With his pitching staff overworked and worn down by four games in three days at the NCAA Division III West Regional tournament, Pacific Lutheran University baseball coach Nolan Soete knew his offense would have to carry the day.
The Lutes scored seven runs.
They needed more to move on.
Top-seeded Trinity University was the class of the tournament, and the Tigers capped their undefeated run in Spokane by beating the sixth-seeded Lutes, 12-7, in the regional title game Saturday.
It turned out to be a long championship game — after a mid-afternoon rainstorm pounded Avista Stadium, the tournament was moved to all-turf Merkel Field, on the campus of host Whitworth University.
Nearly three hours later, after Ben Welch’s groundout to shortstop ended the game, Tigers’ players ran and dogpiled on the pitcher’s mound.
This is Trinity’s seventh consecutive NCAA tournament appearance — and the Tigers (39-7) will take a 12-game winning streak into the College World Series next week in Wisconsin.
Against seven PLU pitchers, the Tigers racked up 20 hits — five of them for extra bases. Seven of their hitters had at least two hits.
“I can say Trinity, in my time coaching at the level, they are the most complete team we’ve seen,” Soete said. “That team is loaded. They are definitely more talented than we are. We gave it our best shot.”
Yet, despite only getting one hit, the Lutes scored four runs in the first inning to grab a 4-1 lead.
Landon Packard was hit by a pitch to score one run. Tyler Thompson scored another one on a wild pitch. And the fourth run came on Cole Johnson’s groundout.
Trinity’s offense just would not give the Lutes an easy inning. It tallied runs in all of the first eight innings.
With the game tied at 4-4, the Tigers blew it open in the fifth inning as six of the first seven batters had hits.
Trinity had RBI singles from Nick Jewett, Jose Santos and Andrew Waters, and a run-scoring double to right center by Carter McEachern off reliever Cory Nelson to grab an 8-4 lead.
“That broke our backs a little bit,” Soete said. “We were running out of (pitching) arms, to be honest.”
Trailing 10-4, the Lutes had one final opportunity in the seventh after the game restarted at Merkel Field.
With the bases loaded, Connor Cantu hit a two-run single to right field to trim it to 10-6.
Again, PLU loaded the bases, and Drew Oord drove in a third run on a fielder’s choice grounder to second base.
But Tyler Thompson followed by grounding into a double play, and the Lutes were never heard from again.
The loss should not take away from what this team accomplished: After winning the Northwest Conference tournament, the Lutes (29-19) won three games in the national tournament, and reached an NCAA regional title game for the second time in school history.
“It seemed like the last two months, we were fighting for our lives,” Soete said. “And they answered the bell every time. I am proud of the team. They fought. We just ran into a better team.”