Texas Lutheran, Ranked #6, Gives Bearcats First Loss of Spokane Regional, 6-1

Troy Conway (Sr., 2B, Moorpark, CA/Moorpark HS)
Troy Conway (Sr., 2B, Moorpark, CA/Moorpark HS)

By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications

SPOKANE, Wash. -- Texas Lutheran University, ranked #6 in the D3baseball.com Top 25, defeated Willamette University, 6-1, in a winner's bracket game at the NCAA Division III Spokane Regional on Saturday, May 19 at Avista Stadium. TLU, now 37-9 on the season, improved to 3-0 in the Regional. Willamette fell to 30-18 overall, 2-1 in the Regional.

Willamette will play in an elimination game on Sunday, May 20 at 11 a.m. (PDT) against University of Texas-Dallas. UT-Dallas defeated Chapman University (Calif.), 6-2, in Saturday's elimination game.

"Through three games we have only thrown seven guys," Willamette Head Coach Aaron Swick said. "So we've got plenty of guys that are fresh" to pitch on Sunday.
"No one said this was going to be easy," Jack Brett (Sr., C, Aurora, CO/Regis Jesuit HS) said. "I think we're going  come out tomorrow ready to go. We're excited that we get one more day to go at it."

The Bulldogs, who edged University of Texas-Dallas 2-1 in Saturday's early game, threatened to start strong in their game against the Bearcats. Texas Lutheran defeated UT-Dallas on a run-scoring walk-off single with two outs in the bottom of the ninth inning.

In the bottom of the first inning against Willamette, the Bulldogs loaded the bases with no outs on a single by Riley Schaefer and walks by Ben Marvin and Thomas Varner. Willamette starter Brandon Nelson (Jr., RHP, Murrieta, CA/Vista Murrieta HS) got out of the inning while allowing only one run.

Tyler Cauley flied out to left field for the first out. Troy Conway (Sr., 2B, Moorpark, CA/Moorpark HS) provided Willamette with the second out by diving to his left to keep a ball hit by Keaton Boysen on the infield, and then throwing to first base for the second out. Schaefer scored on the play. Matthew Lemon walked to reload the bases. The inning ended on a ground out by Chad Curtis toward Conway.

After TLU's first at bat, neither team scored again until the Bulldogs plated three runs in the bottom of the fourth inning. In between, the Bearcats made several solid plays on defense.

In the second inning, Nelson struck out the first batter and picked off a runner at first base for the third out. Perry Van Eckhardt (Sr., CF, El Cerrito, CA/El Cerrito HS) caught a fly ball at the fence in left center of the second out in the third inning and hauled in a fly ball just in front of the warning track for the third out.

Willamette received singles from Conway and Jack Brett (Sr., C, Aurora, CO/Regis Jesuit HS) in the top of the fourht, and had runners at first and third with one out. Conway had to hold at third on a sacrifice bunt by Brendan Natuzzi (Jr., 3B/RHP, Sonoma, CA/Justin-Siena HS). A strikeout ended the threat.

Boysen singled for the Bulldogs to open the TLU half of the fourth inning. Lemon hit an infield single toward second that resulted in a throwing error, leaving runners at second and third. Curtis batted next and sent the ball a short distance between home and third base. Natuzza charged in, fielded the ball and then threw to first for an out. Lemon scored on the play.

Later in the inning, Texas Lutheran added one run on a single by Eric Rabinowitz and one run on a sacrifice fly by Schaefer for a 4-0 lead.

Van Eckhardt walked for the Bearcats as the first batter in the top of the sixth. Conway advanced Van Eckhardt to second with a bunt single. Bailey smacked a fly ball to deep center that was caught near the fence, but allowed Van Eckhardt to reach third. Van Eckhardt scored when a grounder by Brett was thrown wildly toward second by the first baseman.

Freshman pitcher Austin Peters (RHP, Corona, CA/Noroc HS) replaced Nelson for the Bearcats with two outs in the bottom of the sixth. Peters registered two strikeouts in the seventh, helping WU stay within 4-1.

Connor Bailey (Jr., LF, San Diego, CA/Scripps Ranch HS) pounded a double to left center for Willamette with two outs in the top of the eighth. Brett blasted a line drive to center field that looked like it would score Bailey, but Schaefer made a diving shoestring catch.

Peters struck out the first two batters in the bottom of the eighth, before walking Curtis. Cameron Wilson hit a two-run homer to left field to increase TLU's advantage to 6-1.

Texas Lutheran outhit the Bearcats, 7-6. Boysen went 2 of 4 with a run and an RBI. Rabinowitz was 2 of 4 with one RBI. For Willamette, Conway was 2 of 4. Bailey's double for WU and Wilson's home run for TLU were the only extra-base hits during the game.

"I have the same routine, and I'm trying to put good swings on the ball," Conway said about his success at the plate over the second half of the season.

Landon Weatherly, who started on the mound for the Bulldogs, improved to 2-1 after throwing six innings, while striking out six batters and allowing one walk. Dylan Murrell tossed the final three innings for his fifth save. He earned two strikeouts and allowed two hits. Nelson fell to 6-7 with the loss. Peters amassed four strikeouts in 2 1/3 innings.