By Christian Dilworth, Sports Writer
This time last year, the Lutes found themselves topping Linfield to claim the Northwest Conference tournament championship, earning an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament.
Last weekend was not the same story.
Pacific Lutheran struggled early on when it dropped the opening round game to Whitworth in five innings of play. The Lutes managed fought their way into the championship round, winning the next two, before falling to Linfield 3-2.
Whitworth 11, PLU 2 (5 innings)
The opening game started out disastrous for the Lutes when the Pirates amassed four runs in the first inning. Senior Kaaren Hatlen, pitcher, couldn’t seem to find the strike zone and walked the first three batters she faced, leaving the game with the bases loaded.
Sophomore Leah Butters came into the game to be greeted by outfielder Heather Hesselgesser, who drove in two runs on a double. Megan John followed up by hitting a run-scoring single, and Julia Johnson, infielder, made the score 4-0 after a sacrifice fly.
The Lutes got a run back in the bottom of the first when senior Montessa Califano, outfielder, led off with a single and eventually scored on a Whitworth error, but the Pirates added two more runs on three hits in the second inning, including Hesselgesser’s run-scoring single. The Pirates made it 10-1 with four more in the top of the fourth, with Johnson jacking a three-run shot over the left-field fence to highlight the inning.
Hatlen took the loss, dropping her record to 10-8, while Whitworth’s Riley Fritz pitched a complete game and improved her record to 14-6.
PLU 7, Pacific 0
Apparently there was something in the Oregon water because Pacific Lutheran got out to a huge 4-0 lead in the first inning. Califano led the inning off with a triple and Senior Melissa Harrelson walked before fellow senior Amanda Hall, infielder, hit a two-run double. Hatlen provided the power for the Lutes with her 11th homerun of the season to cap the fourth run of the inning.
With these insurance runs, Butters was able to cruise through the Pacific lineup allowing only two hits in her complete game effort. With this win, PLU kept its hopes of staying in the tournament alive.
PLU 9, Whitworth 4
After being plundered by the Pirates 11-2 in the tournament opener, the Lutes fought back and sent Whitworth packing.
Whitworth jumped out to another early lead, but was unable to capitalize with runners in scoring position. PLU finally broke through with seven runs in the third.
Relief pitcher Megan Fisher relieved starter Riley Fritz and walked sophomore Kelsey Robinson. One pitch later, junior Lindsey Matsunaga landed the ball over the fence for a grand slam and the 6-3 lead. Senior Haley Harshaw felt left out of the party, so she belted her second homerun of the season to make the score 7-3 in the third.
Butters went the distance for the second game in a row allowing four runs on 10 hits.
Linfield 3, PLU 2
Pacific Lutheran ran out of its ‘secret stuff’ in the final game as they failed to capitalize on several scoring opportunities that proved to be crucial in the outcome.
The Lutes drew first blood when Hatlen hit a run-scoring base hit. After the second out of the inning, Robinson hit a single to load the bases. Linfield avoided any more trouble forcing a Matsunaga fly ball to end the inning.
Wildcat slugger Yamamoto tied the score with a leadoff homer in the second, but Hatlen added to her RBI total on the day with a leadoff bomb of her own in the third.
This was when Linfield ace Karina Paavola took control and retired the next 12 PLU batters and allowed her team to punch in two runs to take the lead and, ultimately, the conference title.