SOFTBALL: Pacific improves to 8-0 by sweeping conference opener against Willamette

Pacific ran its early-season winning streak to eight games over the weekend with a pair of hard-fought victories against Willamette at Linfield Softball Field in McMinnville.

Pacific (8-0, 2-0) was originally scheduled to unveil its new softball complex at Lincoln Park last weekend with a four-game homestand against Willamette (2-2, 0-2), but weather-related construction delays caused the Boxers to move the series to nearby Linfield College. The 25-mile shift in location didn't prevent the weather from being a factor, however, as steady rain forced the teams to postpone Saturday's doubleheader.

Once the sun came out, Pacific had its hands full with a tough Willamette squad. The Bearcats pushed Pacific to the brink in both games on Sunday before eventually falling short, 2-1 in the opener and 7-6 in Game 2.

'We continue to show great character in all of our games,' said Pacific head coach Tim Hill. 'We've been finding ways to win, whether it's holding on to a last-inning lead, coming from behind or going extra innings. In the Willamette games we did all three.'

The Boxers used strong pitching and late offensive heroics to win the opener on Sunday. Sophomore Miranda McNealy pitched seven strong innings, allowing one run on five hits with nine strikeouts to earn her fourth win of the season. Senior Caitlin Mastenbroek was the hero, ripping a one-out double down the left-field line in the bottom of the sixth inning and eventually scoring the winning run on a sacrifice fly by junior Kristen Croxford.

Croxford drove in both of Pacific's runs in Game 1, beginning with an RBI single in the first inning that scored Kelly Nishitomi and gave the Boxers a 1-0 lead. Willamette tied things up in the top of the sixth on a squeeze bunt by Jayleen Morris.

The second half of the doubleheader was even more dramatic, with Pacific sophomore Brooke Fogwell smashing a game-tying solo home run in the bottom of the seventh, then repeating the feat with a game-winning solo shot in the bottom of the ninth.

'Brooke had an amazing game,' Hill said. 'To hit a game-tying home run in the seventh inning and then duplicate the feat with a walk-off home run in the ninth is really an incredible accomplishment.'

Fogwell's heroics earned senior Andrea Bansen her fourth win of the year. Bansen pitched all nine innings, scattering 10 hits while striking out eight. Nikki Franchi took the loss for Willamette.

Pacific took an early 3-1 lead in Game 2, capitalizing on an error to score three runs in the bottom of the first. Willamette tied it in the second on a two-run homer by Katie Peterson and the teams took a 5-5 tie into the seventh inning.

Willamette forged ahead in the top of the seventh with an RBI double by LaShawna Holcomb, but Fogwell sent the game into extra innings with a leadoff home run to left-center field in the bottom of the frame.

Fogwell ended things in the bottom of the ninth when she deposited a pitch over the fence in center field for the game winner.

'We continue to make plays at critical times - in the field, on the bases and with the bats,' Hill said.

Pacific will travel to Tacoma, Wash., this weekend for a four-game series with Puget Sound (5-3, 3-1). Construction crews continue to work on the Boxers' new field at Lincoln Park with the grand opening tentatively scheduled for Saturday, April 5.

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