By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SPOKANE, Wash. -- Matt Steindorf (Jr., RHP, Granite Bay, CA/Granite Bay HS) pitched seven innings, Troy Conway (Sr., 2B, Moorpark, CA/Moorpark HS) hit for three-fourths of the cycle, and Joseph Faudskar (So., RHP/OF, Phoenix, AZ/Pinnacle HS) tossed the final two innings for a save, as Willamette University downed nationally-ranked Chapman University, 10-5, in the first round of the NCAA Division III Spokane Regional on Thursday, May 17 at Avista Stadium.
The Bearcats improved to 29-17 on the season and will play on Friday afternoon at 2:30 p.m. (PDT) against the loser of Thursday's late game between Concordia University Texas and Texas Lutheran University. Chapman, ranked #15 in the D3baseball.com Top 25 Poll, fell to 34-12 overall. The Panthers are set to play on Friday at 11 a.m. when they will take on the loser of Thursday's middle game between University of Redlands and University of Texas-Dallas.
Steindorf, now 11-3, entered Thursday's game tied with former Bearcat standouts Nik Lubisich (2001) and Matt Kosderka in (1998) for most wins by a Willamette pitcher in a single season. Steindorf is fourth at Willamette in career victories with a 25-7 record.
Conway went 3 for 5 against Chapman with a double in the first inning, a two-run triple in the second and a single in the fourth. He led the Bearcats with three RBIs during the game. Faudskar allowed three hits and just one run after starting the bottom of the eighth inning on the mound. He registered his fourth save of the season and registered two strikeouts.
Willamette scored four runs in the second inning and held a 6-0 lead after 4 1/2 innings. The Panthers tallied two runs in the bottom of the fifth, and then scored one run in the sixth and one run in the seventh to cut the margin to 6-4. The Bearcats plated one run in the eighth and then took charge with three runs in the top of the ninth.
During his seven innings, Steindorf gave up 14 hits and four runs, but his determination and some big plays by the Willamette defense kept the Panthers from putting together a rally. The Bearcats turned a total of three double plays and now have 40 on the season.
"It came down to ... we had exceptional pitching and timely hitting and big plays on defense," Willamette Head Coach Aaron Swick said.
With one out in the top of the second, the Bearcats went on an offensive surge to move in front 4-0.
Eric Del Prado (Sr., 1B, El Segundo, CA/Loyola HS) and Tyler Janitz (Jr., SS, Salida, CA/Joseph A. Gregori HS) received back-to-back, full-count walks. Mason Fessler (Sr., DH, Woodburn, OR/Blanchet Catholic School) was hit by a pitch to load the bases. With two outs, Perry Van Eckhardt (Sr., CF, El Cerrito, CA/El Cerrito HS) hit a two-run single to center field. Conway followed with a triple to center that allowed Fessler and Van Eckhardt to score.
"He left one up in the zone, and fortunately I put a good swing on it" Conway said about the triple. "And once I saw it carom off the wall, I just kicked it into overdrive and tried to get to third."
Chapman starter Matt Mogollon, who began the game with an 8-3 record and a 2.30 earned run average, left the game after Conway's triple.
In the bottom of the second, with the leadoff batter on first following a single, Van Eckhardt made a spectacular catch near the fence in center field. Willamette got out of the inning without allowing a run.
Brendan Natuzzi (Jr. 3B/RHP, Sonoma, CA/Justin-Siena HS) of WU was hit by a pitch with one out in the top of the third. He eventually scored with two outs on a single by Janitz.
The Bearcats provided two big defensive plays in the bottom of the third. After Alex Tsuruda walked to open the stanza, Willamette turned Aaron Wong's infield grounder into a 6-4-3 double play. The third out was recorded by Van Eckhardt, who covered significant ground to grab a line drive in left center.
Conway registered his third hit one out into the fourth inning with Cameron Igarashi (Sr., RF, Honolulu, HI/Mid-Pacific Institute) at third base and the infield pulled in. Conway singled up the middle, allowing to Igarashi to score and giving the Bearcats a 6-0 advantage.
Trevors Marrs batted second in Chapman's two-run fifth inning and connected for a one-out single to left. Tsuruda walked and Wong singled to fill the bases. Justin Stream singled to right, sending Marss and Tsuruda across the plate. A pop-up to right and a line out to Natuzzi at third ended the threat.
Two defensive plays stood out for the Bearcats over the next two innings. In the bottom of the sixth, runners were at first and second after Tsuruda reached base on an RBI fielder's choice. Wong singled to right, but Marrs, who began the play at second, was thrown out at the plate from Igarashi to Jack Brett (Sr., C, Aurora, CO/Regis Jesuit HS). Chapman earned four hits during the inning, but scored just one run.
With one out in the bottom of the seventh, a single by Jared Love, a double from Gavin Bodgett and a single by Conner Larkin gave Chapman a run, cutting WU's lead to 6-4. After Larkin's single, the Panthers had runners at first and third, but Steindorf got Jarod Penniman to ground into a 5-4-3 double play.
"It's huge to have a group of guys you can trust and count on," Steindorf said about the Bearcats' defensive plays during the game.
Willamette tacked on an insurance run in the eighth inning when Fessler and Igarashi belted back-to-back doubles.
"The game is all about momentum," Swick said. "And we found momentum with that run."
In the bottom of the eighth, the Panthers had two base runners with one out after Tsuruda reached first on catcher's interference. Faudsker forced Wong to ground out and then struck out Stream.
The Bearcats plated three run in the top of the ninth. Connor Bailey (Jr., LF, San Diego, CA/Scripps Ranch HS) reached base on an error and stole second. Brett doubled to right and Natuzzi smacked a two-RBI single to left. Later, Natuzzi scored on a single by Janitz. Willamette ended the game in the bottom of the ninth with a 6-4-3 double play.
Chapman outhit the Bearcats, 17-12, but Willamette blasted five doubles and one triple. The Bearcats also took advantage of three walks and four hit batsmen. Conway's 3-for-5 performance led the way, while Janitz went 3 of 4 with two RBIs and Igarashi was 2 of 4 with a double and one RBIs. Also earning two RBIs were Natuzzi, who also scored twice, and Van Eckhardt, who added one run.
For the Panthers, Blodgett was 4 for 5 and produced Chapman's only extra-base hit, a double in the seventh. Penniman was 3 for 4 with a run and an RBI.
The game featured plenty of big plays and shifts of momentum. Steindorf wouldn't want it any other way ... plenty of exciting baseball.