Pirates host defending national champs

by Korey Hope

The Whitworth softball squad dropped three of four games at home against the defending national champion Pacific Lutheran Lutes last weekend at Marks Field. The Pirates move to a 6-8 record overall on the year and 3-5 in Northwest Conference play.

The Bucs have had a tough early schedule, splitting their conference-opener on the road against 12th-ranked Linfield and then hosting the 10th-ranked Lutes last weekend. Both Linfield and PLU are historically successful in the Northwest Conference, combining to win 26 of the previous 27 NWC titles.

In game one of Saturday’s doubleheader, the Lutes showed why they have such a storied program, putting up 12 runs while only allowing one Pirate hit. Leah Butters shut down the Pirate offense from the circle and was two outs away from registering a no-hitter before sophomore centerfielder Sacha Clow singled for the Pirates in the sixth inning. Designated hitter Kaaren Hatlen was solid at the dish for the Lutes, driving in four runs on four hits in as many at-bats on the game. The contest was cut short after the sixth inning due to the eight-run mercy rule with a 12-1 final.

The second half of Saturday’s doubleheader brought a similar result, but this time it was Hatlen getting it done from the rubber for PLU, tossing a three-hit shutout in seven innings of work to earn the victory. She gave herself run support with the bat, too, driving in three runs to bring her RBI total on the day to 7. The Bucs’ three hits came in the sixth inning, but did not produce any runs and the game ended 8-0.

The second day of action was a completely different story and the Pirate bats came alive. The Bucs hit four home runs on the day with 15 hits, compared to only four hits from day one. The first game of Sunday’s doubleheader, however, went PLU’s way thanks to four runs in the final three innings to erase a two-run Pirate lead and take the game 7-5. Senior right fielder Heather Hesselgesser hit her first homerun of the year for the Pirates, countered by home runs from shortstop Lindsey Matsunaga and Hatlen for the Lutes.

Looking to salvage at least one game on the weekend, Whitworth smacked three home runs in the second game of Sunday’s doubleheader and fended off a late PLU rally to pick up a victory against the defending national champion Lutes. Hesselgesser hit her second homerun of the day, while freshman third baseman Bailey Kasler and junior first baseman Julia Johnson also left the yard.

Sophomore pitcher Riley Fritz pitched six strong innings before giving up five runs in the seventh inning, but sophomore pitcher Taylor Gilbert came on in relief to close it out for the Bucs. Fritz picked up her conference-best fifth win of the year and Gilbert grabbed her first save of the season.

“We knew they were a good hitting team, but we also knew we were capable of beating them,” Fritz said. “We just had to stay up and together as a team to get that confidence that we can win.”

Whitworth moves to 3-5 in conference play, tied with Willamette for sixth in the NWC. Four teams currently sit at 5-3, and the Linfield Wildcats have the early conference-play edge at 6-2.

“Everyone is competing this year,” Fritz said. “PLU had already lost a game before we played them. We know there is something worth fighting for, we just have to keep pushing.”

The Pirates are back in action this weekend hosting Pacific (5-3 NWC) at Marks Field for a pair of doubleheaders March 9-10 beginning at noon both days.

Contact Korey Hope at khope16@my.whitworth.edu

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