There is no secret ingredient to Pacific Lutheran University’s late-season surge in baseball — just its offense.
Normally when the Lutes get runners on, they score — and do it in bunches.
And they had plenty of opportunities against top-seeded Trinity University of Texas in the opening round of the NCAA Division III West Regional tournament in Spokane.
But after a rocky first inning, Trinity starting pitcher Ryan Gray wiggled out of trouble, giving the Tigers eight strong innings in a 7-3 victory at Avista Stadium in Spokane.
The sixth-seeded Lutes (26-18) were dropped to the consolation bracket and face a must-win situation Thursday against California Lutheran.
“I am very confident we’ll rebound,” PLU coach Nolan Soete said. “Their strength is their mental toughness. They fight in every inning of every game.
“If we can win (Thursday), it puts us right back into it.”
PLU took a 2-0 lead in the first inning on Brett Johnson’s RBI single up the middle.
But the Lutes gave up three runs in the bottom half of the inning. The big blow was Drew Butler’s two-run home run off starter Cory Nelson, who lasted just two-plus innings.
PLU had the leadoff runner on in five of the first seven innings, but Gray — a tall left-hander who throws in the upper 80 mph range — found a way to shut down much of it.
“It was kind of a grind throughout the game,” Soete said.
Up 4-3, Trinity broke it open with two runs in the sixth inning. It didn’t help that two Lutes relievers combined for three walks in the inning.
“We cannot make the mistakes we made, especially on the mound,” Soete said.