McMINNVILLE, Ore. – Zach Manley and Evan Hilberg combined to shut out the George Fox University Bruins and the fifth-ranked Linfield College Wildcats made the most of four hits for a 3-0 victory Saturday afternoon here at Roy Helser Field, sewing up the Northwest Conference baseball championship and an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III National Tournament.
Linfield improved to 26-8 overall and 17-4 in the conference, clinching a share of their second straight conference crown. The University of Puget Sound, now 13-7 in the conference after pulling out a 6-5 win over Pacific University with three runs in the bottom of the ninth in the first game of a doubleheader Saturday, is the only team with a mathematical chance of catching the Wildcats, but would have to win all four of their remaining NWC games and have Linfield lose all three next weekend at Pacific Lutheran University.
George Fox fell to 24-11 overall and finished NWC play with a 14-10 record. Their place in the final standings will not be determined until all conference series are finished next weekend.
Linfield took a 1-0 lead in the first inning against the Bruins' Brian Davis (2-1) when Eric Evenson led off with a bloop double off the left-field foul line, was sacrificed to second, and scored on Tim Wilson's ground out to second. The Wildcats had a chance for more runs off Davis in the fourth when the George Fox starter walked four batters in the inning, but one runner was picked off first, and reliever Carl Mason needed only one pitch to get Kevin Coleman on a fly to right to end the inning with the bases loaded.
The Wildcats picked up insurance runs in the sixth and eighth innings. In the sixth, Wilson drew a lead-off walk, stole second, and scored on Clayton Truex's ground single to left. In the eighth, Dustin Smith walked, was sacrificed to second, and scored on Kevin Allan's two-out double down the left-field line off reliever Jacob Brown.
The Bruins out-hit the Wildcats six to four, drew four walks, and had one hit batsman, but left all 11 of their runners on base, twice squandering bases-loaded opportunities and leaving two in scoring position in another inning.
Manley (3-0) worked seven innings for the Wildcats, spacing five hits while fanning five with two walks. He escaped a one-out bases-loaded jam in the fourth by striking out Zac Israel and Jay Kirchhofer, and got Taylor Hunter on a soft liner back to the mound with two out and the bases full in the seventh.
The Bruins had another shot to tie in the eighth against Hilberg. With two out, Derek Aldrich drew a walk and Nate Hickok lined a single off Hilberg, with both runners advancing to second and third when third baseman Smith fielded the ricochet and threw wildly trying to get Hickok. Hilberg induced Israel to tap back to the mound, however, and struck out two in the ninth while nailing down his second save.
Evenson for Linfield and Kirchhofer for George Fox were the only batters with two hits in the tight pitchers' duel.
NEXT: George Fox will be off for exams and graduation next week, returning to the field on May 2 to host Concordia University-Portland in a 2:00 p.m. game … Linfield, which will most likely go to the West Regional at McMurry University in Abilene, Texas, plays a doubleheader at Pacific Lutheran Saturday at 12:00 noon.