By Timothy Walsh, Athletics Communications Writer
HERMISTON, Ore. -- After a determined rally came up just short in the first game of a doubleheader, Willamette University poured on the offense in the second game, hitting four home runs and pulling away for a 10-6 win over Whitworth University on Sunday, March 12, as the Bearcats and Pirates concluded a Northwest Conference softball series in Hermiston, Oregon.
In the first game of the day, the Pirates took a 7-0 lead into the fifth inning, but Willamette scored four runs to close the gap to 7-4. Whitworth later tallied two insurance runs in the bottom of the sixth, for a 9-4 final score.
Although the games were officially home contests for the Pirates, snowy conditions on Whitworth's home field in Spokane, Washington, forced the four game series to be played at the Hermiston High School Field in Hermiston.
By splitting the doubleheader, the Bearcats ended the day at 2-5 on the season, including 2-3 in the NWC. The Pirates moved to 12-4 overall, 3-1 in the NWC.
Big Rally Not Enough for Willamette in Game 1
Whitworth took an early 2-0 lead in the opener on a two-run, first inning homer by Shannon Wessel. The Pirates added to their lead in the second and third innings, before another Wessel homer, this time a solo shot, pushed Whitworth's lead to 7-0.
The Bearcats' bats came alive in the fifth inning, however. Darian Gibson (So., OF, Newport Beach, CA/Calvary HS) started things off, taking the first pitch of the inning over the left field fence to put Willamette on the board. Then, on a 1-1 count, Kealaulaikalani Gier (Fr., 3B, Kaneohe, HI/Iolani School), launched another left field home run, closing the gap to 7-2.
A Pirates pitching change induced two quick Willamette outs, but the Bearcats rallied again. Miki Takara (Fr., 2B, Pearl City, HI/Maryknoll HS) drew a seven-pitch walk, and Taiana Creekmur (Fr., C, Honolulu, HI/St. Francis HS) pushed a single up the middle, with both runners advancing to third and second, respectively, on the throw.
That set the stage for a clutch double by Alexia Pratt (Sr., OF, Roseville, CA/Woodcreek HS), which drove home both runs, and sliced Whitworth's lead to 7-4.
However, in the sixth inning, Tessa Matthews answered Pratt's big hit with her own two-out, two-run double, to provide the final score.
Wessel and Madi Perez each went 3 for 4 during the game, though Wessel added three RBIs and three runs scored. Matthews was 2 for 4 with a game-high four RBIs, and Michelle Silva finished 2 for 3. For Willamette, Creekmur went 2 for 2 with a run scored, while Gibson finished 2 for 3, including her solo home run.
Perez recorded all 21 outs for the Pirates, allowing five hits and two runs while striking out four. She improved to 8-0. Sofia Magnani (Fr., P, Belmont, CA/Notre Dame HS), who left the game after one inning, fell to 0-1 with the loss.
Four Homers Lead Bearcats to Win in Game 2
Home runs provided six of Willamette's ten runs in the second game, as the Bearcats put together an impressive team performance.
Willamette took a 3-0 lead in the first inning. Gibson led off the game with her second solo home run of the day, and Alex Shields (Sr., C, Lake Forest, CA/El Toro HS) followed with a double to right center, chasing Whitworth starter Sarah Ballinger. Creekmur promptly greeted new Pirate pitcher Ashley Trueblood by hammering a home run to straightaway center.
The Bearcats padded their lead to 5-0 in the top of the second. Again, a leadoff home run--this time from Steffany Dunn (Sr., OF, Colfax, CA/Colfax HS)--provided the initial spark. Later in the inning, Takara reached base on a one-out single, stole second, and moved to third on a productive flyout from Gibson. Takara then scored on another Shields double.
Whitworth closed to within 5-3 in the third inning, before Willamette starter Jade Smith (Sr., P, Chico, CA/Chico HS) coaxed Morgan Portlock into an inning-ended flyout that left the bases loaded. All three Pirate runs in the inning were unearned.
Willamette used three singles and good baserunning to increase the lead to 7-3 in the fifth. Kealaulaikalani Gier (Fr., 3B, Kaneohe, HI/Iolani School) singled to lead off the inning, and advanced to second on a well-executed sacrifice by Payton Reynolds (Fr., UT, Reno, NV/Reno HS). Pratt then singled, later moving to second and pushing Gier to third. Takara then earned two RBIs with a one-out single up the middle.
Whitworth scored another unearned run in the bottom of the fifth, before the Bearcats slammed the door shut with three two-out runs in the seventh. With one down, Dunn reached base on a hit by pitch. Pratt sacrified Dunn over to second, and Takara drove Dunn home with another RBI single. Then, with Takara on first, Gibson smacked her second homer of the game--and her third of the day--over the left field wall.
Two Pirate runs in the bottom of the seventh cut Willamette's lead to 10-6, before Smith induced a game-ending double play.
Smith threw all seven innings for the Bearcats, scattering ten hits and allowing six runs, though only two were earned, and improving her record to 2-3. Ballinger slipped to 2-1 after allowing two runs on two hits without recording an out.
Offensively, Gibson and Takara led the way for Willamette. Gibson was 3 for 5 with three RBIs and two runs scored, all from the long ball. Takara went 3 for 4, while also recording three RBIs and two runs scored. Creekmur was 2 for 4 with two RBIs, while Mallory Asaro (Sr., SS, Rocklin, CA/Rocklin HS) also went 2 for 4. Shields was 2 for 5.
Whitworth received multi-hit games from Silva, Perez, and Kelsey Downey. The Bearcats outhit the Pirates 15-10 during the game.
Up Next for the Bearcats
Willamette is scheduled to return home for a four-game NWC series against Pacific Lutheran University, beginning on Saturday, March 18, at the Willamette Softball Field. First pitch is currently set for 12 p.m. (PDT).