The Bearcats swept last weekend’s home series against Lewis & Clark College in a convincing fashion with 32 total runs, three stolen bases and two home runs, including a grand slam and one shutout.
Surprisingly, none of the three games began well for the home team. Willamette stumbled through the first two innings of its home opener, surrendering an early 1-0 deficit to the Pioneers. It was first-year Eric Waldichuk that struck the first blow for Willamette, dashing home after senior Kyle Paguio hit a double. After a wild pitch sent Paguio to third, senior Connor Bailey smacked a single to allow Paguio to score the second run of the day.
Fireworks were exchanged in the fourth inning, with Lewis & Clark’s tying home run answered by sophomore Sean Little’s solo home run to right field. Little’s homer pushed the Bearcats ahead for good.
Holding a narrow 3-2 lead, senior Tyler Janitz hit a single to get the offense on base in the fifth inning. Junior Justin Scanlon followed him up with a single of his own; and the bases became loaded when first-year Ethan Fischel walked. Little was walked as well, forcing Janitz home. Waldichuk stepped up to bat next and struck the deciding blow of the game. With the bases still fully loaded, Waldichuk homered into right field, pushing the Bearcats to a crushing 8-2 advantage.
Lewis & Clark scored one last run in the sixth inning, but was unable to muster anything more against Willamette’s defense. The offense scored nine more runs in the game, pushing the final score to 17-3. Waldichuk and Little lead the way offensively with three runs scored apiece. Janitz, Scanlon, Fischel and senior Cole Pursell accounted for two runs each.
The Bearcats struggled early again later the same day in the second game of the series, sinking into a 2-0 hole. In the fourth inning, the Pioneer defense committed several crucial mistakes, which allowed the Bearcats to snatch away L&C’s final lead of the series. Pursell was able to score the first run for Willamette on a fielding error by the second baseman. Fischel, who was on third, scored after sophomore Kyle Underwood batted a sacrifice fly.
The Bearcats scored five more runs throughout the rest of the game, two of them coming from Bailey. Lewis & Clark mounted a small three-run surge in the final two innings, but failed to close the deficit and Willamette prevailed, 9-5.
The weekend series ended with a 6-0 shutout victory. Senior Nathan Gilman pitched seven scoreless innings, allowing just seven hits and recording three strikeouts. Despite the Pioneers having a runner in scoring position in the fourth and fifth innings, Gilman was able to force two ground outs both times to eliminate the threat. “Nathan pitched extremely well,” Willamette head coach Aaron Swick said in his interview with Robert McKinney. “We played good defense and had a few timely hits,” said Swick.
Those timely hits came at the bottom of the sixth inning, breaking what had been a 0-0 tie up to that point. Janitz began the scoring on a throwing error by the pitcher. With Scanlon on third and Fischel on first, the Pioneers switched pitchers, which again resulted in disaster for the road team. With Little at bat, Fischel stole second and Scanlon simultaneously stole home plate. Fischel was picked off at second base but Little, after he was walked, also stole second. Waldichuk then stepped up and smacked a double that drove Little home. A dropped ball by an outfielder allowed Waldichuk to push the lead to 4-0.
Scanlon was back for more in the seventh inning, hitting a triple to drive Janitz home. He was able to dash home himself while the defense was distracted chasing down Fischel between first and second, having been caught stealing. Willamette’s relief pitchers would record four more strikeouts and only allow one more hit, ending the game in a 6-0 victory for the Bearcats.
The team’s next game will be the first of a weekend series at Linfield College this coming Saturday, March 9, at 12 p.m.