Bearcats Down Bruins 11-6 and 5-3 to Win NWC Tournament, Qualify for NCAA

Willamette University Bearcats, 2018 NWC Tournament Champions, Photo courtesy Pacific Lutheran Athletics.
Willamette University Bearcats, 2018 NWC Tournament Champions, Photo courtesy Pacific Lutheran Athletics.

By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications

TACOMA, Wash. -- Matt Steindorf (Jr., RHP, Granite Bay, CAGranite Bay HS) pitched six scoreless innings and Connor Bailey (Jr., LF, San Diego, CAScripps Ranch HS) blasted his 14th home run of the season, as Willamette University defeated George Fox University, 5-3, in the championship game of the 2018 Northwest Conference Baseball Tournament on Sunday, April 22 to earn the NWC's automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament. Earlier on Sunday, the Bearcats defeated the Bruins, 11-6, to give GFU its first loss of the tournament and force the decisive championship game.

Willamette improved its record to 27-15 on the season. George Fox fell to 23-18. Willamette has won 11 of its last 12 games, losing only to the Bruins in the winner's bracket game on Saturday.

"I couldn't be more proud of our guys," Willamette Head Coach Aaron Swick said. "We had a goal back in September to play in the postseason, and they worked relentlessly to make that happen."

The Bearcats will be making their first appearance in the NCAA Division III Baseball Tournament. Action begins with regionals set for May 17 through May 21. Willamette is in the West Region of NCAA Division III, so it's possible the Bearcats will play at Avista Stadium in Spokane, Washington. It's also possible for the Bearcats to be sent out of the region. The eight regional champions will advance to the NCAA Division III World Series from May 25 through May 30 in Appleton, Wisconsin.

Steindorf Pitches Six Innings Two Days after Complete-Game Win

Showing his endurance as he has all season, Steindorf started on the mound for Sunday's second game, two days after throwing a complete-game six-hitter in Willamette's 6-3 win over Linfield College on Friday. Against GFU on Sunday, Steindorf went six innings and allowed just one hit, a single by Kyle Esquerra in the fifth. Steindorf struck out seven batters with no walks. He threw 118 pitches against Linfield and 82 in the title game for a total of 200. It was the first time he has pitched in two games on the same weekend.

"Steindorf is the definition of a big-game pitcher," Swick commented. "His gutsy outing today will go down as one of the best pitching performances in program history."

Steindorf upped his season record to 10-3. He is tied for Willamette's single season record for wins with former Bearcat standouts Nik Lubisich in 2001 and Matt Kosderka in 1998. Steindorf is fourth on Willamette's career list with 24 victories.

The Bearcats took a 3-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning. With one out, Troy Conway (Sr., 2B, Moorpark, CA/Moorpark HS) was hit by a pitch. With two outs, Jack Brett (Sr., C, Aurora, CO/Regis Jesuit HS) also was hit by a pitch. Brendan Natuzzi (So., 3B/P, Napa, CA/Justin-Siena HS) walked to load the bases. Eric Del Prado (Sr., 1B, El Segundo, CA/Loyola HS) hit a two-run single to left center, driving in Conway and Brett. Cameron Igarashi (Sr., RF, Honolulu, HI/Mid-Pacific Institute) added a single through the left side to score Natuzzi.

Bailey smacked a two-run homer in the fourth inning to increase Willamette's advantage to 5-0. As in the first inning, the runs were scored with two outs. Conway, who walked immediately prior to Bailey's at bat, also scored on the play. Bailey's 14 home runs lead NCAA Division III.

Steindorf left the mound with Willamette still leading by five runs. Mason Cook (So., RHP, Riverton, UT/Riverton HS) pitched the seventh and eighth innings for the Bearcats, while Brandon Murillo (Fr., RHP, Rancho Cucamonga, CA/Los Osos HS) pitched in the ninth.

George Fox scored twice in eighth inning to pull within 5-2. With two outs, AJ Valencia doubled to right center and Austin Baek was hit by a pitch. A double steal advanced each runner one base, before Matt Voelzke reached base on an error at first, allowing both runners to cross the plate.

The Bruins added one run and threatened to tie the game in the ninth. Jantzen Tamanaha walked with one out. Voelzke singled through the right side. CJ Ibarra flied out to shortstop. Turner Glenn brought home Tamanaha by hitting a single to left. With the tying runs at first and second, Murillo caused Valencia to fly out to center field to end the game.

Willamette Wins First Game 11-6 to Force Decisive Battle

The Bearcats rallied from a 2-0 deficit after three-and-a-half innings in the first game on Sunday to surge past the Bruins for an 11-6 win. Willamette cut the margin to 2-1 in the bottom of the fourth and moved in front for good by plating three runs in the fifth for a 4-2 lead. The Bruins got as close as 4-3 and 8-6, but couldn't tie the score.

Kyler Brudwick scored for GFU in the first inning. In the top of the fourth, Jerred Seamons walked with one out and eventually scored on a sacrifice fly by Voelzke. In the bottom of the fourth, Bailey was hit by a pitch. He went to second when Brett fouled out. Bailey scored on a single by Natuzzi.

Igarashi walked to start Willamette's half of the fifth inning. He went to second on a sacrifice bunt by Kyle Paguio (Jr., 3B, Stevenson Ranch, CA/West Ranch HS). Perry Van Eckhardt (Sr., CF, El Cerrito, CA/El Cerrito HS) walked. One out later, Bailey hit an infield single to shortstop, driving in Igarashi for a 2-2 tie. Brett doubled toward the right field line to bring home Paguio and Van Eckhardt.

An RBI double by Voelzki enabled the Bruins to pull within 4-3, but the Bearcats plated four runs in the sixth inning. Del Prado singled and Tyler Janitz (Jr., SS, Modesto, CA/Joseph A. Gregori HS) reached base on an error while bunting for a sacrifice. Igarashi was thrown out at first on a sacrifice bunt to put both runners in scoring position. A squeeze bunt by Paguio allowed Del Prado to score. Van Eckhardt followed with a two-run double to right center. Van Eckhardt scored later in the inning on a wild pitch.

Three runs by the Bruins in the top of the seventh pinched WU's lead down to 8-6, but the Bearcats countered with three runs in the bottom of the inning. With two outs, Janitz walked and Igarashi was hit by a pitch. Paguio singled to left to drive in Janitz. Van Eckhardt provided the bit hit of the inning with a two-run triple to right field.

Natuzzi picked up the pitching win in his first start of the season. He went five innings and allowed just four hits and two runs (one earned). Joseph Faudskar (So., OF/P, Phoenix, AZ/Pinnacle HS), who went to the mound with no outs and two runners on base in the seventh, pitched the final three innings to earn his third save.

"Success today was once again a team effort," Swick said. "Natuzzi makes his first pitching start of the year and dominates. The offense had a lot of different contributors. Paguio had two big RBIs."

Van Eckhardt was 3 for 4 on offense with two runs, two doubles, a triple and four RBIs. Brett went 2 for 5 with two RBIs. Brudwick was 4 for 5 for GFU with a double, two runs and two RBIs.