Three sweeps, top spot for Wildcats
Linfield softball collected six Northwest Conference wins after taking two games each from Pacific Lutheran University on April 10, the University of Puget Sound on April 11 and Lewis & Clark College on April 14.
Traveling to Tacoma, Wash., for four matchups, the Wildcats first took two games from the 9-3 Lutes.
Falling into a 0-2 first-inning hole, sophomore centerfielder Jaydee Baxter hit a two-run home run as part of a three-run third inning to take the lead.
The Lutes rallied in the fourth for three runs of their own, taking a 5-3 lead.
Linfield notched another three-run inning on a solo home run by sophomore first baseman Staci Doucette and a two-run home run by junior second baseman Alex Hartmann.
Padding their lead with two scores in the seventh, the Wildcats went on to win 8-5.
Sophomore pitcher Lauren Harvey threw five innings, giving up three earned runs before junior Claire Velaski closed out the game with a two-inning save.
The second of the two games was another nail-biter, but a well-rounded hitting performance helped Linfield to a 5-4 win.
Each Wildcat hitter had a base hit, including a three-run home run from sophomore catcher Emilee Lepp in the second inning.
Velaski threw a complete game with six strikeouts for her ninth win of the year.
“We knew we could beat them, but we knew we needed to play hard,” Lepp said. “They’re a good team.”
In the series opener against the Loggers, Harvey threw a one-hit shutout, adding eight strikeouts en route to her 11th win of the year.
Doucette had runs batted during the third and fifth inning before junior shortstop Emily Keagine placed the game out of reach with a three-run home run.
Lepp closed out the 7-0 win with a solo homer in the seventh.
The final game of the weekend was never in doubt. Hartmann recorded two first-inning RBIs in a three-run opening frame. Lepp and Baxter added home runs. All starters had base hits in the 11-1 win.
With all the long balls the ’Cats are hitting, it is no surprise that the team leads Division III softball in home runs per game with 1.6.
The wins helped the team move up one spot in the National Fastpitch Coaches Association poll to No. 18.
The Wildcats traveled to Portland to make up a rained-out series against Lewis & Clark College April 14.
Baxter kicked off the scoring in the second with the first of her two RBI singles. She scored on a double by sophomore designated player Sami Kemi.
Freshman third baseman Karleigh Prestianni hit a two-run double in the third and a three-run homer in the fourth to account for five of the eight runs in those innings.
Velaski and junior Elsie Karscig combined to allow three hits in five innings, as the ’Cats won 12-2.
In the second match, Linfield strung together 18 hits, including six doubles in a 14-3 rout.
Every starter had a hit while Keagbine and senior right fielder Rochelle Friend had three RBIs, and Baxter, Lepp and Doucette each added two.
Linfield has four players in the top 10 of home runs nationwide. Doucette is tied for the national lead with 12, Lepp and Prestianni are fourth with 10 deep balls and Keagbine sits in seventh with nine.
Harvey was named NWC pitcher of the week after going 3-0 and striking out 13 without walking a batter. Lepp, her catcher, was offensive player of the week with six homers, 14 RBIs and a .500 batting average.
Lepp said her hitting has improved but not as a result of any change in her swing or her approach. She said hits that used to go for singles are now simply leaving the yard.
Lepp, who hit second the last several games, said she prefers that spot to the leadoff position she held a few weeks ago.
She said the team is feeling less stress as it progresses through the season.
The 19-1 Wildcats host the second place and 15-3 Willamette University Bearcats for four games, April 17-18.
“We love playing Willamette,” Lepp said. “They’re always our best competition, and we’re all excited to play them. And it’s always fun to play at home.”
FreelancerKurtis Williams can be reached at email@example.com