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April 29, 2012

Pacific Beats PLU, Wins Share of NWC Baseball Title

It had been since 1979 that the Pacific Boxers had been Northwest Conference baseball champions, but the 2012 team ended that drought Sunday with a 9-5 victory the host Pacific Lutheran Lutes.

The Boxers finished the conference season with a 19-5 record, matching Whitworth at the top of the standings. Back in 1979, Pacific shared the conference crown with Linfield and Willamette.

By virtue of winning two of three from the Boxers during the 2012 regular season, Whitworth earns the NWC's automatic berth in the NCAA Division III regional tournament. Pacific, 22-15 overall, will have to wait to see if it receives an at-large bid from the national tournament selection committee.

Pacific Lutheran's hopes of attaining one of the at-large regional tournament berths took a huge hit as it dropped two of the three games at home to the upstart Boxers, who had been picked to finish fourth in the coaches' preseason poll. The Lutes finished 16-8 in the conference, placing third as predicted by those same NWC coaches. PLU, 24-13, still has three non-conference games to play next weekend in McMinnville, Ore.

Pacific scored a run in the first on two walks, a sacrifice bunt and a run-scoring ground out, and then added another in the top of the third on Donnie Bradley's leadoff double, a passed ball and a wild pitch by Lutes starter Chris Bishop.

PLU cut its deficit in half with an unearned run in the bottom of the third. After Ryan Frost reached on an error, he advanced to third on Bo Pearson's line smash single off of Pacific third baseman Jared Van Hoon. Frost then scored on a sacrifice fly by Dominick Courcy.

Sunday's game, untimately, turned on plays that PLU's top 50-ranked defense didn't make in the top of the fourth inning. That's when the Boxers scored four runs on just two hits and two very costly PLU miscues. Mike Nagamine reached base on an error by shortstop Nicholas Hall, and after a line out, a throwing error by Brock Gates on Logan Moen's tailor-made double play grounder opened the flood gates. Nagamine scored on Bradley's sacrifice fly, and two straight walks by Bishop brought in the second run of the inning. Van Hoon then hit a single to left field, plating the final two runs.

AJ Konopaski came into the game for Bishop, who in 3 2/3 innings allowed six runs, though only one was earned, on three hits. Bishop hurt himself with wildness, however, issuing five free passes.

The Lutes had a couple of opportunities to get back into the game, scoring single runs in the fourth, fifth and seventh, but they left the bases loaded in both the fourth and seventh innings when bigger innings were needed. Pacific, meanwhile, played add-on, scoring a run in the fifth on Moen's RBI double and an unearned run in the sixth on PLU's fourth error of the game.

Pacific Lutheran's final opportunity came in the eighth inning when it loaded the bases on two walks and Pacific's third error of the game. Bo Pearson drove in a run with a single to center, and after a strikeout, Corey Moore's grounder drove in another. The rally ended with runners on third and second, however, when Van Hoon, who entered the game in relief of starter Chad Fahey after Pearson's hit, struck out Jacob Hoffman for the third out.

Van Hoon, who pitched five innings of shutout relief in Pacific's 13-5 game two win on Saturday, nailed down his fourth save of the season by retiring the Lutes in order in the ninth.

Moen had two hits and two RBI, Bradley added two hits and two runs, and Van Hoon had a hit and two runs driven in for the victors. Fahey earned the win on the mound, allowing five runs, three earned, on seven hits in seven innings of work. He struck out six and walked five while improving his record to 6-2. Van Hoon retired all six batters that he faced.

Pacific Lutheran managed just seven hits in the game, including two apiece by Hoffman and Pearson.

The game marked the final home appearance for eight PLU seniors - Sammy Davis, Ryan Frost, Zack Halverson, Nathan Eisenhauer, Brock Gates, Jaron Iwakami, Corey Moore, and Ethan Ottemiller.

- PLU -