The Willamette baseball team mounted two separate multiple-run comebacks in the ninth inning this past weekend, pushing their overall record to 3-2. The first game came early Saturday against University of Puget Sound (UPS). Willamette scored first at the bottom of the second inning. Senior Cole Pursell hit a double and senior Brendan Natuzzi moved Pursell to third with a single. A sacrifice fly from sophomore Nick Di Fiori allowed Pursell to score. With the Bearcats trailing 2-1 in the fourth inning, Pursell and Di Fiori once again proved to be the answer offensively for Willamette.
After hitting a single, Pursell was pushed to third following a single from first-year Ethan Fischel and a passed ball. Di Fiori hit his second sacrifice fly, allowing Pursell to sprint home. No more points were scored by either team until the ninth inning.
At the top of the ninth inning, UPS seemingly put the game away, scoring two runs to break the deadlock. Trailing by two, senior Sam Hudd started the comeback. He walked and gave way to first-year Jack Garver. One out later, senior Tyler Janitz smashed a double into right field, allowing Garver to dash to third. Senior Connor Bailey was intentionally walked, loading the bases. Junior Justin Scanlon also walked, forcing Garver home. Then, Pursell stepped up and delivered the finishing blow. He smacked a single to center, allowing Janitz to sprint home with Bailey right behind him for the winning run.
Willamette triumphed over Linfield College on SUnday after overcoming a three run deficit. The team struggled through the first six innings, allowing four runs while scoring none of their own. In the seventh inning, the Bearcats sprang to life. Willamette cut the deficit in half with Natuzzi hitting a double and Garver a single before Scanlon sent both Natuzzi and Garver home with a double.
The Wildcats responded with two runs of their own, resulting in another four-run hole for WU at the start of the eighth. Bailey singled and made it to second on a wild pitch. Pursell, having another strong performance, drove him home with a double. Both Pursell and Natuzzi scored as a result of a series of Linfield defensive errors and a double from Fischel. The Bearcats closed the deficit to one, but once again the Wildcats scored two runs at the bottom of the inning. Willamette entered the final frame trailing by three.
The comeback didn’t get off to a great start as Linfield quickly secured two outs with only Bailey and Pursell on base. Down to the last out, Natuzzi stepped up to bat and was walked on a full count, loading the bases. Both Fischel and Garver were hit by pitches, allowing Bailey and Pursell to score. Sophomore Tyler Kurata was walked, forcing Natuzzi home for the tying score. Linfield pulled their pitcher in favor of their reliever. Despite the change, Scanlon was walked on a full count, allowing Fischel to score the game’s deciding run.
Holding onto a fragile 9-8 lead, Willamette turned to its defense to put the game away at the bottom of the ninth. Relief pitcher sophomore Brandon Murillo stood strong, recording one flyout, one walk and two strikeouts to shut the doors on Linfield. Despite being down by as many as four runs and not scoring until the seventh inning, the Bearcats found a way to prevail.
According to Robert McKinney’s recap on the game, Head Coach Aaron Swick said “Preseason (early non-conference) games give you a chance to learn things about your team. This year’s group is going to battle to the last out.”
Willamette’s next game will be against Puget Sound on Saturday, Feb. 23 in the first of a three-game series being played in Tacoma, WA.