Hot NWC start cooled off by Pirates
After winning eight of its first nine Northwest Conference matchups, the Linfield baseball team dropped two straight against Whitworth University before taking the final game of the series March 27.
Since their 2-1 weekend against the Pacific University Boxers on March 6 and 7, the Wildcats have swept the Willamette Bearcats on March 13 and 14 as well as the Whitman College Missionaries the following week.
Linfield improved to 9-3 in NWC play and 17-7 overall, claiming second place behind Pacific Lutheran University.
Willamette was no match for a potent Wildcat offense March 13 and 14, as Linfield outscored its opponent 34-3 in the three-game series.
Senior shortstop Kelson Brown paced the ’Cats with seven hits and 11 RBIs, including his fourth and fifth home runs.
Sophomore outfielder Zach Boskovich added two long balls, as well, in the series, increasing his season total to a team-leading six homers.
The Linfield pitching staff overpowered Willamette batters all weekend. Sophomore Ryan Larson started the first game and dealt a complete-game, seven-hit shutout while fanning six hitters.
In Game 2, senior Garrett Dorn took the mound and continued the Wildcat dominance. Dorn carried a no-hitter into the sixth inning before surrendering a hit to freshman second baseman Galen Duff. Dorn would settle for a three-hit, one-run performance in six innings of work.
Junior Evan Hilberg closed out the Wildcat sweep, allowing only one run and six hits in six innings. He also struck out six Bearcats.
Leading the Linfield onslaught in the third game was senior center fielder Tyson Smith, who recorded four hits in the contest with three RBIs and his conference-leading 19th stolen base. He would add two more in the following weeks — one against Whitman and one in the Whitworth series.
Linfield’s lineup continued to light up the scoreboard against Whitman, as the Wildcats put up 54 runs in the three-game set, including a season-high 20 scores in the second matchup.
Junior right fielder and catcher Cole Bixenman was a force to be reckoned with as he recorded 10 RBIs in the first two games and delivered two home runs.
Larson, Dorn and Hilberg each earned wins in the series, combining for 12 hits and four runs allowed in 17 innings. The Wildcat bullpen then held the Missionaries to three hits.
Whitman showed signs of life in the first game of the series, tallying five runs with help from senior first baseman Joe Rodhouse.
Just as the ’Cats grabbed a hold of the NWC lead, the Whitworth Pirates traveled to McMinnville and held the Wildcats to two runs and 10 hits in the first two games of the series.
Pirate sophomore third baseman Landon Scott went four-for-six in those matchups with two RBIs, as Whitworth took the first two games, 3-2 and 4-0.
Brown and Bixenman recorded the only RBIs of the contests, driving in one run apiece late in the first game.
The series finale was a role-reversal for each team as Wildcat pitching denied the Pirates any runs. In his first start since an early season injury, senior Reese McCulley held Whitworth to six hits in a complete-game shutout.
Linfield attained an early lead after Brow drove in a run with a sacrifice fly in the third inning.
With a slight edge heading into the home half of the seventh inning, the Wildcats extended their lead. With a runner on third and two outs, junior third baseman Dustin Smith drove in sophomore pinch runner Jesse Boustead. Brown then delivered an RBI double down the left field line to give Linfield a three-run advantage.
That was all the insurance McCulley needed, as the Pirates were held to only one hit the rest of the way.
According to NCAA.com, as of March 28, the Wildcats are fourth in the nation in doubles (72), eighth in home runs (25) and 10th in total hits (300).
Tyson Smith is ranked third in the country with 21 stolen bases, while Boskovich is sixth in home runs with 8, and Brown is seventh in hits with 45.
The Wildcats will continue conference play April 3 when they travel to Tacoma, Wash., to take on the University of Puget Sound Loggers for a doubleheader. They will close out the three-game series with a matchup April 5.
Sports editorGrant Lucas can be reached at email@example.com