McMINNVILLE, Ore. - Ashley Garcia (Sr., Beaveton, Ore.) went 3 for 3 and drove in the winning run in the sixth inning for the Linfield Wildcats, who defeated the Pacific Lutheran Lutes 3-2 Sunday in the final game of the Northwest Conference Tournament at Del Smith Stadium.
Linfield, the 10-time regular-season NWC champion, secured the conference’s automatic invitation to the NCAA Division III regional playoffs while most certainly eliminating PLU, the defending national champion, from playoff consideration.
The two Northwest rivals tangled in last season’s NWC Tournament and again in the NCAA Finals, with the Lutes scoring upset victories each time.
It was a different story in 2013. Sunday’s come-from-behind victory kept Linfield’s record against PLU spotless this spring at 5-0. Linfield moved to 36-6 for the season while PLU dipped to 27-17.
Hosting the event for a third straight season, Linfield went 3-0 at the NWC Tournament.
Wildcats starter Karina Paavola (Sr., Kelso, Wash.) pitched 6 1/3 innings, striking out four Lutes and walking four. She allowed six hits before turning the game over to closer Montana McNealy (Jr., Aloha, Ore.), who struck out Melissa Harrelson swinging and got Amanda Hall to pop out to center field, touching off a modest infield celebration.
PLU drew first blood in the top of the first inning after Paavola walked Amanda Hall and gave up a RBI single to Kaaren Hatlen. The Wildcats pulled even on a solo home run to lead off the second inning by Lisa Yamamoto (Jr., Carson City, Nev.), her 13th of the season. Hatlen returned the favor with a leadoff solo homer, her 12th, to begin the PLU third inning.
Linfield rallied to tie the game once more in the bottom of the inning. Grace Middelstadt (Jr., Battle Ground, Wash.) reached first base on an error by shorstop Lindsey Matsunaga and the speedy sophomore swiped second base, her 33rd stolen base of the season. Karleigh Prestianni sent the ball deep to center field off Lutes starter Kelsey Robinson, scoring Middelstadt.
In the Linfield sixth, Prestianni singled to lead off the inning, then moved to third on a high fly to the outfield by Yamamoto. Garcia seized the opportunity, lacing the ball to left-center field to send home Prestianni for the winning run.
Prestianni finished 2 for 3. Erin Carson (Jr., Camas, Wash.) also had one of Linfield’s seven hits in the game. Paavola improved to 22-2 for the season.
Hatlen went 2 for 3 and drove in both of PLU’s runs. Hatlen took the loss in the pitching circle, falling to 10-9.
‘CAT SCRATCH: Prestianni and Garcia each hit .667 in the playoff tournament and combined to drive in 10 of Linfield’s 18 runs. . . Garcia led the team with nine total bases. . . Paavola struck out 16 batters in two appearances . . .the Linfield pitching staff combined for a 1.47 ERA and .194 opponent batting average. . . Middelstadt stole four bases in the tournament, raising her career total to 51, fifth-most in program history. . . Linfield did not commit a single error defensively in its three tournament games. . . pitching the game's final 2/3 of an inning, McNealy was credited with the first save by a LInfield pitcher this season.
NEXT: Linfield, which qualified for the NCAA playoffs for the 10th straight year, awaits word of its regional playoff destination. The full 62-team field will be revealed on a live selection show webcast on NCAA.com on Monday, May 6, at 7 a.m. PST. Eight teams will compete at seven of the regional sites and six teams will compete at one site. The eight-team regionals will be staged May 9-13 and the six-team regional will be held May 10-13. The tournaments will use a double-elimination format.
2013 NWC Tournament Champions
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