Linfield baseball’s playoff dreams end after tiebreaker

Joe Stuart, Staff Writer

Despite winning their final series against George Fox University two games to one, the Linfield baseball team will not play postseason baseball for the first time since 2012.

“We did what we needed to do to put ourselves in a position to potentially make playoffs, but baseball is crazy and things can happen,” Scott Hilpert, ’17, said.

The Wildcats finished the 2016 season with a with a 14-10 record in Northwest Conference games, which was the same for George Fox and also Pacific University, creating a three-way tie for third place in the conference standings.

With only four teams making the conference tourney, only two teams in the tie could make the playoffs. Linfield was eliminated due to tiebreaker regulations.

“It’s tough thinking what could have been this season because we started to get hot at the end,” Hilpert said.

After dropping game one of the series 6-1, elite offense would power the Wildcats over the Bruins in the final two games.

Riley Newman, ’17, would be pinned with the game one loss, throwing seven innings while allowing five earned runs off 10 hits and five walks while striking out two.

Newman’s record now stands at 7-3, which leads the Linfield staff and is tied for first for most wins in the NWC.

All of George Fox’s runs came early, with the Bruins scoring two in the first, three in the second, and one in the fourth.

Linfield’s sole run in game one came in the bottom of the ninth, when Ben Andrews, ’17, hit a solo home run over the center field wall to ruin the shutout.

Andrews homer would be exactly the momentum the ’Cats needed, as they ignited into an elite offensive team in games two and three.

Both teams started out quiet in game two, but Linfield got on the board first in the  bottom of the fourth when Ryan Pladson, ’18, hit a two run homer to center field.

George Fox answered right back in the top of the fifth with a three run inning.

Before the fifth, starting pitcher Cason Cunningham,’19, had pitched a gem, going perfect through four innings while striking out seven.

Cunningham was pulled during the Bruins fifth inning rally for Cal Neely, ’17. Neely would pitch the remainder of the game, getting the win while allowing two runs off six hits and two walks while striking out three through his five innings.

The Wildcats regained the lead in the bottom of the fifth, with a three run inning of their own. Two runs came off a two-RBI double by Andrews to score Finn McMichael, ’16, and Eric Lawson, ’16. Pladson then singled to score Andrews and put Linfield up 5-3.

The scoring would continue in the seventh when Linfield extended their lead, scoring two more runs when Jake Gellos, ’18, tripled to score Ryan Ross, ‘18, and Pladson. Gellos then scored off a suicide squeeze bunt by Brady Rediger, ’18 to extend the lead to five.

The Bruins would have a brief rally in the top of the eighth inning, scoring two runs to put the score at 8-5.

The Wildcats padded their lead in the bottom of the eighth, when Hilpert  hit a solo homer, and then Lawson reached home off an RBI single by Andrews.

Both Andrews and Pladson went two for four with three RBIs. Andrews currently leads the Wildcats in RBIs on the season at 35, fourth in the NWC.

The hot hitting would continue in game three, despite George Fox scoring an early four runs in the first innings, leading to starting pitcher Carter Buuck, ’18, being pulled after only throwing two-thirds of an inning.

Linfield was able to grab the lead in the third, thanks to a big five run inning. The hot streak would continue in the fourth, with a four run inning, highlighted by a two-run home run over the left field wall by Lawson to make the score 9-4.

The Bruins were able to score three combined runs in the fifth and sixth inning to cut lead to two runs, but that would be the only scoring they would have for the rest of the game, while Linfield would continue to score seven more runs.

Six of those runs came in the bottom the seventh inning, capped off with a three-run homer by Hilpert.

It was Hilpert’s eighth home run of the season, which leads the Wildcats and is third best in the conference.

Already leading by a solid eight runs, Andrews crushed a solo home run in the eight for good measure to make the final score 16-7.

The tie for third place is the lowest that Linfield has finished since the 2012 year.

“I thought we played well against Fox, and I thought we got into the tournament following the game on Sunday,” said shortstop David Mason, ’16, following his final conference game as a Wildcat.

“It doesn’t seem fair the way things worked out, but I think the team ended league play strong by winning five out of the last six games,” Mason said.

“We will bounce back. I have all of my faith in my teammates that next year will be different,” Hilpert said.

This season will also be the first time since 2012 that Linfield has not played in the NCAA Division-III tournament following the conference tournament, which Linfield has played in nine times since the NWC left the NAIA to join NCAA Division-III in 1996.