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Boxers rally to win last game of series against Willamette

Pacific flexes some muscle in a 12-10 slugout victory over the visiting Bearcats

The Pacific baseball team came into last weekend’s Northwest Conference series against Willamette as the highest-scoring Division III team in the nation and winners of 10 straight games, but back-to-back losses to the Bearcats on Saturday had the Boxers back on their heels.

Luckily, Pacific rediscovered its pop on Sunday, belting out 19 hits en route to a 12-10 victory that salvaged the series and kept the Boxers in the NWC playoff hunt with two weeks left in the season.

Pacific currently sits in second place at 18-11 overall and 11-7 in NWC play, one game ahead of both George Fox and Pacific Lutheran.NEWS-TIMES PHOTO: KENT FRASURE - Pacific junior Ben Roquet (17) collides with Willamette first baseman Eric Del Prado during Sunday's Northwest Conference baseball game.

“If things break our way and we can win some games down the stretch we have a shot to potentially host the conference tournament here if we could jump over Whitworth and finish in first place,” Pacific head coach Brian Billings said.

“I think our first goal is to make the conference tournament and be one of the top four teams. And then if we’re lucky enough to do that, then the next thing would be to finish as high as we can.”

That’s a lofty goal for a Pacific team that hasn’t made the playoffs since 2012, but senior Walker Olis said it’s a sign of how far the program has come.

“Since I’ve been here the program has been struggling, and right now we’re kind of on an upward curve, so making the playoffs would be huge for us,” said Olis, who ranks second in the conference with a .440 batting average, six home runs and 32 RBIs, plus a league-leading 22 stolen bases. “I think our first goal is just to make playoffs and we’re within reaching distance of that. Beyond that, I think it’s just icing on top of the cake.”

Olis provided plenty of spark in Sunday’s series finale, going 4-for-5 with two runs scored, two RBIs and a stolen base. He was hardly the only offensive star, however, as the Boxers scored seven runs in the first four innings, then withstood a five-run rally from Willamette in the top of the ninth.

Dylan Wright went 4-for-6 with two doubles, two runs and two RBIs, while Ben Duerr, Joey Galeno, Charlie Dietrich and Kane Ulrich added two hits apiece.

The three games against Willamette were Pacific’s first of the season on campus at Chuck Bafaro Stadium, with the Boxers playing all of their early season home games at Ron Tonkin Field. Despite the larger confines, the Boxers’ offense still found a way to put runs on the board.

“Offensively, going into this weekend we were leading the nation in runs scored. We’ve been scoring a lot of runs, and that’s really kind of how we’re built,” Billings said. “There’s no break in our lineup, one through nine. It’s really tough to get through our lineup without giving up runs.

“Pitching-wise, we try to throw a lot of strikes and play defense behind our guys, and that’s really been the formula this year.”

Pacific has six games left this season, starting with a home game against Linfield tonight at 6 p.m. After that, the Boxers travel for a three-game series this weekend against NWC-leading Whitworth, which is currently ranked No. 5 in the nation.

Pacific ends the season at home next week with a solitary game against Lewis & Clark on Wednesday and a three-game set against Whitman on Saturday and Sunday.

“The first goal is to get into the tournament, and after that we’d love to win a conference championship and host the conference tournament here in Forest Grove,” Billings said. “If we’re the one seed then that’s an advantage because you get to play at home.”

For his part, Olis said the Boxers are just trying to take things one day at a time and focus on the simple things.

“Just approaching the game the same way every day, that’s a big key,” he said. “Try not to get too high, not to get too low, just keep an even keel emotionally.

“You’ve got to rebuild your swing every day, you’ve got to hustle every day. I’m just trying to come out here and have fun my senior season.”