LEWISTON, Idaho - A ninth-inning comeback attempt by George Fox University ended with the go-ahead run at the plate as the Bruins dropped their 2011 season finale to their arch-rival Linfield College Wildcats 6-4 in the Inland Cellular Baseball Tournament Saturday afternoon here at Lewis-Clark State College's Harris Field.
George Fox finished its 16th consecutive winning season with a 26-13 record. Linfield, the Northwest Conference champion, will take a 31-9 record into the NCAA Division III National Championship Tournament, which begins with eight regional playoffs May 18-22. The Wildcats will mostly likely be assigned to the West Regional hosted by McMurry University in Abilene, Texas.
The Bruins got on the board first with a pair of runs in the top of the fourth. With two down, Derek Blankenship singled, Derek Dixon doubled down the left-field line, and Jay Kirchhofer knocked them both in withy a single to right. Dixon's first four hits since being called up from the junior varsity program, all on this trip, have been two-baggers.
The Wildcats got one back off GFU starter Andrew Snyder in the bottom of the inning on Cole Bixenman's 10th home run of the season, then forged ahead with three in the fifth off reliever Carl Mason (2-1), who did not get an out. Gunnar Cederberg walked, Eric Evenson doubled, and Dustin Smith singled to center to tie the game, taking second on a relay throw to the plate. Connor Harris replaced Mason and got two outs before surrendering run-scoring singles to Nate McClellan and Kevin Allan.
A single by Blankenship, a ground out, and an RBI single by Zac Israel brought the Bruins within one at 4-3 in the eighth, but the Wildcats pulled away with two insurance runs in the home half off Brian Davis. Kevin Coleman singled to lead off, pinch runner Kramer Lindell advanced on a wild pitch, and Cederberg walked, bringing in Jacob Brown to replace Davis. After Evenson sacrificed the runners along, Tim Wilson and Bixenman each singled to drive in a run.
The Bruins rallied in the ninth as Eric Gantenbein reached on an error at third with one out, Derek Aldrich walked, and Blankenship singled to left to score Gantenbein. With Dixon the go-ahead run at the plate, Linfield closer Evan Hilberg induced a 6-4-3 double play to end the game and notched his fourth save.
Zach Manley (5-0) started and got the win for Linfield, going 5.0 innings, allowing seven hits and two runs, and striking out four while walking in two. Hilberg went 2.2 innings for the save, surrendering four hits and two runs, one unearned, with two strikeouts and a walk.
Snyder, the first of six George Fox pitchers, worked 4.0 innings, giving up four hits and one run while fanning two and walking two. Harris went two shutout innings and Kyle Albertson one scoreless frame.
Blankenship had three hits and Gantenbein two for the Bruins, who had 11 hits in all. Evenson and Wilson led the Wildcats' 15-hit attack with three safeties each, while Bixenman, McClellan, and Allan had two apiece.