SOFTBALL: Winning streak reaches 10 games as Pacific's softball team powers past Puget Sound and Pacific Lutheran
by: Zack Palmer, Pacific freshman Brooke Fogwell smiles while rounding the bases after hitting a two-run home run in the fifth inning on Saturday.

MCMINNVILLE - Home field advantage has become a completely foreign concept to the Pacific softball team.

The Boxers, rained out of their temporary home at Hillsboro Stadium for the remainder of the season, played their 26th straight road game over the weekend and swept a pair of Northwest Conference doubleheaders against Pacific Lutheran and Puget Sound.

Powered by pitchers Miranda McNealy and Andrea Bansen, the Boxers (20-6, 12-4) captured 4-1 and 2-0 victories over Pacific Lutheran on Saturday at the Linfield Softball Field in McMinnville. A day later, McNealy and Bansen turned in two more stellar performances to lift Pacific to 1-0 and 4-3 wins over Puget Sound at Morse Field in Newberg.

McNealy, a freshman phenom from Aloha, surrendered five hits in 14 innings over the weekend, striking out 16 and allowing just one earned run. McNealy's weekend performance ran her win streak to 11 games and lowered her season ERA to 0.89 - 10th best in the nation (see box, below). Bansen was equally effective, giving up five hits and three runs - none of which were earned - in 14 innings to win her sixth straight decision.

'Our pitching has been carrying us for a number of weeks,' said Pacific head coach Tim Hill. 'We've gotten some really outstanding pitching, which is nice because our hitting has been struggling a little bit.

'The key is that our pitching keeps us in ballgames until we can score a couple runs.'

In the opener against Pacific Lutheran on Saturday, McNealy held the Lutes in check until her teammates could get the bats going.

Sophomore Kristen Croxford and freshman Brooke Fogwell provided the offensive spark in the fifth inning, each bashing a two-run home run to put Pacific ahead 4-0.

Croxford's homer was a mammoth shot with one out and a runner aboard that cleared the wall in right-center field and nearly landed in an adjacent parking lot. Caitlin Mastenbroek kept the inning alive with a two-out single to right and Fogwell followed with a two-run bomb to left. That was more than enough run support for McNealy (11-2), who gave up an RBI triple to Theresa Tauscher in the sixth but nothing more. That run snapped McNealy's streak of 33 consecutive scoreless innings.

Hadley Schmitt, a former star at Gaston High School, took the loss for Pacific Lutheran. Schmitt (7-7) gave up four runs and five hits in six innings of work, striking out three.

Bansen (6-3) turned in one of her best performances of the season in Game 2 on Saturday, tossing a complete game shutout with four strikeouts. Bansen gave up three hits and worked her way out of a bases-loaded, no out jam in the fifth and a two-on, one out spot in the sixth.

Pacific scored the only runs of the game in the sixth. Mastenbroek drove in a run with a single to center field and eventually came around to score on a Pacific Lutheran throwing error, giving the Boxers a 2-0 lead that would hold up over the final two innings.

'We're getting good pitching and right now that's working well for us,' Hill said. 'Our hitting will come back. It's a variable.'

The Boxers stuck with their tried and true formula against Puget Sound on Sunday, riding strong efforts from McNealy and Bansen to a sweep of the Loggers in Newberg.

McNealy spun a two-hit shutout in the opener, striking out four and facing only 24 batters - three over the seven-inning minimum. The only run of the game came in the second inning on a solo home run from Kristin Larkins, a former Forest Grove High School standout. Larkins' homer spoiled a strong outing by Puget Sound starting pitcher Adrian Herlache, who gave up two hits in six innings.

Bansen twirled a two-hitter of her own in the nightcap, paving the way for a 4-3 Pacific victory. Puget Sound scratched out three unearned runs in the top of the first courtesy of two Pacific fielding errors. The Boxers trailed the whole way before mounting a game-winning comeback in the bottom of the seventh.

Amy Walters and Jessie Garcia each smacked bases-loaded singles in the sixth to pull Pacific within a run at 3-2. In the seventh, freshman Alicia Hawes reached on an error and scored the tying run on a Croxford triple. Croxford would come home with the winning run on a sacrifice fly by Mastenbroek.

Despite not having played a true home game all season, the Boxers have now won 20 of their last 22 games.

'We've abandoned the idea of playing at Hillsboro [Stadium] this season, but the girls are handling it very well,' Hill said. 'The game is the same when you step out on the field, no matter where you play the games.'

Pacific has a brutal week coming up, with two 'home' games against Lewis and Clark in Portland on Tuesday (results were not available at press time) and a road trip to Pacific Lutheran today. The Boxers will finish up with four games against nationally-ranked Linfield this weekend.

'We've got the toughest part of our schedule coming up,' Hill said. 'We've got four games this weekend against Linfield, which is probably the best hitting team in the country. That will be a test for our pitching.'

Still, the Boxers have already guaranteed a winning season in Northwest Conference play, and Hill sees several years of success on the horizon.

'We're very young. We start six or seven freshmen,' Hill said. 'We knew coming into the season that we probably wouldn't be as successful this year as we will be down the road, so to be sitting where we are right now is a great testimony to the kids and their attitude.'

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