Lisa Yamamoto hit a solo homer in the second.
Linfield Athletics

McMINNVILLE, Ore. -- Ashley Garcia went 3-for-3 and drove in the winning run in the sixth inning for No. 7 Linfield, which defeated Pacific Lutheran 3-2 on Sunday in the final game of the Northwest Conference tournament at Del Smith Stadium.

Linfield, the 10-time regular-season NWC champion, secured the conference’s automatic invitation to the NCAA Division III regional playoffs, while most certainly eliminating PLU, the defending national champion, from playoff consideration.

The two Northwest rivals tangled in last season’s NWC tournament and again in the NCAA finals, with the Lutes scoring upset victories each time.

It was a different story in 2013. Sunday’s come-from-behind victory kept Linfield’s record against PLU spotless this spring at 5-0. Linfield moved to 36-6 for the season while PLU dipped to 27-17.

Hosting the event for a third consecutive season, Linfield went 3-0 for the weekend.

Wildcat starter Karina Paavola pitched 6.1 innings, striking out four Lutes and walking four. She allowed six hits before turning the game over to closer Montana McNealy, who struck out Melissa Harrelson swinging and got Amanda Hall to pop out to center field, touching off a modest infield celebration.

PLU drew first blood in the top of the first inning after Paavola walked Amanda Hall and gave up a RBI single to Kaaren Hatlen. The Wildcats pulled even on a solo home run to lead off the second inning by Lisa Yamamoto, her 13th of the season. Hatlen returned the favor with a leadoff solo homer, her 12th, to begin the PLU third inning.

Linfield rallied to tie the game once more in the bottom of the inning. Grace Middelstadt reached first base on an error by shorstop Lindsey Matsunaga, who then swiped second base for her 33rd stolen base of the season. Karleigh Prestianni sent the ball deep to center field of Lutes starter Kelsey Robinson, scoring Middelstadt.

In the Linfield sixth, Prestianni singled to lead off the inning, then moved to third on a high fly to the outfield by Yamamoto. Garcia seized the opportunity, lacing the ball to left-center field to send home Prestianni for the winning run.

Prestianni finished 2-for-3. Erin Carson also had one of Linfield’s seven hits in the game. Paavola improved to 22-2 for the season.

Hatlen went 2-for-3 and drove in both of PLU’s runs. Hatlen took the loss in the pitching circle, falling to 10-9.