by Joe Rayburn, Sports Information Student Assistant
PARKLAND – Pacific Lutheran baseball returns home for its final Northwest Conference series of the 2014 season against Pacific. The Lutes open Saturday against the Boxers with a doubleheader beginning at 12 p.m., followed by a Senior Day matchup on Sunday at 12 p.m.
PLU currently sits fourth in the NWC standings with a 22-14 overall record (13-8 in conference) and will look to finish the regular season strong with a chance to climb to second with a series sweep this weekend. The Lutes will honor seniors Alec Beal and Nicholas Hall prior to Sunday's game.
The Lutes have been progressing offensively throughout the season to complement their pitching and defense. But if there is a time for all the pieces to come together, it's now. PLU is batting .245 as a club but defensively is limiting opponents to a .229 batting average. Junior Collin Nilson continues to lead the Lutes with four home runs while batting .256, and Beal has been hitting a team-leading .349 with a .416 on-base percentage and 38 hits. Nilson and Tyler Thompson are tied for the team lead with 16 RBI apiece, while Thompson and Curtis Wildung have each hit three homers.
The PLU pitching staff will have one last regular season chance to exercise its dominance from the mound. As a team, the PLU pitchers are 11 strikeouts shy of breaking last season's strikeout record of 342, and more impressively, the Lutes' team earned run average of 2.91 is on pace to break a 46-year-old program record of 3.09 set in 1968.
Junior lefthander Trevor Lubking has led all of NCAA Div. III in strikeouts throughout the season, and he continues to do so with a program-record 103 to go with his 2.25 ERA. His 103rd strikeout against Lewis & Clark last weekend broke his own team record for single-season strikeouts, set last year. Freshman Derrick Mahlum (2.31 ERA) and junior Chris Bishop (2.94) are third and fourth in the conference with 69 and 65 strikeouts. The trio has combined for a 15-8 record on the mound.
In the back end of the pitching staff, AJ Konopaski set a new team record with his 12th save of the year last weekend, surpassing Aaron Roetcisoender's 2004 record of 11 saves. Konopaski leads all NCAA Div. III in saves, with three more than any other pitcher in the nation. His 1.17 ERA is on pace to go down as the second-lowest single-season mark in team history (minimum 30 innings pitched), behind only his own team record of 0.97 from last year. He has allowed only 12 hits in 30.2 innings, an astounding rate of 3.5 per nine innings that would lead the nation by a wide margin if he had a couple more innings pitched to qualify in that category.
Pacific has struggled to hit its stride this season as the Boxers find themselves in eighth place coming into the final weekend with an 11-21 overall record (4-17 in NWC). The boxers have a 4.51 team ERA (sixth in NWC) and are batting .257 as a club. Pacific has also lost four of its last five games and will hope to end the 2014 season on a string note. Sophomore Walker Olis leads his team with 21 RBI and a pair of home runs while batting .298. Fellow sophomore Nathan Suyematsu boasts a team high batting average of .341.
The Lutes own an all-time advantage over their Oregon visitors with a 60-43 record. However, the Boxers won last year's season series 2-1, and will look to spoil PLU's Senior Weekend.