Linfield entered into a series that called for three wins against George Fox University to remain in contention for the Northwest Conference championship in Newberg, Ore., on April 24 and 25. The Wildcats answered with a three-game sweep of the Bruins.
Entering the series, the Bruins sat only a half-game behind the Wildcats for second place in the NWC. Anticipation was high for George Fox, as no team in history had swept the Bruins at Morse Field — that is, until the ’Cats visited on this weekend.
Momentum and intensity were tantamount in the George Fox sweep, senior pitcher Garrett Dorn said. He said that everything was falling into place. Senior first baseman Rhett Fenton had a similar take.
“All week we talked about being the ‘hunters,’ not the ‘hunted,’” he said. “We brought that attitude into the series, looking to take it one game at a time. We knew we had nothing to lose and everything to gain.”
Linfield displayed its dominant lineup throughout the series, scoring 18 more runs than its opponent.
“It’s always nice as a pitcher to know that no matter how you play, you can still have an opportunity to win because of your offense,” Dorn said. “Our lineup is the strongest I’ve seen since I’ve been here, and it gives our pitching staff a lot of confidence.”
The No. 17 Wildcats improved to 17-4 in conference play and 27-10 overall, trailing Pacific Lutheran University by one game in the NWC standings.
After Linfield notched an early 1-0 lead in the first inning, the ’Cats erupted for 17 runs in the next frame, overpowering Bruin pitchers with 13 hits in 22 at-bats.
The George Fox defense helped out the Linfield onslaught, committing a whopping five errors in the inning that allowed nine unearned runs to score.
Fenton recorded two hits and three RBIs in the frame, while junior designated hitter Kevin Coleman and senior catcher Mitch Webb contributed with two hits apiece.
With an 18-0 advantage, sophomore pitcher Ryan Larson had more than enough room for comfort, allowing only four runs in six innings of work en route to his team-leading eighth win of the season.
Linfield junior third baseman Dustin Smith led the offensive attack with four hits and three RBIs.
In the nightcap, Dorn shut down the Bruins’ lineup, lasting eight innings and giving up just three runs — one of them unearned.
Three innings after two Wildcat errors allowed the Bruins to even the score at one, Linfield regained the lead when sophomore outfielder Zach Boskovich drove in senior shortstop Kelson Brown, who doubled to lead off the frame.
Linfield extended its advantage to three after the ’Cats scored one run in each of the fifth and sixth innings. The Wildcats sealed the victory in the eighth when Fenton scored on an error by Bruin junior third baseman Eric Gantenbein.
In the bottom half of the frame, George Fox tallied two runs, knocking a pair of RBI doubles off Dorn.
Junior Robert Vaughn, however, entered the game in the ninth inning and held the Bruins scoreless to pick up his first save of the season.
“As the game went on, I felt like I was getting stronger,” Dorn said. “I had good velocity on my fastball and was able to command my slider. Making pitches in key situations made me successful.”
Fenton and senior centerfielder Tyson Smith each posted a team-high two hits, scoring a combined two runs in the process.
Freshman catcher Josh Rapacz was the lone bright spot for George Fox following a two-hit, one-RBI performance.
In the series finale, a pair of fifth-inning home runs by the Wildcats highlighted a 10-run outing, in which senior Reese McCulley threw seven solid innings of one-run ball.
With the score tied heading into the fourth inning, Linfield used an RBI single by Tyson Smith and an RBI double by Brown to grab hold of a two-run edge.
In the top of the fifth, Fenton belted a leadoff homer, soon followed by a three-run blast by Dustin Smith that extended Linfield’s lead to six.
After the teams exchanged runs in the eighth inning, Boskovich delivered his league-leading 14th bomb of the season to cap off the Wildcat victory.
Brown paced the offense with three hits, while Boskovich, Fenton and Larson each added two.
The Wildcats will face off against the Lutes in McMinnville on May 1 and 2 for a three-game series that will decide the NWC championship. The magic number for each program is two, as that many wins will bring home the title.
“If we play our game and don’t give PLU extra outs, we will have a good chance to win each game,” Fenton said. “We’re playing some of our best baseball right now and carrying a lot of confidence into this series.”
Linfield is 7-2 at home in NWC action this season, while PLU holds an 8-1 record on the road in conference play.
Sports editor Grant Lucas can be reached at email@example.com