Lucky No. 7: NWC champs
The Linfield softball team swept Northwest Conference rival Willamette University in four games in McMinnville on April 17-18 for the first time since 2004 and claimed its seventh consecutive NWC title with a 23-1 record.
Junior pitcher Claire Velaski threw a complete game, allowing one run on four hits as the Wildcats took the first of four home games 4-1.
Scoring opened in the bottom of the third when freshman third baseman Karleigh Prestianni drove home sophomore catcher Emilee Lepp. The next batter, junior shortstop Emily Keagbine drove in Prestianni and sophomore first baseman Staci Doucette.
Lepp scored Linfield’s last run in the fifth on a groundout by Doucette after tripling. Lepp tallied three of Linfield’s seven hits.
“I was confident,” Velaski said. “Our hitting is out of control right now.”
Linfield’s other starting pitcher, sophomore Lauren Harvey, took the ball in Game 2 and matched Velaski’s performance. Harvey pitched all seven innings while surrendering just five hits and two earned runs.
Doucette’s two-run single, the fourth hit in a row, capped off a five-run, six-hit second inning. The inning erased the 1-0 lead Willamette had — its only lead of the weekend.
“If we allow runs, we have total confidence our offense is going to put runs on the board,” Harvey said.
Doucette led off the fifth inning with the 51st home run of the season. This sets a single season record for the program.
Junior left fielder Kayla Hubrich added two hits and two runs in the 7-3 win.
Velaski threw her second complete game of the series, allowing five hits and two runs and improving her record to 13-2. Velaski’s earned run average dropped to 1.77, which, along with her victories, ranks second in the conference.
Lepp’s homer in the third was Linfield’s only run until the team brought 10 batters to the plate in the fifth, scoring five runs on four hits, including a two-run single by Doucette.
“Even if we get down, I never feel like we’re going to lose,” Velaski said. “I never get that sinking feeling; I know the offense will come through and do their job. It’s just a matter of time.”
Velaski added that when the pressure is on, the team follows through. She said she has confidence that the team will have at least one offensive outburst a game, which Harvey agreed with.
Willamette added a consolation run in the sixth on a sacrifice fly from sophomore shortstop Mica Romero to score sophomore outfielder Sierra Lessel, but the Bearcats lost their third straight game 6-2.
The outcome of the last game of the series was never in doubt.
After loading the bases with no outs in the first and finding only one run, the offense exploded for six in the second. Lepp and Doucette both had two-run doubles in the inning.
Harvey improved her conference-leading 1.51 ERA and won her NWC-best 14th game in the 8-0 win.
Both Harvey and Velaski said that sweeping the second-place team in the conference is proof that the team deserves to stand alone atop the NWC.
The wins moved Linfield, 31-5 overall, to No. 16 in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association poll with 10 teams with as many or more losses than the ’Cats.
The first NCAA regional rankings have Linfield at third in the West behind University of Texas-Tyler, which bounced the Wildcats from the postseason last year, and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps, which defeated Linfield twice this year.
The team wraps up regular season play with two home games April 24, followed by two away games against Pacific University on April 25.
The Boxers, now second in the NWC, lost two games to Whitworth University on April 17-18, which allowed Linfield to secure the NWC crown.
FreelancerKurtis Williams can be reached at email@example.com