PLU edges Whitworth to win NWC Tournament

PLU edges Whitworth to win NWC Tournament

SPOKANE, Wash. – After each team scored five times in the first inning, Tyler Thompson belted a solo home run in the second inning that proved to be the difference as second-seeded Pacific Lutheran won the 2016 NWC Tournament with a 6-5 victory over top-seeded Whitworth on Sunday at Merkel Field.

The Lutes (25-16) concluded the double-elimination tournament unbeaten, opening the weekend with a win over third-seeded George Fox before topping the Pirates during Saturday’s second round and Sunday’s championship round to claim the title. The championship gives Pacific Lutheran the conference’s automatic bid to the upcoming NCAA tournament.

The Pirates (27-10) finished the tournament as the runner-up after topping Pacific twice and falling to the Lutes twice. Whitworth must hope for an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament. The tournament field will be announced on Monday, May 16.

In Sunday’s championship, each team put five runs on the scoreboard before an out was recorded during the first inning. Back-to-back walks began the game for the Lutes in the top half of the inning before a fielding error allowed the first run to score. Cole Johnson followed with an RBI single and Brett Johnson punctuated the frame as the fifth batter to the plate in the inning with a three-run home run over the wall in left field, his second of the year, to chase Whitworth starter Connor Sand.

Arory Milyard relieved Sand and recorded three outs over the next four batters to halt the rally, as only one batter reached in the inning via an error after he came into the game.

The Pirates answered the Lutes with a strikingly similar start in the bottom half of the first inning. Daniel Casanova reached via an error before Jeremy Druffel singled and Jordan McGowan walked to load the bases. Matthew Nelson drove in Casanova with an RBI single before JT Phelan came through with a grand slam over the wall in left field, his sixth home run of the season, to tie the game at 5-5.

Pacific Lutheran starter Ty Donahou then retired three of the next four he faced to end the inning and proceeded to allow only three baserunners via three hits from that point forward until he was replaced in the eighth inning.

Thompson’s solo home run, his eighth of the season, came with two outs in the second inning and went over the left-field fence. Milyard and Donahou both performed admirably from that point forward as neither team was able to consistently generate offensive opportunities.

Milyard retired the next 10 batters he faced after the home run and allowed only three hits the rest of the way before being replaced with one out in the ninth inning. Donahou set down nine straight after Nate Lamberty reached on an error with two outs in the first inning.

The eighth inning for both teams presented opportunities to score but neither team capitalized. Drew Oord began the eighth with a double down the right-field line and advanced to third on a balk. But Milyard set down three in a row via a pop up to shallow right field, a line out to first base and a fly out to center field.

McGowan singled to lead off the bottom of the eighth, and pinch-runner Skyler Lookabill stole second base with no outs. But an infield pop up, a ground out and soft line out to shortstop ended the inning.

Whitworth threatened again in the ninth as pinch-hitter Ryan Bird singled with one out, but reliever Garrett Brown — making his third relief appearance of the tournament — induced a fielder’s choice and fly out to end the game.

Milyard (4-1) took the loss despite the strong relief appearance. He was relieved by Kelly Fitzpatrick in the ninth inning, who threw ? of an inning and stranded two runners on base.

Donahou picked up the win to improve to 4-3 and Brown earned his ninth save of the season.

Brett Johnson finished 2-for-3 with three RBIs and a run scored for the Lutes. Seven batters recorded a hit for Whitworth but no batter had more than one hit.

Sunday’s championship featured a role reversal of the inaugural NWC Tournament in 2015 that saw third-seeded Whitworth go 3-0 in the tournament and top the Lutes twice at Pacific Lutheran to claim the title.

The Pirates will host Puget Sound in a non-conference series at Whitworth next weekend. The series will begin with a doubleheader at noon on Saturday, April 30. The teams will concluded the series with a single game Sunday. The series finale will also be Senior Day and the Pirates’ three seniors will be honored.