Pacific Lutheran University’s baseball team will see at least one more day in the NCAA Division III West Regional playoffs.
For the second consecutive season, the Lutes won an NCAA game — this time with a big rally in the seventh inning.
Left fielder Kory VanderStaay’s two-out, bases-clearing double to right center highlighted a five-run seventh inning, lifting PLU past California Lutheran, 8-6, in a loser-out game Thursday at Avista Stadium in Spokane.
VanderStaay, a Peninsula High School graduate, lined a 3-2 pitch from reliever Nate Wehner into the right-center gap, scoring Landon Packard, Brett Johnson and Tyler Thompson to give PLU a 7-6 lead.
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Frank Airey followed with an infield RBI single that scored VanderStaay to complete the rally.
The Lutes (27-18) will continue their road in the consolation bracket at 3:15 p.m. Friday.
As much as the offense came through, PLU would not have had this opportunity if closer Garrett Brown had not shut down the four-time defending SCIAC champions’ lineup.
For the second consecutive game, a PLU starter was yanked early — this time it was Cole Johnson after two innings.
Brown pitched seven strong innings, giving up just one run.
“In games like this where it’s do-or-die, I am always ready to come in at any moment,” Brown said.
Closer is his third position since coming to PLU. He was originally a catcher, then moved to the starting rotation last season before first-year coach Nolan Soete made him the team’s top relief pitcher.
Before the outing Thursday, of Brown’s previous 25 appearances, in 20 of them he threw at least a scoreless inning.
Brown also had three saves for the Lutes in their run to the Northwest Conference tournament title. There isn’t a pitcher Soete trusts more.
“He’s thrown so well in the last month and a half,” Soete said. “He is effective because he commands his fastball, and he gets those first-pitch strikes.”
Down 6-1, Thompson drilled a two-run home run to cut it to 6-3 in the fifth inning. Like Brown, he hails from Anchorage, Alaska.
“It sparked the rally,” Soete said. “I knew then we had a shot.”
After losing to top-seeded Trinity the first day, the Lutes cleared a big hurdle and eliminated the No. 2 seed from California.
“We’d love to be 2-0 right now, but we knew we had to win today,” Soete said, “This team, when their back is against the wall, they play their best.”