Pirates Rally to win NWC Baseball Opener

Pirates Rally to win NWC Baseball Opener

by Mak Karge, Asst. SID

SPOKANE, Wash. - Whitworth rallied from a 4-0 deficit against the most dynamic pitcher in the Northwest Conference to claim a 5-4 victory over Pacific Lutheran in the opening round of the NWC Baseball Tournament on Friday afternoon at Merkel Field.  Whitman College pulled away early for a 7-1 win over Pacific (Ore.) in the other first round match up. 

The Pirates (23-12) and Blues (21-16) will play a winners bracket game at 10:00 am on Saturday, while the Lutes (22-15) and Boxers (24-17) play a loser-out game at 1:00 pm.

Game 1: Whitworth 5, Pacific Lutheran 4
Things looked bad for the Pirates after the Lutes rolled up four first inning runs to back starting pitcher Justin Armbruester, who leads the NWC with 114 strikeouts this season.  But Whitworth got three runs back in the third and scored the go-ahead runs in the seventh to pull out the victory.

The Lutes got off to a blistering start, putting up four runs in the first inning. Jacob Bockelie singled down the right field line, driving Andy Schmitz home for the first run. Austin Gormley followed with a double down the left field line, driving in Bockelie and Marques Carlson. Max Cummings singled home the fourth run of the inning.

Jaxsen Sweum walked to open the second inning, opening the door to Whitworth's first rally. Liam Fitzpatrick followed with a double down the left field line, moving Sweum to third. Ben Wintringer hit a line drive down the right field line for a two-run double. Nicholas Nerud singled home Wintringer with two outs for the final run of the frame.

Both starting pitchers settled down.  Whitworth's Matthew Young did not allow another run and went five innings.  Armbruester retired 12 of 13 batters from the third through the sixth innings, allowing only a double to Cody Simmons in the fourth.

Simmons singled with one out in the seventh and moved to second on a sacrifice bunt. Nerud came up big with another two-out single to center (advancing to second on the throw home), allowing Simmons to score. Tyler Bailey followed with a single to right and Nerud sprinted home for the go-ahead run.

Whitworth reliever Brett Thomas retired the first nine Lutes he faced when he came on in the sixth inning.  But he worked out of a desperate jam in the ninth.  With runners on second and third and only one out, Thomas got Andy Schmitz to pop out and then struck out Carlson to end the game.

Nerud had two hits in three at bats, scoring a run with a pair of RBIs. Simmons had two hits on four plate appearances, with a run scored.

Thomas (1-0), who has three saves in 2019, picked up his first win of the season after allowing just two hits and no walks with five strikeouts in four innings.

Armbruester (5-2) went seven innings and gave up five runs on seven hits. He struck out eight Pirates. Alex Gregory finished up for PLU.

Game 2: Whitman 7, Pacific 1
Lucas Thrun went 4-5 with a home run and four RBIs and Travis Craven pitched into the eighth inning to lead the Blues to their first-ever win at the NWC baseball tournament.

Whitman scored two in the first, two in the second, and one in the third to grab an early 5-0 lead. Thrun and Jake Wishart had RBI singles in the first inning.  Brett Williams and Thrun had another pair of run-scoring singles to double the lead in the second.  David Johnson hit a solo home run in the fifth to extend the Blues' lead to 5-0.

Ryan Krout finally got the Boxers on the scoreboard with a solo home run in the bottom of the eighth. But Thrun answered with a two-run homer of his own in the ninth.

Craven (5-5) went 7.2 innings, allowing only four hits.  He had six walks and six strikeouts. Eric Ma pitched the last 1.1 innings.

Sam Lawrence (6-4) started for Pacific and gave up five runs in only two innings. Pacific used six pitchers in the game.