The new spring sun was popping out from time-to-time and a semblance of warmth greeted a nice crowd for a weekend of baseball March 22, at Pacific Lutheran University. On tap was a Saturday doubleheader against University of Puget Sound, followed by a Sunday tilt to close the series against the Loggers.
The long-time cross-town and conference rivals spent the better part of eleven hours working out their differences on the diamond over three games and each contest had its own flavor.
In the first game, UPS capitalized on a wild-pitch to break a 0-0 tie in the fifteenth inning claiming the victory 2-0. The second game saw PLU take an early 2-0 lead only to surrender 12 runs in innings 4 thru 6 and suffer a 15-6 blowout loss. The Lutes bounced back in the final game behind a solid pitching performance, holding off the Loggers at the end for a 5-4 win.
UPS (5-4 NWC, 7-10 overall) found itself closer to the bottom than to the top of the Northwest Conference baseball standings prior to the weekend. PLU (8-3 NWC, 13-7) sat comfortably in second-place behind NCAA Div III #1 ranked Linfield.
The Lutes remained in second after going 1-2 against the Loggers; however UPS was able to move up one spot to fifth in the NWC Standings and had just one more loss than the Lutes.
In the marathon first game PLU rolled out ace pitcher Trevor Lubking to the mound. The junior hurler entered the game leading the NCAA D-III in strikeouts; and he didn’t disappoint ringing up his third-straight double-digit strikeout performance with 13 in 8.1 innings of shutout work.
UPS countered with their big gun; 6-4 junior Steve Wagar who pitched an equally impressive 8.1 scoreless innings and five strikeouts. Wagar’s performance, coupled with an appearance earlier in the week against St. Martins would earn him NWC Pitcher of the Week honors.
The game lasted four hours and three minutes and the squads left a combined 29 players on base. Three runners were tagged-out at home plate, and it took a Cory Nelson wild pitch past Lute catcher Curtis Wildung to bring in the Loggers’ JB Early from third-base for the deciding run. Next up, senior first baseman Curtis Carter smoked a deep double adding an insurance run scoring junior centerfielder Connor Savage. UPS wins game one 2-0.
“Everybody in the dugout did a real good job staying focused and in the game,” said Puget Sound’s Carter about the extended contest. “They’re a great team so whenever you can take one from the Lutes it always feels good… Especially with Lubking on the mound. He’s a great pitcher. He really knows how to spot up and throw all of his pitches for strikes. That was a big deal.”
It was a tough loss for any team to take after such a long battle, and PLU didn’t look like they were ready to bounce back from it.
“It was a little deflating,” said Lutes head coach Geoff Loomis. “Puget Sound has a good squad and they definitely had a lot of momentum going into game two after that big win in game one. If that first game goes our way it could have been our momentum.”
In game two, the Lutes used some clutch-hitting and took advantage of UPS throwing errors for a run in the first and third innings. UPS worked the base paths in the fourth, turning four hits and two walks into a four-run inning and a 4-2 lead. PLU answered in their fourth with a home run over the right field wall by Wildung to close within one run at 4-3. UPS scored a run in the fifth and erupted for seven runs in the sixth and the rout was on at 12-3 UPS.
The game was postponed in the eighth inning due to darkness and was continued the following day prior to game three. UPS added a homer from Jeff Walton in the eighth and two more runs in the ninth for the 15-6 victory.
PLU was able to put the drawn-out, two-day loss quickly behind them in game three. Junior pitcher Chris Bishop took a no-hitter into the sixth inning and the Lutes had a 3-0 lead. The Loggers scored one in the sixth on an RBI single by Lucas Stone scoring Connor Savage. PLU responded with two more runs in the bottom of the sixth to move further ahead 5-1.
The Loggers scored three runs on clutch two-out hitting in the eighth inning and the memories of the extra-innings the day prior began to stir with PLU clinging to a 5-4 advantage.
Lutes closer AJ Konopaski made short-work of the Loggers in the ninth inning earning his ninth save of the season recording three straight outs on just eight pitches. Lutes avoid the sweet with the 5-4 win.
“We bounced back really strong,” said Loomis. “We wanted to keep ourselves in this league race and we really needed to win game three to keep that going.”
Loggers head coach Brian Billings was pleased with his teams weekend run but was already looking forward.
“I’m really happy with the way we pitched this weekend and some of our hitters really broke out,” Billings said. “Any time you can throw a 15 inning shutout, you have to be happy with that.
“We played pretty well against a good baseball team. Of course we’re happy taking the series on the road against our cross-town rival but we’ve got to turn the page and get ready for Linfield now.”