SPOKANE - The Pacific Lutheran baseball team are Northwest Conference tournament champions as the Lutes knocked off No. 14 Whitworth 6-5 on Sunday afternoon at Merkel Field in Spokane.
The Lutes (25-16) entered the day undefeated in the tournament and needing one win in the double-elimination format to clinch the title.
The Lutes jumped out to an early 5-0 lead before the Pirates could record an out but needed a gutsy pitching performance from Ty Donahou after the Pirates rallied back in the bottom of the first inning to tie the game. Donahou was efficient pitching into the eighth inning and surrendered just three hits the rest of the way.
"The first inning was rough,"Donahou said. "I had a talk with Soete in between innings and I just pitched with fire and anger for the next seven innings. I was looking to hit my spots and give my team a chance to win."
"He did excellent after that," PLU head coach Nolan Soete said. "He grinded all day for us."
Ben Welch and Drew Oord led off the game with back-to-back walks. An error by the Pirates' shortstop allowed Tyler Thompson to reach base and plated Welch giving the Lutes their first run of the game. Cole Johnson then followed with a single to bring in Oord.
With runners on first and second the Lutes threatening to break the game open, Brett Johnson clubbed a three-run home run over the left field wall to put the Lutes up 5-0.
"Big first inning," said Nolan Soete, PLU head coach. "Brett came through with a huge home run to put us up by five."
After a Pirates' grand slam tied the game in the bottom of the first inning, Tyler Thompson responded in a big way. Thompson clubbed a solo home run over the left field wall in what proved to be the game-winner. The home run was Thompson's eighth of the season and second of the tournament.
"I was locked in this weekend," Thompson said. "I was in a zone seeing the ball very well. I just wanted to stick with my aggressive approach but also be patient at the same time and do some damage if the pitchers left the ball up. I'm just pretty pumped for the team. We've been through our ups and downs and to come through in the conference tournament is a great feeling."
The game remained 6-5 into the eighth inning with few scoring opportunities on either side. The Pirates led off the eighth inning with a single and threatened to tie when the runner advanced to third with two outs, but Welch made an outstanding leaping grab at shortstop to preserve the 6-5 lead.
Garrett Brown finished the final two innings in relief of Donahou to earn his conference-leading ninth save of the season and third save in as many days.
"Garrett Brown finished it off in style," added Soete. "Brown is a true competitor."
"I was locating my fastball and getting ahead of batters early in counts," Brown said. "I used my curveball as an out pitch to keep them off balance all weekend. Our defense is amazing and I commit to throwing strikes and let them get the outs for me."
Brown and the rest of his teammates are thrilled with the outcome on the weekend.
"It feels amazing." Brown added. "Going back to back to regionals is huge and a big time accomplishment for this baseball team. It was a total team effort. We had a rough start to this season so we had a new team goal to make the conference tournament, peak at the right time, and win it -- and that's exactly what we did."
ON TAP FOR THE LUTES…
The Lutes head to Oregon next weekend to take on Linfield in two non-conference games and await word on the regional postseason when the full field is announced on May 15.