No. 1 Linfield takes two of three against No. 23 George Fox to clinch the NWC title and an automatic bid to the NCAA tournament
A year ago, Linfield dealt a death blow to George Foxs playoff hopes by sweeping the Bruins in the final series of the regular season.
Senior Clay Gartner quickly prevented a second-consecutive sweep by pitching GFU to a 4-1 opening-game victory Friday, but the No. 1 Wildcats may have sealed the No. 23 Bruins NCAA tournament fate again by taking the final two games of the series 12-3 and 8-2.
The opening tilt was set up to be a pitchers duel the whole way, as Gartner entered the game 8-1 with a 2.38 ERA and 57 strikeouts to throw opposite Chris Haddeland, the 2013 National Pitcher of the Year who was 8-0 with a 0.97 ERA and 54 Ks.
The Bruins took an early 1-0 lead on an unearned run in the second and the visitors recorded their lone run in the top of the third on a two-out RBI single to left by Clayton Truex.
Head coach Marty Hunters team reclaimed the lead with a pair of runs in the top of the fourth, as Zach Rapacz scored from second on a ground ball out and later Matthew Zeller singled to score Zach Hegelmeyer.
Danny Clifford, who went 3-for-4, drove in an insurance run in the seventh with a two-out single.
Game 2 on Friday seemed to be headed for a tight finish with Linfield up 5-2 through six innings, but three GFU errors helped the Wildcats post seven unearned runs in the top of the seventh.
Ian Buckles (6-1) pitched 3.2 innings and gave up four runs to suffer his first loss of the season.
The Bruins honored their 12 seniors before Saturdays series finale, but Nick Fisher helped spoil the sentiment by blasting a pair of home runs in the 8-2 Linfield victory.
Fishers first home run, a solo shot, opened the scoring in the third and a Truex two-run bomb made it 4-0 through four. The Wildcats had posted six runs by the time George Fox broke through with a pair of runs in the in the sixth, both on a Zeller single.
The visitors compiled 18 hits in the game to hand the loss to Tom Zarosinksi (6-4), who went 5.2 innings and surrendered six earned runs.
George Fox (25-10, 15-9 NWC) has completed its league schedule and will need help to overtake Willamette (22-14, 14-7), which closes league play with a three-game set at fifth-place Puget Sound Saturday and Sunday.
The Bearcats swept the Bruins in the regular season, so GFU would need a UPS sweep to finish alone in second place or two Logger wins to force a tie.
Fourth-place Pacific Lutheran (22-14, 13-8) has a chance to overtake George Fox if it can sweep its three-game set versus Pacific.
From there, GFU will have to play the waiting game during conference tournament season to see if it will receive a hard-to-come-by at-large bid to the NCAA tournament.
In the mean time, George Fox will host Corban in the first game of a nonconference home-and-home series at 4 p.m. Thursday and then play in Salem Saturday.