfield lose its final three games, finishing 19-5, the best the Bearcats could finish after their four remaining games is 18-6, one game back.
Aaron Thomassen pitched five scoreless innings and relinquished command of the mound to Linfield's bullpen in the sixth with the Wildcats holding a sizeable 6-2 advantage. Senior Justin Huckins and sophomore Cody Walker each pitched 1 2/3 innings, combining for three strikeouts and just one hit, to deny George Fox's 10 to-be-graduates a comeback win on Senior Day.
Offensively, the Wildcats scored twice in the third, fourth, sixth and ninth innings, pounding out a season-high 18 hits as five members of the starting lineup enjoyed multiple-hit outings against Bruins starter Tom Zarosinski and reliever Sam Eberhardt.
Fisher drove in a team-high three RBIs on a solo and two-run homer as part of a 4-for-5 day, while Truex plated two runs with a fourth-inning home run as one of his three hits.
Matthew Zeller hit 3-for-4 with a two-RBI single, while Josh Rapacz hit 2-for-5 to lead the Bruins (25-10, 15-9 NWC).
Both starting pitchers yielded one hit in both halves of the first and second frames, but neither team scored until Fisher blasted a leadoff round-tripper in the third. Jake Wiley and Kramer Lindell followed up with singles to put a runner in scoring position, and Eric Lawson brought Wylie home with a two-out single to right.
Corey VanDomelen led off the fourth with a single to left, and scored on Truex's third home run of the season as Linfield doubled its lead.
In the sixth, Fisher and Wylie delivered one-out singles and Truex earned a free bag on a hit by pitch to load the bases. Lindell's sacrifice fly plated Fisher, and Jo Carroll pushed Wylie across when he punched a single through the left side.
The Bruins got to Linfield's starter in their offensive half of the sixth. Rapacz and Zac Israel supplied back-to-back singles, and Zach Hegelmeyer drew a two-out walk to load the bases. Zeller singled to score both Rapacz and Israel, prompting a pitching change for the Wildcats. New pitcher Huckins walked Derek Blankenship, but rebounded with a strikeout against Danny Clifford to escape the bases-loaded situation.
Kenny Johnson sparked the final scoring inning for Linfield with a leadoff single to center field. Two at-bats later, Fisher smacked his second home run of the afternoon, giving the Wildcats an 8-2 advantage with three defensive outs to go.
On the mound, Walker registered four straight outs in the eighth and ninth frames as Linfield moved one victory closer to a fifth 30-win season under seventh-year head coach Scott Brosius.
Linfield plays its final Northwest Conference series at home against Lewis & Clark. Saturday's doubleheader is set for a noon start, with Sunday's single game beginning at noon following a celebration to honor Linfield's 10 graduating seniors.
George Fox 4, Linfield 1
Linfield 12, George Fox 3
NEWBERG – In handing top-ranked Linfield just its second Division III loss of the year, George Fox must have known a response was coming. Sure enough, the Wildcats opened up a 2-0 lead after one inning and blew the game open with a massive seven-run seventh frame to knot the series at one win apiece in a key Northwest Conference matchup Friday afternoon at Morse Field.
Trying to keep playoff dreams afloat with a good showing against the defending national champions and with ace Clay Gartner on the mound, the Bruins (24-9, 15-8 NWC) held the Wildcats (28-4, 18-2 NWC) scoreless after the third frame en route to a 4-1 victory in Game 1. But Linfield came out swinging in the nightcap and never relented, claiming the 12-3 rebound victory to avoid suffering its first series loss of the season.
Clayton Truex drove in a team-high six RBIs on three hits, Corey VanDomelen tallied a single and double in each game and Kramer Lindell belted his first home run of the year to pace the Wildcats.