Softball - Pacific clobbers George Fox to set up a huge weekend showdown against nationally ranked Linfield
by: Chase Allgood, Pacific freshman Carrie Maerz slides headfirst into home plate ahead of the tag of George Fox catcher Ashley Olson during Saturday’s game.

Pacific took care of business over the weekend, spanking George Fox by a combined score of 43-3 in a four-game Northwest Conference softball series.

The sweep helped Pacific (27-3, 16-2) keep pace with league-leading Linfield heading into this weekend's pivotal conference clash in McMinnville. The Wildcats (30-2, 19-1), ranked No. 4 in the most recent National Fastpitch Coaches Association Top 25 poll, are the reigning Division III national champions and the biggest obstacle standing between the Boxers and their first postseason appearance in over a decade.

'It's the kind of thing you really look forward to,' Pacific coach Tim Hill said of the upcoming series against Linfield. 'I think there's going to be a lot of excitement and probably a lot of anxiety.'

There was little anxiety last weekend against George Fox (3-27, 3-21). The Bruins mustered just eight hits and three runs in the four-game series, never lasting more than five innings against the red-hot Boxers.

Sophomore Miranda McNealy spun a one-hitter in the opener on Saturday, a 10-1 Pacific victory, then closed out the series with a two-hit shutout in Game 2 on Sunday, an 8-0 Pacific win. McNealy struck out 18 batters in 10 innings of work. Senior Andrea Bansen was equally dominant in her two starts, allowing only five hits and two earned runs in 10 innings.

Pacific's offense provided plenty of support for the two pitchers, churning out 45 hits in the four games. Freshman Brooke Toy, who last weekend tied the single-season school record for home runs, continued her hot streak by going 7 for 8 with three doubles, five RBIs, five runs scored and three stolen bases. For her efforts, Toy was named NWC Player of the Week for the first time in her career.

Sophomore Brooke Fogwell was one of several other offensive stars, going 6 for 10 with three doubles and nine RBIs in the series. Senior Caitlin Mastenbroek was 5 for 11 with two doubles, five runs scored and three RBIs.

Hill got contributions from several less-heralded players as well. Freshman Carrie Maerz, from nearby Newberg High School, was 5 for 7 with a double, five RBIs and four runs scored in three games, while sophomore Jessie Garcia, from Yamhill-Carlton High, went 4 for 6 with a home run, a double and five RBIs in just two appearances.

'Hitting is a variable and not every player is going to light it up every weekend,' Hill said. 'We hit the ball well early in the season and tailed off a bit near the middle, but now we seem to be back on track. Our lineup is pretty strong top to bottom and that allows us to adapt better to individual inconsistencies.'

With George Fox now in the rearview mirror, Hill and his team can focus on this weekend's showdown with Linfield. The fourth-ranked Wildcats own a one-game lead over Pacific in the conference standings and have won 15 games in a row.

'Linfield is the defending national champion. They return all but one starter from last year's team, are once again in first place in the conference and are ranked fourth nationally,' Hill said. 'One of the great values of athletic participation is facing, confronting and meeting challenges, so we certainly intend to meet this challenge head on.'

The series will open at noon on Saturday at the Linfield Softball Field in McMinnville. The likely Game 1 starters on Saturday will be McNealy and Linfield ace Brittany Miller, who went 4-0 last week to earn NWC Pitcher of the Week honors. The two hurlers have nearly identical statistics this season (see box, above).

'The girls are excited,' Hill said. 'Our program has come a long way, and we're looking forward to it because it's going to be a huge challenge. We've got to go out there and play our hardest and do our best. If we do those things, then good things are going to happen.

'For us it's a great situation because we have everything to gain and nothing to lose.'

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