Linfield and Whitworth University got familiar with each other after fighting for first in the Northwest Conference last season.
The two teams met again for the first time last season on March 1 and 2 to play four games in two days. Linfield proved its dominance, earning the sweep, including ending two of the games by the 10-run rule.
Next weekend, Linfield will compete in two double headers, one against George Fox University, in Newberg, March 8, and the other at home against Lewis & Clark College for the conference home-opener March 9.
In the first game, Whitworth pushed the ’Cats into an extra inning. The Pirates were down to their last out in the bottom of the seventh when senior third basemen Amber Fowler’s double gave senior outfielder Halley Cey enough time to round the bases for the game-tying run.
In the extra inning, the ’Cats rallied to score five runs to give them a comfortable lead.
Whitworth was able to score two runs in a two-out rally, but it wasn’t enough to match the ’Cats, giving them the win, 9-6.
Senior third baseman Erica Hancock got the last out to end the Pirates’ chances of winning.
“Having our first batters get on (base) really makes hitting contagious,” senior shortstop Meredith Brunette said. “We build upon that.”
Junior pitcher Brittany Miller lasted all eight innings. She earned the win by holding the Pirates to only eight hits with 11 strikeouts.
Offensively, senior second baseman Jenny Marshall was the most productive, scoring once and accumulating three RBIs.
In the second matchup of the day, the Wildcats continued their strong hitting, scoring 13 runs and winning, 13-3.
“Our coaches do a very good job of scouting and getting us familiar with the pitchers,” Brunette said. “They prepare us by letting us know what pitch she’s going to throw in a certain situation.”
Junior pitcher Kendra Strahm got the start for this game and kept the Pirates’ offense from getting anything going, holding them to three runs.
After a night off, the Pirates came out strong in the third game, holding the lead through four innings until the ’Cats scored two runs in the fifth to tie the game at two.
“It should be tough (being down), but we’ve been down in a lot of games over the last two years together as a team that we have come back from every time,” Strahm said.
After allowing two runs in the first two innings, Miller was relieved by Strahm, who came in and took over. She didn’t allow the Pirates another run.
Linfield’s own offense was bleak throughout the first four innings, but it was able to come back. Brunette was a major contributor, with three RBIs to lead the team to a 5-2 win.
“We have that ability to not get down on ourselves and press,” Brunette said. “We have a lot of talent on our team. Someone will get it done.”
In their fourth and final match of the weekend, Strahm would again be called on to start after pitching five innings only a few hours before. Missing most of last season because of a knee injury gave Strahm an appreciation of being back out on the field.
“It felt fantastic to go 11 innings in one day,” Strahm said. “It felt great to be able to contribute that much again. I was definitely tired, but it felt good.”
Fortunately for Strahm, her offense was there to relieve her early, putting the 10-run rule into play again, finishing the game after six innings, 13-2.
The ’Cats managed 18 hits in only six innings. Nine of the 11 players who stepped into the batter’s box were able to make it around the bases and back home. Brunette had the most successful day for the ’Cats, going a perfect four-for-four at the plate, with two triples and three RBIs. She scored three times.
Getting a sweep to start NWC competition is as good as it can get for the ’Cats. Every game is important in getting back to the regional tournament. The Wildcats remain undefeated in the season at 6-0.