Pacific earns share of NWC baseball championship
Boxers must wait two weeks to see if they earn an at-large NCAA tournament berth
For the first time in 33 years, Pacific has earned the title of Northwest Conference baseball champion.
The Boxers took advantage of four Pacific Lutheran errors to score six unearned runs on Sunday, and used a pair of solid pitching performances from seniors Chad Fahey and Jared Van Hoon to beat the Lutes 9-5, clinching a share of Pacific's first conference baseball title since 1979.
Pacific (22-15, 19-5) finished in a tie with Whitworth at the top of the NWC standings, but the Pirates earned the conference's automatic berth to the NCAA Division III tournament based on taking two of three games from the Boxers two weeks ago.
Pacific will now wait until Monday, May 14 to see if it is selected for one of 16 at-large berths to the tournament.
The Boxers and Lutes split the series-opening doubleheader on Saturday, with PLU storming to a 12-3 victory in the first game and Pacific responding with a 13-5 win in the nightcap.
That set up a pair of decisive games on Sunday, and when Whitworth beat Whitman 8-7 to complete a three-game sweep, it forced the Boxers into a must-win situation against PLU to hang on to their share of the NWC title.
Fahey pitched the Boxers to their most important win of the season, allowing five runs - three earned - on seven hits with six strikeouts over seven innings. Fahey was relieved by Van Hoon in the eighth inning, and despite throwing five innings of relief in Saturday's second game, Van Hoon was able to shut down the Lutes over the final two innings. The senior did not allow a hit and struck out two to earn his fourth save of the season.
Pacific broke the game open with four runs in the fourth inning. Mike Nagamine opened the frame when he reached on an error and Jordan Siu followed with a single. Nagamine scored on Donnie Bradley's sacrifice fly, and Van Hoon capped the frame with a two-run single to left field that plated Siu and Kevin Schwartz.
PLU (24-13, 16-8) got as close as 7-3 in the fifth inning, and the Lutes loaded the bases with no outs in the eighth.
Bo Pearson singled to center field to bring home a run and chase Fahey from the game, but Van Hoon came on and held the Lutes hitless from that point forward. PLU did get another run in the eighth on an RBI groundout, but Pacific answered with a run of its own in the ninth, getting a leadoff single from Nate Rasmussen followed by an RBI double from Logan Moen.
The series opened on Saturday with a split in a pair of offensively charged games. In the opener, the Lutes got five runs in the first inning off Pacific starter Rob Dittrick, opening the floodgates toward a 13-5 victory.
The Boxers returned the favor in the nightcap, scoring eight runs in the final three innings for a 13-5 rout. Nagamine and Michael Arakaki each had four of the Boxers' season-high 18 hits, and Bradley had four RBIs, including a three-run homer in the top of the ninth.
The Boxers will now play the waiting game to find out if they will make the 56-team field for the NCAA Division III tournament. Thirty-eight teams earn automatic berths by winning conference titles, while a committee selects 18 teams to receive at-large berths.