Wildcat baseball rises to the top

Big weekends from junior Nick Fisher and senior Tim Wilson, along with continued starting pitching excellence helped Linfield baseball stretch its winning streak to six games March 23 and 24, with a three-game sweep of Whitworth. The ‘Cats won 5-2, 14-2 and 10-5.

With the victories, Linfield now sits alone at the top of the NWC standings with an 18-3, 11-1 NWC record. Whitworth, which was predicted to finish first in the NWC preseason coaches poll, dropped to 9-12-1 and 4-5 in conference play with the three losses.

When asked about Whitworth’s struggles as a comparison to last year’s Wildcats, Fisher said, “with how competitive this conference is year in and year out, it seems like when you’re the team that’s expected to perform, you get everybody’s best game. This Whitworth team is nearly exactly the same as it was last year. It just doesn’t seem like it has the drive or desire that it brought to us when we played it a year ago.”

Any drive Whitworth had was stymied by sophomore Chris Haddeland (5-1, 1.17 ERA) in game one of March 23’s doubleheader, as he hurled his third complete game of the season, giving up just two runs on seven hits and two walks, while striking out six. The Linfield offense supplied Haddeland with runs in the sixth, seventh and ninth innings to hand Whitworth starter Dan Scheibe, an All-NWC first-team selection last year, his second loss of the season.

When asked about the success against Scheibe, Fisher said, “It becomes even more important to be selective with the pitches you’re seeing up there. We all started to notice how he was trying to pitch us──like throwing a forkball with only two strikes to right-handed hitters, or starting middle of the order guys off with curveballs. And with the bats we have in this lineup, once we have a really good idea of what pitches are coming, it’s scary to see what we can do offensively.”

Fisher, senior Jordan Harlow and junior Kramer Lindell had multiple hits in game one, and junior Jake Wylie lashed a key two-run single to score Harlow and Wilson in the ninth inning to extend Linfield’s lead to 5-1. Wilson went 2-4 in the game with a single, double, RBI, run scored and a stolen base.

Linfield translated its success against Scheibe into a 14-2 demolition in game two, highlighted by a five-hit game from the All-American, Wilson. Wilson scored five runs, drove in three and launched his first bomb of the season to start a five-run Linfield ninth inning. With the five hits, Wilson became just the second Wildcat in the past decade to collect seven hits during a doubleheader.

The RBI opportunities were plentiful for the middle of the order, with Wilson, sophomore Corey VanDomelen and senior Kenny Johnson reaching base 10 times in 13 combined plate appearances. Fisher and Wylie each had two hits during the game. Fisher and Lindell knocked in two runs apiece, and Wylie knocked in three. Harlow also had two hits in the seven hole.

Starting pitcher sophomore Aaron Thomassen (5-0, 0.86 ERA) lasted 6 1/3 innings and gave up two runs (one earned). He allowed eight hits and three walks but worked out of jams in the second, fourth and sixth innings. Junior Garett Speyer took over for Thomassen with one out and two runners on base in the seventh, but he recorded the final two outs of the inning on a pop out and a strikeout.

Speyer remained in the game to finish the final two innings and gave up just two hits.

Junior Zach Brandon (4-1, 2.13 ERA) threw five scoreless innings in game three March 24 and Fisher mashed to a tune of 3-4 with three runs scored and two RBI en route to the 10-5 victory.

Fisher helped start the scoring in the second inning with a single and a stolen base. Junior Nate McClellan, struggling of late, drove Fisher in with a double to left field.

In the fourth inning, the ‘Cats had two outs but loaded the bases with a Fisher single and back-to-back walks from McClellan and Harlow. Senior catcher Kyle Chamberlain, also struggling at the plate before the game, came to the plate with the bases juiced and produced a key two-run single to score Fisher and McClellan.

The fifth inning saw the ‘Cats break the game open, scoring five runs and stretching the lead to 8-0. Three straight hits from Wilson, VanDomelen and Wylie produced one run, and then Lindell was intentionally walked to load the bases for Fisher. Fisher made Whitworth pay with a bases-clearing double.

In relief of Brandon, sophomore Joe Stevick had a rough outing, giving up five hits and four earned runs in one inning of work. Junior Justin Huckins pitched the final three innings, ceding just two hits and one unearned run, while striking out two.

The Wildcats look to continue their winning streak this weekend, with a doubleheader March 29 and one game on March 30 against Puget Sound (10-13, 5-4 NWC).

Tyler Bradley/Sports columnist

Tyler Bradley can be reached at linfieldreviewsports@gmail.com.