Willamette Scores Four Runs in 3rd Inning and Holds Off Stags, 4-3

Perry Van Eckhardt (Sr., CF, El Cerrito, CA/El Cerrito HS)
Perry Van Eckhardt (Sr., CF, El Cerrito, CA/El Cerrito HS)

By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications

CLAREMONT, Calif. -- Perry Van Eckhardt (Sr., CF, El Cerrito, CA/El Cerrito HS) hit a two-run single and later scored, as Willamette University posted four runs in the third inning on its way to a 4-3 victory over Claremont-Mudd-Scripps (Calif.), in the season opener for both teams on Friday, Feb. 2. The four-run outburst gave the Bearcats a 4-1 lead. The Stags scored one run in the sixth inning and one run in the seventh, but reliever Brandon Murillo (Fr., RHP, Rancho Cucamonga, CA/Los Osos HS) allowed no hits over the final 2 1/3 innings to preserve the win for starter Matt Steindorf (Jr., RHP, Granite Bay, CA/Granite Bay HS).

"Our team battled," Willamette Head Coach Aaron Swick said. "We played really good defense and had a couple of timely hits. Brandon Murillo was fantastic in relief. It was good to get the first win under our belts."

The Bearcats moved to 1-0 on the season, while CMS fell to 0-1. Willamette will continue it four-game road trip to Southern California by taking on Whittier College in a doubleheader on Saturday, Feb. 3. First pitch in the opening game is set for 11 a.m. (PST).

Claremont-Mudd-Scripps moved in front 1-0 with one out in the bottom of the first inning, when Patrick Gavin hit a solo home run to center field. Two fly outs ended the inning.

In the top fot he third, Willamette used two hits and two errors to surge into the lead. Brendan Natuzzi (So., 3B, Napa, CAJustin-Siena HS) opened the inning with a single up the middle. Tyler Janitz (Jr., SS, Modesto, CAJoseph A. Gregori HS) walked. Troy Conway (Sr., 2B, Moorpark, CA/Moorpark HS) bunted into a fielder's choice, as Natuzzi was thrown out at third. A wild pitch allowed Janitz to reach third, while Conway advanced to second. Connor Bailey (Jr., LF, San Diego, CA/Scripps Ranch HS) walked to load the bases.

Van Eckhardt batted next and hit his two-run single through the left side of the infield. Janitz and Conway scored on the play to give WU a 2-1 advantage. Bailey and Van Eckhardt each stole a base to put runners at second and third. With two outs, Eric Del Prado (Sr., 1B, El Segundo, CA/Loyola HS) reached first base on an error by the shortstop. Bailey scored and Van Eckhardt went to third. Cameron Igarashi (Sr., RF, Honolulu, HI/Mid-Pacific Institute) hit into an error at second base which brought Van Eckhardt across the plate for a 4-1 lead.

Willamette still owned a 4-1 margin when Steindorf left the mound after five innings. He allowed five hits and two walks, while striking out three batters.

Dawson Enright (So., RHP, La Mesa, CA/James Madison HS) pitched the sixth innings and started the seventh inning for the Bearcats. In the sixth, CJ Novogradac belted a solo homer to left field with one out. It was the only hit by CMS during the inning. In the seventh, Enright gave up a leadoff double to Pat Shore. Jett Gallagher (Sr., RHP, Santa Cruz, CA/Santa Cruz HS) went to the mound for the Bearcats and struck out the first batter he faced. Kevin Nakahara followed with a walk, and Chase Eller provide the Stags with an RBI single. Shore scored the run to cut Willamette's lead to 4-3.

Nakahara advanced to second on the play. With Trey Smith batting, Nakahara attempted to steal third, but was thrown out for the second out of the inning. Smith and Henri Levenson walked to load the bases. Murillo relieved Gallagher, and then Novogradac lined out to Bailey in left field to end the threat.

Del Prado began the top of the eighth inning with a powerful shot that appeared to hit the scoreboard in right field for a home run, but was ruled a triple by the umpiring crew. Two outs later, Natuzzi walked to put runners at the corners. Janitz hit into a fielder's choice, as Natuzzi was thrown out at second.

Murillo did not allow Claremont-Mudd-Scripps even one base runner in the final two innings, as he secured his first collegiate save. CMS starter Cameron Cash pitched six innings and fell to 0-1 with the loss. he allowed four hits and four runs, but only two runs were earned.

The Stags outhit the Bearcats 8-5, but struggled to produce runs against Steindorf and Willamette's bullpen. Steindorf struck out three batters, while Gallagher and Murillo each chalked up one strikeout. Cash recorded three strikeouts for the CMS staff, which finished with four strikeouts overall.

Natuzzi was the only Willamette player with more than one hit. He went 2 of 2 and also walked twice. Van Eckhardt was 1 for 5 with a run scored and two RBIs. Del Prado was 1 for 3 with a triple, and Cole Pursell (Jr., C, Oceanside, CA/El Camino HS) was 1 for 4. For CMS, Smith finished 2 for 2 with a double and two walks, while Gavin was 2 of 4, including a home run.