Lutes end Bucs’ season in NWC playoffs

Pacific Lutheran avenges first loss to Bucs with Sunday elimination game

by Korey Hope

The Whitworth softball team took  third place in the Northwest Conference at the playoff tournament last weekend in McMinnville, Ore. The Bucs end the season with a 23-20 record overall and a 17-14 mark in the NWC.

The Pirates went 1-2 in the double elimination tournament last weekend, beating Pacific Lutheran in their first game on Saturday before losing to seventh-ranked Linfield and getting knocked out of the tournament by PLU  Sunday morning.

The Bucs came out strong against the Lutes (18-10 NWC) in their first game of the weekend, putting up four runs in the top of the first. They led 6-1 heading into the fourth, and junior first baseman Julia Johnson hit a three-run homer as part of another four-run inning. The Pirates won the game with an 11-2 victory in five innings. Sophomore pitcher Riley Fritz pitched all five innings and gave up seven hits with just one earned run.

“We were thrilled to start out that way,” senior designated hitter Jamie Brunner said. “But we tried not to get too amped up after big wins, just like we don’t want to get down after losses. It’s important to stay even-keeled, especially in a playoff tournament.”

Whitworth played a second game Saturday, this time against seventh-ranked host school Linfield. The Pirates gave up a six-run second inning and a six-run fourth inning, and only registered two hits in the game against Linfield junior pitcher Shelby VanderBergh. Linfield senior third baseman Karleigh Prestianni went 3-3 with four RBI’s and two runs scored for the Wildcats. The RBI’s put her conference-leading total up to 57 on the season.

PLU beat Pacific in Saturday’s elimination game, so they faced-off against the Pirates again on Sunday for a chance to play Linfield for the NWC Tournament title.

The Pirates took a 3-0 lead into the bottom of the third, when the Lutes followed with seven runs, including a grand slam from junior shortstop Lindsey Matsunaga. PLU scattered two runs over the next three innings to bring their lead to 9-3. Brunner collected her 54th hit and drove in her 48th RBI of the season in her final at-bat, raising her career hit total to 168, a Whitworth school record.

“I couldn’t have asked for a better way to go out,” Brunner said. “It was an honor and a blessing to play with this team. We are like sisters and a family and that’s something we get to keep forever.”

Brunner and fellow senior Heather Hesselgesser combined to break five school batting records including hits (Brunner, 168), runs scored (Brunner, 121), RBI’s (Hesselgesser, 119), doubles (Brunner, 41) and walks (Brunner, 65). Brunner also committed only 5 errors in 143 career games with 336 putouts. The Pirates will lose four seniors to graduation this year: Brunner, Hesselgesser, Jessica Ross and Natalie Evers.

“Our seniors were unbelievable this year,” junior right fielder Makenzie Hope said. “They all set a certain tone and example that everyone else followed. We are going to miss the leadership and humor from all four of them next year, without a doubt.”

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