Cole Johnson has had an interesting road in baseball from White River High School to Washington State University and now planted as one of the feared hitters in the Pacific Lutheran University lineup.
And he’s reached a vantage point he surely likes — the NCAA Division III playoffs.
Johnson was on his game Friday night with his pitching arm and his powerful bat.
He pitched six-plus strong innings, then delivered the game-winning RBI single in the seventh inning, lifting the Lutes past the University of Texas-Tyler, 3-2, in a West Regional loser-out game at Avista Stadium in Spokane.
The Lutes (29-18) wanted to advance further than they did in the South Region a year ago, when they fell just short of reaching the regional championship.
This seaon PLU is playing in the West Regional championship game, and will have to defeat top-seeded Trinity University twice Saturday to advance to the College World Series in Wisconsin. First pitch is at 11 a.m.
That will be a tough task as Trinity has dropped back-to-back games just once this season, April 8-9 against Texas Lutheran. Since then, the Tigers have won their past 11 games, including all three in this regional tournament.
One of those wins was against PLU, 7-3, in the opening round Wednesday.
But PLU knows one thing — it is one of two surviving schools remaining in this six-team bracket.
Texas-Tyler’s Josh Burns tied the score at 2-2 with a two-run triple deep into the right-center alley off Johnson in the seventh inning.
It ended Johnson’s night on the mound, but he had one of his best starts of the season, giving up just two runs in 6 2/3 innings.
PLU’s Tyler Thompson led off the seventh with a single. Two batters later, Johnson’s grounder took a wicked bounce past Patriots second baseman Braxton Hollenshead, and dribbled into center field.
Thompson motored from second base to score what would become the game-winning run.
In the earlier game, the Lutes eliminated their Northwest Conference rival Whitworth Pirates with an 8-5 win.
Once again, PLU exploded in the seventh inning, this time for three runs. Ben Welch and Drew Oord had two-out, RBI singles to cap the scoring
Again, the Lutes got great relief pitching, this time from Leif Hansen, who tossed 3 2/3 no-hit inning.
PLU took a 3-0 lead after stringing together six hits in its first seven at-bats.
The Lutes won four of six games this season against the Pirates, who were the conference regular-season champions.