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April 27, 2010

Lutes Face Linfield with Conference Title On the Line

THIS WEEK: Pacific Lutheran (30-7 overall, 15-3 NWC) at Linfield (27-10, 17-4) in a doubleheader (2-9), Saturday, noon; PLU hosts Lewis & Clark, Sunday, noon.

TITLE ON THE LINE: Pacific Lutheran holds a one-game lead over Linfield as the teams square off in a season-ending three-game series. One victory for the Lutes will split the conference title, but the Wildcats would earn the NCAA regional automatic bid by winning the head-to-head matchup, two games to one. Two or three victories in the series will give the Lutes the outright title and the automatic bid to regional play.

ABOUT THE WILDCATS: Linfield ranks second in the Northwest Conference offensively with a .334 team batting average. The Wildcats rank first in team earned run average (3.72) and in fielding (.972). Kelson Brown is the Wildcats' leading hitter, as well as one of the top offensive producers in the Northwest Conference. Brown leads the league with 21 doubles, 69 hits and 115 total bases, ranks second in the conference in batting average (.445), stolen bases (19 in 23 attempts) and runs scored (49) and is tied for second with 50 runs batted in. Zach Boskovich ranks second in the conference with 14 home runs and third in the league with 107 total bases and a .431 batting average. Tyson Smith leads the league in runs scored (50) and stolen bases (32 in 35 attempts) and is tied for the lead with three triples. Cole Bixenman is tied for second in runs batted in (50) and ranks fourth with 10 home runs. On the mound, Ryan Larson and Garrett Dorn anchor the conference's leading staff. Larson ranks second in the conference in earned run average (2.83) and wins (8) and leads the league with 82.2 innings pitched. Dorn ranks seventh in the conference with a 4.44 ERA. He has a 7-2 season record and has thrown 71 innings.

ABOUT THE LUTES: Pacific Lutheran's offensive dominance has stretched all season, as the Lutes sit atop the Northwest Conference team batting ranks (.367 team average). The Lutes' 4.06 team earned run average ranks second in the conference. PLU ranks third in the league in team fielding percentage (.967). The Lutes boast six hitters among the NWC's top 13 in batting average: Ryan Aratani (4th, .419), Dan Johansen (7th, .404), Josh Takayoshi (8th, .396), Corey Moore (9th, .394), Brock Gates (12th, .385) and Ryan Frost (13th, .385). Brock Gates leads the team with eight home runs and 101 total bases, and Ben Shively leads the team in runs batted in (48). Trey Watt and Scott Wall rank first and fourth in the league in earned run average at 2.03 and 3.84.

RISING IN THE RECORD BOOKS - OFFENSE: Over the past several years, the Lutes have begun an entire rewrite of the PLU baseball record books. That has continued this season, as three players look to take their place in the pantheon of great PLU baseball careers. Seniors Ben Shively and Josh Takayoshi look to seal their positions in several offensive categories, while junior Ryan Aratani should have a chance to break at least five offensive records for the Lutes when he concludes his PLU career next season. Aratani's .399 (171-for-429) career batting average ranks as the best in school history, followed closely by Shively's .398 (142-for-357). Takayoshi comes in fifth with an also-astounding .385 career mark (172-for-447). Shively's 114 career runs batted in are third most in PLU history, three behind Jordan Post for the top spot. Takayoshi is tied for seventh with 104 RBI, with Aratani ranking eighth with 100. Takayoshi's 138 runs scored are second-most, four behind first-place Jay Chennault, while Aratani ranks fifth in that category with 120 career runs. Takayoshi's 172 career hits are sixth-most in school history, with Aratani one hit behind in seventh. Aratani's 31 doubles ranks ninth, with Takayoshi tied for 10th with 29. Takayoshi's 40 stolen bases are tied for seventh. As a team, the PLU offense is on pace to beat last year's school-record .357 batting average (.367 through the Lewis & Clark series).

RISING IN THE RECORD BOOKS - PITCHING: While a trifecta of Lutes rewrite the career offensive records, the PLU co-ace tandem of Trey Watt and Robert Bleecker are making their mark on the mound. Watt and Bleecker each have 22 career wins, tied for fourth-most in school history. Watt ranks in the all-time top-10 lists in innings pitched (eighth, 225), strikeouts (third, 206) and earned run average (seventh, 3.28). Meanwhile, Bleecker also ranks among the university's best in strikeouts (eigth, 161) and innings pitched (tied-10th, 210.1).

SEASON RECORDS IN DANGER - INDIVIDUAL: Several Lutes are approaching single season records as well as the team prepares for the final two weeks of the regular season. Dan Johansen's 65th hit of the season Sunday broke Josh Takayoshi's team record of 64 set last season. Takayoshi is only two hits behind with 63, while Ryan Aratani and Brock Gates each have 62 for the year. Ryan Aratani's 48runs scored are only two away from the team record of 50 that Takayoshi tied last season, with Johansen and Takayoshi tied with 47 runs. Finally Ben Shively (48) Brock Gates (46), Johansen (44) and Takayoshi (43) are all within striking distance of Shively's team record of 51 runs batted in, set last year.

SEASON RECORDS IN DANGER - TEAM: The PLU offense has already broken a couple offensive records, and is on pace to break several more. The Lutes' 522 hits are the most in school history, breaking the previous record of 504 set last season. PLU's 104 doubles are three more than last season's former record. The PLU offense is on pace to break team records in runs (393, 11 behind the 2009 record of 404), runs batted in (363, four behind the 2009 record of 367), total bases (728, four behind the 2009 record of 732), team batting average (.367, current record .357 set in 2009) and on base percentage (.448, current record .447 set in 2009). The pitching staff has already set an ominous record with 47 wild pitches, seven more than the previous school record set in 1996.

NWC PLAYER OF THE WEEK: Brock Gates earned conference honors with 7 hits in 10 at bats, six runs, five RBI, two doubles, one home run, five walks, 1.200 slugging pct., .813 on-base pct., and 33 errorless chances.

LUTES SWEEP PIONEERS: Saturday's games were about as opposite from each other as one could imagine, as Pacific Lutheran swept a doubleheader from visiting Lewis & Clark on a blustery and sometimes rainy afternoon. The Lutes won the opener in convincing fashion, 23-2, then had to hold off a fiesty Pioneers team to win the second game, 4-3, in 11 innings. The first game was never close after the Lutes scored five times in the first inning, with four of the runs coming after there were two outs. The Pioneers got a run back in the third inning, but Pacific Lutheran proceeded to score 18 runs over the next six innings, including three runs each from the fourth through seventh frames. The Lutes finished the game with 17 hits and benefitted from three Pioneers pitchers who walked 13 batters and hit another. Trey Watt earned the win for the Lutes, improving his season record to 9-0, matching teammate Robert Bleecker as the only pitchers in PLU baseball history to start a season with nine straight wins. Watt went six innings, striking out three, before Paul DiPietro threw three hitless innings to earn his first save of the season. After the first game, there was little reason to believe the the Pioneers would stifle the PLU offense, but that's just what starting pitcher Alex St. Pierre did for 10 innings. He allowed three runs, two earned, on eight hits while walking four and fanning five. Meanwhile, Bleecker was very effective against the Pioneers with seven straight shutout innings until they reached him for two in the eighth and one in the ninth to tie it. In the eighth, Guiseppe Baffaro walked and Michael Ball followed with a single. Both runners moved up a base on a sacrifice, and after a walk to Laurence, pinch hitter Eliot Smith hit a single through the right side of the infield to drive in two runs. The Lutes escaped further damage when the infield turned its fourth double play of the game. The Pioneers tied it in the ninth when Roland Greene led off with a double, moved up a base on a sacrifice and eventually scored on Baffaro's base hit. Ryan Frost entered the game with two runners on base and escaped further damage by recording the final two outs. The Lutes had chances to score in both the eighth and ninth but wasted those with double play grounders, and they left the bases loaded in the 10th when third baseman Jim Bray made a fine play on Brock Gates' grounder. PLU finally broke through against Ball, on in relief of St. Pierre. Moore led off the 11th with a double and scored on Shively's one-out single. A 10-6 Sunday victory completed the sweep for the Lutes. Brock Gates led the way with four hits and Scott Wall earned his sixth win of the season with six strong innings.

NATIONAL RANKINGS: Pacific Lutheran is ranked 16th in the latest d3baseball.com poll.

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