McMINNVILLE, Ore. – Zach Brandon (Sr., Cottage Grove, Ore.) carried a two-hitter through five innings, and Nick Fisher (Sr., Lake Oswego, Ore.) scored on a double-steal attempt in the bottom of the fifth as Linfield, the top-ranked team in NCAA Division III, wrapped up its preseason schedule with a narrow 1-0 victory over Oregon Tech on a cool and overcast Sunday afternoon at Roy Helser Field.
Linfield put a runner in scoring position in each of the first four frames, but failed to capitalize until the bottom of the fifth. Brandon, meanwhile, put together an impressive start, totaling four strikeouts and before three Wildcat relievers sewed up the win in a great pitcher's duel that concluded the annual CCC/NWC Crossover.
Brandon opened with a 1-2-3 top of the first, and OIT starter Darian Benanua looked to do the same until three-hole hitter Fisher sent a two-out single through the left side and Clayton Truex (Sr., Kirkland, Wash.) followed up with another base hit down the left-field line. Third baseman Ethan Schlecht snagged a line drive from Kramer Lindell (Sr., West Linn, Ore.), however, to end the inning.
Schlecht followed up the great defensive play by registering the Owls' first hit, but Brandon retired everyone else to record another fast half inning.
Linfield got back-to-back two-out singles in the second, this time via the first career hit from Ryan Pladson (Fr., Sammamish, Wash.) and another from Kenny Johnson (Sr., Federal Way, Wash.). The Owls again got out of trouble, though, making the force out at second on a Corey VanDomelen (Jr., Tigard, Ore.) grounder.
Fisher doubled to left field in the bottom half of the third, providing Linfield with a runner in scoring position with fewer than two outs for the first time all afternoon. But consecutive outs by the Owl defense left a fifth Wildcat runner on base and kept the game scoreless.
Brandon gave up another hit in the fourth to Ryan Hayden, but sandwiched the inning with three up, three down frames in the third and fifth to keep the Owls off the board.
The ‘Cats finally rewarded Brandon with a bit of offense in the bottom of the fifth. Fisher reached for the third time on the afternoon when his grounder eluded shortstop Tyson Dahl, and advanced to third on Truex' deep single to left center. Truex took off on a called strike to Lindell, and though the senior first baseman was tagged out at second, it wasn't before Fisher traveled the 90 feet from third to home, touching the plate for a 1-0 Linfield advantage.
Joseph Stevick (Jr., Bremerton, Wash.) allowed just one baserunner in two innings before handing off to Zach Manley (Sr., Coburg, Ore.). OIT Colton Minton sent the senior reliever's first pitch into center field, but was out on the next play when Manley picked up Ryan Grant's sacrifice attempt and tossed to VanDomelen at second.
Manley recorded the next two putouts himself, striking out pinch hitter Bryce Asoa and tagging the bag on Domonic Morris' grounder to first, to get out of the inning unscathed.
Linfield put runners on second and third with one out in the bottom of the eighth after Truex drew a walk and advanced to third on a throwing error on Lindell's single down the left-field line. Oregon Tech turned to junior lefty Kevin Stockam, who struck out two consecutive Wildcats to bring the Owls back to the plate for one final opportunity to rally.
Garrett Miller (Jr., Corvallis, Ore.) dug out of a 3-0 hole to get Ben Krueger into a near groundout, but a tough play to make from third to first gave Oregon Tech a baserunner with no outs. Reed advanced Krueger on a sacrifice bunt, but Miller struck out Hayden and forced Schlecht into a groundout to record the save, his first of the year.
Fisher went 2-for-4 and Truex finished the day hitting 2-for-3 to lead Linfield (7-2). The Owls (4-9) managed just four hits in total, all singles.
‘CAT SCRATCH: Linfield played its fifth consecutive game against a scholarship program, going 2-1 against clubs from the NCAA Division II Great Northwest Athletic Conference and 1-1 against teams from the NAIA Cascade Conference…the Wildcats put a runner on base in every inning but the sixth…Pladson made his first career start behind the plate…the ‘Cats have doubled in every game this season..Brandon ran his season record to 2-0 in three appearances.
UP NEXT: The Northwest Conference season gets underway with a three-game set against Pacific. The series begins with a doubleheader Saturday at 11 a.m.
Hits 2-for-4 with one run scored
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