By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SALEM, ORE. -- When the chance arrived for Aaron Fong (Jr., SS, Honolulu, HI/Punahou School) to make key contributions to the Willamette University baseball team during the 2017 Northwest Conference Tournament late last month, he was ready to step up. Fong started all four of Willamette's games during the tournament and helped the Bearcats reach the NWC Championship game before falling to Linfield College, 6-4.
Fong, the team's primary back-up on the left side of the infield, was moved into the starting lineup after Tyler Janitz (So., SS, Modesto, CA/Joseph A. Gregori HS) injured his foot in the final regular season game. Fong had already played in 21 games this season with eight starts, but he was now a starter in the biggest games of the season.
"Unfortunately, Tyler went down with an injury and we missed having him in the lineup as well as commanding the shortstop position," Fong said. "I was honored that the coaches had faith in me to fill his role while he recovered, especially in such a high-stakes situation.
Fong's efforts at the NWC Tournament were outstanding. He went 9 for 13 at the plate and led the Bearcats with a .692 batting average. He was 6 for 7 in Willamette's first two games.
He earned at least one hit in all four games, including a 4-for-4 performance against Pacific Lutheran University to open the tournament. He scored the tying run as Willamette plated four runs in the seventh inning for a 6-4 lead. The Bearcats held on a for a 6-5 win and improved to 12-2 on the season in one-run games against NWC opponents.
"Aaron's performance at the Northwest Conference Tournament was a by-product of his relentless efforts to get better at practice. He prepared everyday to play and it was awesome to see his efforts pay off in the postseason," Willamette Head Coach Aaron Swick said.
During the tournament, Fong scored five runs, hit one double, had one RBI and walked three times. He was 1 for 1 on stolen bases. On defense, he registered six putouts and 17 assists, while participating in four double plays.
"As far as stats go, I wasn't too concerned about it," Fong noted. "I knew that as the ninth batter, my job was to move guys over and to get on base. I was happy I was able to get on base and let the top of our lineup drive me in."
In addition to receiving four consecutive starts in key games for the Bearcats, Fong also had the chance to play for Willamette with relatives watching from the stands at Roy Helser Field in McMinnville, Oregon.
"My mom flew in from Hawaii to watch the tournament, and my uncle, who lives in Olympia, Washington, drove down to catch the games, too," Fong recalled. "My dad had to stay home for work, but he usually comes up twice a year with my mom to watch our team in a series. My aunt in Olympia usually comes with my uncle, but she wasn't able to attend the tournament since she was out of town."
His mom and uncle came prepared to watch Fong in action. They also were ready to spread happiness from Hawaii in the form of chocolate macadamia nut candies, which his mother dropped off for the Linfield press box workers after the final game.