|With the 2017 NWC crown, Linfield is making their fourth playoff appearance in five years.
Linfield athletics photo
McMINNVILLE, Ore. – Battling all the way back through the loser's bracket and knocking off Willamette in back-to-back games, Linfield punched a return ticket to the NCAA playoffs for the first time in two years as champions of the Northwest Conference Baseball Tournament.
Improving to 28-11 on the season, the Wildcats, regular-season champions and the top seed entering the tournament, defeated the Bearcats (28-14) 7-2 and 6-4 Sunday afternoon at Roy Hesler Field. Linfield captured the tournament title for the first time in its two-year history.
In a winner-take-all championship game that featured 20 combined hits, it was a pair of bases-loaded walks that gave the ‘Cats the go-ahead and insurance runs, breaking a 4-4 tie in the bottom of the eighth.
Riley Newman (Sr., Salem, Ore.), who pitched Linfield to a complete-game victory in the team's first elimination game, threw the final four innings to earn the win, his eighth of the year. Brady Rediger (Jr., Salem, Ore.) homered in both games, totaling six hits, and Ryan Ross (Jr., Yakima, Wash.) and Ryan Pladson (Sr., Sammamish, Wash.) each drove in three runs.
The Wildcats learn the location of their regional playoff destination Sunday, May 14, prior to the May 18-22 tournament.
GAME 6: Linfield 7, Willamette 2
Linfield looked to be in early trouble when Perry Van Eckhardt shot a single to center and stole two bases before Mason Fessler drew a walk. But the Wildcat defense turned a clutch 6-4-3 double play, giving the offense an opportunity to take the early lead for the first time all tournament.
Rediger sparked the offense with a solo home run in the first, sending just the second or third pitch of the game over the left-field fence. Fox followed up with a double down the left-field line, and the next two hitters reached on a walk and fielder's choice before Ross drove home a second run with an RBI single. A drawn walk by Alex Hendra-Brown (Jr., Victoria, B.C.) loaded the bases, but starter Nathan Gilman denied the Wildcats more than a pair of runs in the inning.
More power hitting led to a third Linfield run in the second. Rediger gave the hosts a baserunner, and Ben Andrews (Sr., Shoreline, Wash.) capitalized with a two-out double, making it a 3-0 game.
Rediger got on base for the third straight plate appearance, this time on a walk, and Andrews did the same, giving Linfield two runners with one out. Pladson and Ross each supplied RBI hits to center before Jared Evans (So., Medford, Ore.) scored Pladson on a sacrifice fly to left.
Defensively, Carter Buuck (Jr., Hillsboro, Ore.) supplied his best pitching performance of the year, throwing five scoreless innings with four strikeouts to his stat line.
Willamette finally got on the scoreboard in the sixth, on Bailey's two-run bomb. But Dylan Peters (Jr., Yakima, Wash.) shut the Bearcats down the rest of the way, recording four straight outs to end the game.
Linfield tacked on one final run in the seventh, scoring on an error to make it 7-2.
GAME 7: Linfield 6, Willamette 4 (Championship)
Linfield scored its first two runs on first-inning solo home runs, a stretch of three straight scoring frames to start the winner-take-all championship game.
The Bearcats capitalized on a leadoff walk in the fifth, scoring first on Fong's RBI single to left and halving the deficit, 4-2, on Van Eckhardt's two-out outfield base hit.
With Willamette reliever Brendan Natuzzi yielding just a single baserunner in the fifth, the visitors had a chance to pull even in the sixth and cashed in, totaling two runs on just two hits. Del Prado smacked a leadoff double, Bailey drew a walk and both advanced on Brett's sacrifice, despite controversial “safe” call at third. Cameron Igarashi drew a bases-loaded walk to bring the Bearcats within one, 4-3, and Kyle Paguio knotted the score with an RBI single to right center.
With his team facing another dangerous, bases-loaded situation against zero outs, Ross snagged a fly ball in right and gunned a throw to the plate for Jake Gellos (Jr., Tualatin, Ore.) to make the tag. Newman ended the inning on a strikeout, escaping treacherous territory and preserving the tie.
The score held until the bottom of the eighth, when the ‘Cats loaded the bases on a Joey Cassano (Jr., Auburn, Wash.) leadoff single and consecutive walks from Fox and Andrews. Tension mounted as the count ran full and Pladson fouled off three more pitches before taking ball 4 and pushing across the go-ahead run. Ross took another free base, scoring Fox, before Jett Gallager finally got out of the jam with a pair of strikeouts.
Willamette threatened in the ninth, as Fong drew a leadoff walk. But Newman rang up his fourth strikeout of the day and the defense turned its second double play of the game to cap off the tournament and set up Linfield “Catpile” No. 2 of the year.
NEXT: Linfield keeps the competitive juices flowing prior to the regional playoffs with four nonleague games against conference opponents. Saturday, the ‘Cats take on Pacific and Pacific Lutheran in Forest Grove, and return home to McMinnville for a Senior Day doubleheader against George Fox Sunday at noon.