It was an exciting weekend for the Linfield Wildcats as they won their first home conference series against the Willamette Bearcats 2-1. As Sunday’s match was pushed up to Friday, March 7, there was no doubt that the ’Cats were ready for a showdown.
The Wildcats won the first game of the series defeating Willamette 5-2 with runs in the first, second, fourth, and eighth inning. In the first inning, senior outfielders Kramer Lindell and Nick Fischer drove in the first two runs putting the ’Cats up 2-0. The second inning looked no different with third baseman, sophomore Eric Lawson earning an RBI on a sacrifice fly putting the Wildcats up 3-0. Not long after, the ’Cats came through again in the fourth inning dominating the bases as junior shortstop Corey Vandomelen ripped a single driving in junior catcher Chance Laboda and giving Linfield a 4-0 lead. The final run came in the bottom of the eighth inning from Lindell’s hit and a Bearcats defensive error. However, it was not only the ’Cats offensive power keeping them on top. According to Lawson, the ‘Cats rely on the consistency of the pitching and defense. “We turned many crucial double plays this weekend and our pitching is the most consistent strength we have.” This was clear as the defense pushed to the end alongside junior pitcher Chris Haddeland giving up only two runs for the game.
Nonetheless, the ’Cats still had a job to complete. On March 8, the Wildcats took the mound for a double header to complete the series against the Bearcats.
In the second game of the series, the Wildcats took a hard loss to the Bearcats 7-3 with both teams battling neck and neck for a lead. In the fourth inning, a ’Cats pitching error gave Willamette their first run putting them up 1-0. Linfield responded in the seventh inning with a run scored by pinch hitter sophomore Finn McMichael and an RBI from VanDomelen. The Bearcats scored three more runs in the top of the seventh and Linfield responded with two in the bottom of the seventh. Only one run down, Linfield was three outs away from making a comeback that would win them the game. However, it was evident the Bearcats had the hot hand as they drove in three more runs in the top of the ninth giving Linfield their first conference season loss.
“We did pretty good. We just had a few bad innings. We need to execute better on our plays,” sophomore Kekoa Kaulukukui said.
“Our team can improve on situational hitting and base running. We did not execute like we know we can, and that seemed to be a common theme throughout the weekend,” Lawson said.
Excitingly, this loss seemed meaningless to the Wildcats as they came back to win the series with a 5-2 victory over the Bearcats. Linfield dominated the final match of the series with thirteen hits in comparison to Willamette’s four. The ’Cats caught on fire in the bottom of the second inning with four back-to-back singles with RBI credited to Laboda. Shortly after, a Bearcats’ error drove in Junior left fielder Jo Carroll putting the Wildcats up 2-0. Then, Kaulukukui drove in another run and VanDomelen’s single drove in Laboda to end the inning 4-0, ’Cats. Junior pitcher Aaron Thomassen also showed his skills on the mound giving up no runs in the first five innings. “Our pitchers threw well. They were getting outs” stated Kaulukukui. The last Wildcat score came from a Bearcat defensive error and Linfield would see a small response from Willamette with two runs scored in the top of the sixth. However, the ’Cats defense remained solid and the Bearcats would not see home plate again.
The Wildcats are dominating the conference with a record of 5-1. Their next appearance is in Walla Walla, Wash., against the Whitman Missionaries. With their performance on the mound this weekend, there is no doubt that the ’Cats season looks promising. According to Lawson, the team has a positive outlook going forward.
“We know we have to work on a few things, but the great thing about this team is that every single guy wants to get better,” Lawson said. “So we are going to take it day by day and make sure each day we are somehow bettering ourselves.”
Only time will tell whether they will repeat their NCAA National Championship.
Casie Gaza/ Senior Sports reporter
Junior Aaron Thomassen pitches towards a Willamette University player during the three round games which the ’Cats won two out of the three.
Photo courtesy of Kelly Bird
Junior Jo Carroll dives back to first base during the three games that the Wildcats played against Willamette University at the home field.
Photo courtesy of Kelly Bird