Catball dominates at NWC tournament

Joe Stuart, Staff Writer

The Linfield Wildcats softball program grabbed their 11th straight Northwest Conference Championship this weekend, defeating their opponents in dominate fashion.

The 11 straight championships have all been under head coach Jackson Vaughn, now in his 15th year with the team.

In game one, Linfield, the three-seed in the tourney, had strong pitching and hitting, winning in a 9-0 shutout against the two-seed George Fox University Bruins.

Shelby Saylors, ’19, threw all six innings for her 10th complete game of the season. She only allowed two hits and walking four batters while striking out three.

The first burst of offense for Linfield of the weekend came in the top of the third inning, when Cheyenne Fletcher, ’18, hit a two-RBI double to score Jacinda Swiger, ’19, and Emily Allen, ’18.

Fletcher was then brought home thanks to an RBI base hit by Melanie Oord, ’18, to put the ’Cats up 3-0.

They tacked on another in the fourth inning, when Paige Smotherman, ’19, scored from third off a single by Swiger.

Swiger would finish with three hits on the day, a high for either team.

With the game already well in hand, Linfield put emphasis on their win in the top of the ninth, scoring five runs.

The first two were scored off a sacrifice and an errors, but were followed by a three-run home run by Erin Tauscher, ’17, to create the final at 9-0.

Game two would pose a difficult opposition in the one-seed Whitworth Pirates, who had finished the regular season in first place and were the hosts of the tournament.

Brynn Lio, ’17, started in the second game of the tourney, but would only last two and one-thirds innings, allowing five runs off of eight hits and two walks.

Whitworth scored all six of their runs through the first four innings of play, with Linfield only scoring one off a solo home run by Oord.

Linfield’s bats came alive in the top of the fifth, starting with a three-run homer by Erin Kinney, ’18. Tauscher then homered to go back-to-back and cut the lead to just one run.

Saylors would come in as a relief pitcher in the bottom of the fifth, and shut down the Pirates, allowing just one hit and one walk in her three innings. She would be awarded her second win of the season.

Shortly after Saylors took the mound, severe thunder and lightning caused the game to be suspended and delayed until Saturday morning with the score at 6-5, in Whitworth’s favor.

When play resumed the next morning, the Pirates bats went quiet, but Linfield was able to take advantage, scoring two runs in the seventh inning to put themselves in a 7-6 lead.

Saylors would retire the three Whitworth batters in the bottom of the seventh, completing one of the greatest comebacks in Linfield history and sending the Wildcats to the championship game to face George Fox again.

Saylors started in the championship game, and continued her dominance with another complete game, and putting her record at 17-4 on the season.

The 17 wins put her tied for second on the season in the NWC in her freshman campaign. Saylors also finished her freshman campaign with 73 strikeouts, fourth in the conference.

The championship game started out slow, with Linfield going up 2-0 through the fifth inning.

The first run came when Fletcher hit an RBI triple to left field to score Alissa Buss, ’17. It was Fletcher’s third triple of the season, a team high.

The second run came in the fourth, when Kenzie Schmoll, ’18, bunted to score Jessica Woodruff, ’18 on a squeeze play.

What seemed like a close game was blown open in the sixth inning by Linfield.

Led off with a solo home run by slugger Daniel Duman, ’16, the ’Cats scored five runs to make the game 7-0.

The scoring continued in the seventh, with Linfield putting another five on the board, three scoring off of wild pitches.

Going into the bottom of the seventh, the Bruins were in a 12-0 hole, seemingly insurmountable lead.

George Fox was able to put two runs across the board, but the large lead was too much to overcome, as Linfield clinched the Northwest Conference title 12-2.

“It has been a really up and down season, but our team is peaking at the right time, and now we are pumped for regionals,” Mikaela Viloria, ’17, said.

With an 11th conference trophy in the case, Linfield will now get set to play in the NCAA Division-III Regionals, starting May 13th.

“This group of girls has heart and fire and winning the tournament has only fueled us,” Smotherman said. “I’d be afraid to be in the other dugout.”