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SALEM, Va. – Northwest Conference heavyweights Linfield and Pacific Lutheran locked horns in the winners bracket Saturday at the NCAA Division III Finals at Moyer Sports Complex where the surging Lutes scored four unanswered runs over the final two innings to snatch a 5-3 victory from the defending national champion Wildcats.
Seeing a five-game playoff winning streak snapped, Linfield (43-6) dropped into a loser-out game Sunday at 9 a.m. PDT against Tufts (41-6). The Wildcats are seeking to become only the third repeat champion in Division III history but now face an uphill battle to return to the NCAA title game for a third straight year.
PLU (42-11), winner of seven straight, moved ahead in the winners bracket to play Montclair State. That game will be Sunday at 2 p.m. PDT.
A three-run home run to left field by Amanda Hall in the sixth inning allowed the Lutes to climb out of a two-run hole.
Each team scored single runs in the first inning, with PLU’s Stacey Hagensen driving in a run with a single, and Staci Doucette returning the favor in the bottom of the frame.
Taking a full-count pitch from Hagensen, Doucette pounded a leadoff home run in the third that put the Wildcats in front 2-1. With Linfield ace Karina Paavola (Sr., Kelso, Wash.) holding the PLU bats at bay, the Wildcats added another single run on in the fifth when Ashley Garcia (Sr., Beaveton, Ore.) tapped a ground-out RBI that scored Doucette. Paavola retired 13 consecutive batters before the Lutes made their move.
In the sixth, Paavola grazed Glennelle Nitta with a pitch, then issued a walk to Kaaren Hatlen on an at-bat that stretched to 11 pitches. That set the stage for Hall, who hit her fifth homer of the season, touching off a wild celebration at home plate.
Linfield had its opportunities for more runs but couldn’t cash in. In the third inning, the ‘Cats loaded the bases with one out, but Hagensen coaxed consecutive ground outs from Garcia and Lisa Yamamoto (Jr., Carson City, Nev.) to prevent Linfield from breaking the game open.
And down two runs in the seventh, Doucette and Katy Brosig (Sr., Forest Grove, Ore.) each singled to put two runners on, but Karleigh Prestianni was tagged out trying to steal third base and Garcia grounded out to end the game.
Linfield doubled PLU’s hit total, 12-6, and played error-free through the first six innings. But the Wildcats left 10 runners on base.
Paavola, a third team NFCA All-American as a sophomore, was saddled with just her third defeat against 23 wins. She struck out five Lutes, allowed just one walk, and threw 85 strikes on 118 pitches.
Doucette was brilliant in the loss, going 4-for-4 with two runs scored and two RBI, including her NCAA-record 72nd career home run. Prestianni went 3-for-4 and leadoff hitter Grace Middelstadt (Jr., Battle Ground, Wash.) contributed a pair of hits and scored one run.
‘CAT SCRATCH: Linfield president Dr. Thomas Hellie was in attendance to watch not only the Wildcats in action, but also his alma mater, Luther College. . . a total of 59 parents and family members traveled from the Northwest to be in attendance at this week’s tournament. . . in the seven previous matchups against Linfield, Hatlen was hitting .500 with three doubles and three home runs but went 0-for-2 on Saturday. . . as a team Linfield has hit 70 or more home runs for three consecutive seasons.
IN OTHER TOURNAMENT GAMES: Luther eliminated Ohio Northern with a 2-1 decision in the early game . . .Tufts rolled past Plattsburgh State 7-1 . . . Montclair State defeated Roanoke 2-0 in Saturday’s late game.
THIS DAY IN LINFIELD SOFTBALL HISTORY: All-America pitcher Brittany Miller fanned six DePauw batters and pitched a three-hitter to lead the Wildcats to a 9-0 six-inning win at the 2007 NCAA Finals in Salem, Va. Linfield hitters racked up 13 hits on Tigers' starter Megan Soultz, who came into the contest with 151 strikeouts and a glossy 0.78 earned run average. Stephanie Rice went 3-for-4, scored three times and drove in a pair of runs. Amanda Attleberger and Jena Loop both collected a pair of hits and drove in two runs.
4-for-4, 72nd career homer
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