By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
TACOMA, Ore. -- Junior right-handed pitcher Matt Steindorf (Granite Bay, CA/Granite Bay HS) tossed a complete-game for Willamette University on Friday, April 20, as the Bearcats downed Linfield College, 6-3, in the first round of the 2018 NWC Baseball Tournament. Willamette trailed 3-2 before the Bearcats scored four runs in the top of the eighth inning.
With one run already across the plate in the eighth, Tyler Janitz (Jr., SS, Modesto, CA/Joseph A. Gregori HS) singled to drive in Brendan Natuzzi (So., 3B/P, Napa, CA/Justin-Siena HS) with the go-ahead run. An error allowed two more runs to score on the play. Steindorf faced just three batters in the eighth and three batters in the ninth to secure the win.
Willmette improved to 24-14 on the season. Linfield fell to 22-15 overall.
The Bearcats advanced into the winner's bracket game in the four-team tournament set for 1 p.m. (PDT) on Saturday, Aprll 21 against George Fox University. The Bruins upset Pacific Lutheran University, 7-6, on Friday. Linfield and PLU will meet in an elimination game at 10 a.m. on Saturday. The loser of Saturday's game between Willamette and George Fox will take on the winner between Linfield and Pacific Lutheran at 4 p..m. on Saturday. The winner of the Willamette versus George Fox game will play for the NWC Tournament Championship on Sunday against the team that wins Saturday's 4 p.m. game.
Steindorf kept Linfield off the scoreboard until the fifth inning and gave up only six hits. He struck out six batters and allowed two walks, while throwing 118 pitches. Steindorf, who upped his record to 9-3, registered his fourth complete game of the season. He has pitched three nine-inning complete games this year, plus an eight-inning game that was ended due to darkness. He had nine complete games in his career, tying him for ninth on Willamette's all-time list. He is fourth at Willamette with 23 career victories.
Willamette jumped out to a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Perry Van Eckhardt (Sr., CF, El Cerrito, CA/El Cerrito HS) doubled to left to start the game. He advanced to third on a sacrifice bunt by Troy Conway (Sr., 2B, Moorpark, CA/Moorpark HS), and scored when Connor Bailey (Jr., LF, San Diego, CA/Scripps Ranch HS) followed with a double down the left field line.
The Bearcats increased their advantage to 2-0 in the fourth. The inning began with back-to-back walks issued to Jack Brett (Sr., C, Aurora, CO/Regis Jesuit HS) and Natuzzi. Eric Del Prado (Sr., 1B, El Segundo, CA/Loyola HS) moved up both runners with a sacrifice bunt. After Cameron Igarashi (Sr., RF, Honolulu, HI/Mid-Pacific Institute) walked to load the bases, Linfield starter Cason Cunningham was replaced on the mound by Dylan Peters.
Janitz batted next and hit a sacrifice fly to left field that scored Brett from third. Sean Little (Fr., INF, Corvallis, OR/Crescent Valley HS) walked on a full-count pitch that loaded the bases. Peters caused Van Eckhardt to ground out to second base to end the inning.
Linfield tied the score with two runs in the bottom of the fifth. With one out, Alec Cook and Joey Cassano earned singles. Cook went to third on Cassano's hit, and then scored when Brady Rediger grounded out to shortstop. Cassano reached home on a single through the right side by Ryan Ross. Ross went to second on the throw to the plate, but was later picked off to end the threat.
In the sixth, the Wildcats took a 3-2 lead. Jake Gellos was hit by a pitch to open the stanza. He went to second on a sacrifice bunt toward the mound by Cameron Fox. Gellos scored with two outs on a single to righ by Jake Dennis.
Willamette's rally in the eighth inning began with one out. Bailey singled down the left field line and Brett singled through the right side. Tyler Vandemark (So., OF, Modesto, CA/Joseph A. Gregori HS) pinch-ran for Brett. Natuzzi sent a base hit into left field, allowing Bailey to tie the score. A wild pitch advanced Vandemark to third and Natuzzi to second. Del Prado hit a fielder's choice toward the shortstop, who threw out Vandemark at the plate.
Igarashi was hit by a pitch, loading the bases. Janita singled to right to bring Natuzzi home. The right fielder committed a throwing error, allowing Del Prado and Igarashi to score. Willamette grabbed a 6-3 lead.
Bailey went 2 for 5 at the plate for the Bearcats with a run and an RBI. He leads Willamette with 46 RBIs this season. The doubles by Van Eckhardt and Bailey in the first inning were the only extra-base hits by either team. Del Prado registered nine putouts, increasing his Willamette career record to 1,002 putouts.
Cook led Linfield by going 2 for 3 with a run scored. Peters dropped to 2-2 with the loss.