SALEM, Va. – Putting up 14 hits but surrendering a season-high 13, Linfield scratched out a far-from-perfect 9-5 victory over Ohio Northern Friday morning in an opening round game at the NCAA Division III Finals at Moyer Sports Complex.
Linfield (43-5) moves on through the winners bracket to play Northwest Conference rival Pacific Lutheran (42-11) Saturday at 1 p.m. PDT.
Karleigh Prestianni paced the Linfield offense with three hits, Emilee Lepp swatted a double and home run, and Haylie Watson (Sr., Puyallup, Wash.) drove in three runs for the defending national champion Wildcats.
Highlighted by nifty triple from Katy Brosig (Sr., Forest Grove, Ore.) in the second inning, the Wildcats took a 4-0 lead, cashing in four hits, two errors and a couple of walks.
ONU picked up a run in the third on Cassie Gaye’s ground-out single that scored Christin Miller, who reached base with a single, then was moved to third on a double by Kelly Sheridan.
Wildcats starter Lauren Harvey gave up a single and allowed another runner on board with a hit-by-pitch in the bottom of the fourth, resulting in pitching coach Greg Herman reaching for the bullpen early. Karina Paavola (Sr., Kelso, Wash.) came on in relief, getting out of the inning unscathed and setting up another big scoring inning for the Wildcats.
Emilee Lepp led off a four-run burst with her 15th home run of the season, a solo shot to center field. Prestianni singled and Watson followed with a single down the left-field line to score a pair of runs. A RBI single to the same spot by Jordan Mixsell made it 8-1 in favor of the ‘Cats.
Four Linfield pitchers cycled through the game, necessitated by a series of four errors and two hit batters that kept Ohio Northern within reach. All told, Harvey, Paavola, Montana McNealy (Jr., Aloha, Ore.) and Shelby VandeBergh (Sr., Beaverton, Ore.) struck out nine Polar Bears without yielding a single walk. Paavola (23-2) earned the victory, tossing two scoreless inning with a couple of strikeouts.
The Polar Bears were their own worst enemy at times, hampered by five errors and 12 stranded runners.
Christin Miller went 3-for-5, Ashley Sujkowski was 3-for-3 to lead the Ohio Athletic Conference champions at the plate. Abbey Bensing absorbed the loss to fall to 12-7.
Ohio Northern (31-13) drops into an elimination game against Luther Saturday at 8 a.m. PDT.
Also contributing two hits for Linfield were Brosig, Watson and Grace Middelstadt (Jr., Battle Ground, Wash.).
‘CAT SCRATCH: Linfield won its opening game for the fourth time in five trips at the NCAA Finals. . . temperature at game time was in the mid-60s under overcast skies. . . 19 Wildcats saw action in the game. . . Ohio Northern is located in Ada, Ohio, a small town with just four traffic lights that is home to a Wilson football manufacturing plant. . . the Wildcats have now been on the road together for 10 straight days. . . Linfield and PLU have met seven times this spring with the Lutes winning four of those. . . the Wildcats won the regular-season championship by one game over the Lutes, but PLU knocked off Linfield for the NWC tournament title. . . Linfield has won 19 of the last 25 contests between the two longtime rivals . . . prior to Linfield winning the nine consecutive NWC titles, PLU had won 12 of the previous 13 softball crowns.
IN OTHER TOURNAMENT GAMES: Pacific Lutheran knocked off Luther 8-0 in five innings. Plattsburgh State scored one run in the bottom of the seventh to down Montclair State 1-0, and local favorite Roanoke shutout Tufts 1-0 in the late contest.
3-for-3 with a double
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