The 2019 Willamette baseball season started off strong this past Friday, Feb. 8, with a 4-2 victory over Whittier College at their home field in Southern California. Willamette trailed 2-1 at the end of the third inning, but shut down the home team for the rest of the game. Senior Connor Bailey, who hit 15 home runs last season, smashed a solo home run at the top of the ninth inning for the game’s final run. Now with 26 career home runs, Bailey is tied for the third-most home runs in team history.
The Bearcats didn’t waste any time, scoring in the first inning. Senior shortstop Tyler Janitz struck a double into right-center. Whittier’s pitcher walked both Bailey and senior third baseman Brendan Natuzzi before hitting senior catcher Cole Pursell with a wayward pitch. All three runners advanced, with Janitz scoring the run. After the Poets’ disastrous first inning, Whittier mounted a small comeback to take a 2-1 lead.
However, the Bearcats proved too resilient for the home team, tying the game in the fourth inning and seizing the lead for good in the fifth. It was first-year infielder Ethan Fischel that scored the winning run. After getting on base with a single, Fischel made it to third after two walks by the pitcher. Senior Sam Hudd hit a sacrifice fly to centerfield to allow Fischel to score. Fischel went two-for-four at the plate for Willamette. Senior pitcher Matt Steindorf and reserve pitcher sophomore Brandon Murillo only allowed one hit for the remainder of the game, denying Whittier any chance at a comeback.
Steindorf also had a notable game, striking out 10 batters over eight innings while not allowing a single walk. His performance moved him up in Willamette’s all-time list as well. With 26 career wins, he is now tied for third all-time, needing only five more wins to shatter the school record. With an entire season of games ahead, both Steindorf and Bailey will have plenty more opportunities to move up the all-time list.
Willamette’s two Saturday games against Whittier were postponed due to poor field conditions. The games have yet to be scheduled for another date. The team remained on the road and traveled south to face Occidental on Sunday, Feb. 10, enduring one eight-run inning in an ultimate 5-9 defeat.
The Bearcats started strong, taking a 2-0 lead in the first inning. Junior outfielder Joey Faudskar reached first base following an error by the shortstop and then stole second base. Both Faudskar and Janitz scored runs due to the pitcher walking a batter. Faudskar hit a single to the right in the fourth inning, allowing Fischel to score. By the top of the fifth inning, Willamette had claimed a 4-1 advantage but committed a series of mistakes at the bottom of the fifth that resulted in a 9-4 hole that proved too much to overcome.
Willamette’s first home game is not until March 2, when the Bearcats will host a three-game home series versus Lewis & Clark College. The team will play six more games on the road before then, with its most immediate match coming against Puget Sound University in Forest Grove, OR, this coming Saturday, Feb. 16, at 11 a.m. (PST)