NEWBERG, Ore. -- In handing top-ranked Linfield just its second Division III loss of the year, George Fox must have known a response was coming. Sure enough, the Wildcats opened up a 2-0 lead after one inning and blew the game open with a massive seven-run seventh frame to knot the series at one win apiece in a key Northwest Conference matchup Friday afternoon at Morse Field.
Trying to keep playoff dreams afloat with a good showing against the defending national champions and with ace Clay Gartner on the mound, the Bruins (24-9, 15-8 NWC) held the Wildcats (28-4, 18-2 NWC) scoreless after the third frame en route to a 4-1 victory in Game 1. But Linfield came out swinging in the nightcap and never relented, claiming the 12-3 rebound victory to avoid suffering its first series loss of the season.
Clayton Truex drove in a team-high six RBIs on three hits, Corey VanDomelen tallied a single and double in each game and Kramer Lindell belted his first home run of the year to pace the Wildcat offense.
With second-place Willamette dropping Game 1 to Whitworth, the Wildcats did not lose any ground in the NWC team standings, maintaining their 3.5 game lead with four contests left to play. The Bearcats have five games left on the schedule, including a Sunday make-up against Pacific Lutheran.
GAME 1: George Fox 4, No. 1 Linfield 1
Gartner went the distance on the mound, scattering six hits across nine innings, and the Bruin defense as a whole allowed just four Wildcat baserunners to reach second or beyond. Danny Clifford hit 3-for-4 to pace the George Fox offense.
Chris Haddeland recorded a season-high nine strikeouts, but gave up three earned runs in suffering his first loss of the year.
Linfield loaded the bases in the first off consecutive singles from VanDomelen and Nick Fisher plus a drawn walk by Truex. But Gartner struck out the Wildcats' No. 5 and 6 hitters to erase the threat.
After Gartner registered a 1-2-3 second frame, George Fox did not squander the opportunity to pull ahead as Zach Rapacz reached on an error, was sacrificed to second and scored on Kadyn Nannini's two-out line drive to center.
The ‘Cats knotted things at 1-1 in their half of the third. VanDomelen smacked a double off the 330-foot, right-field wall and Truex slipped a grounder past Clay Mott at third base to bring Linfield's leadoff man around to score.
Rapacz and Zac Israel delivered consecutive one-out singles to give the Bruins runners to work with in the fourth. Rapacz scored when Linfield tried to turn a double play on pinch hitter Zach Hegelmeyer's infield grounder, and Hegelmeyer himself scored on Matt Zeller's single up the middle for a 3-1 home advantage.
Gartner denied the Wildcats a response and George Fox carried its lead into the fifth. The Bruins played small ball and pushed Clifford to second, but two consecutive fly outs ended the threat.
Both defenses held until the seventh, when Clifford sent a two-out single to left, advanced to second on a wild pitch and scored on Josh Rapacz's RBI single through the left side.
Playing with a 4-1 lead, Gartner made just one mistake in the final two frames – hitting Lindell – to wrap up the win and improve to 9-1 on the year.
GAME 2: No. 1 Linfield 12, George Fox 3
Lindell's 12th career home run capped off a huge offensive inning for Linfield in the seventh as the Wildcats exacted their revenge in the nightcap. The ‘Cats jumped out to a 2-0 lead after one, doubled their advantage in the fourth and pushed the spread to five runs before George Fox finally broke through with a two-spot in the sixth.
Fisher reached on a miscommunication between starting pitcher Ian Buckles and first baseman Clifford on who would pick up the grounder dribbling toward first base. Fisher advanced to second on a balk, and scored when Wylie blasted a grounder through the left side. Truex pounded a tough chopper to third, reaching and advancing when the throw went high. Lindell's RBI groundout scored Wylie from third, and Jo Carroll and Eric Lawson loaded the bases, but Buckles got out of trouble with his first strikeout of the day.
Zach Brandon got out to a great start, retiring three of four Bruins in the bottom half of the first. The senior Game 2 starter threw four strikeouts in 5.2 innings to earn the win, his sixth of the year.
Kenny Johnson sent a first-pitch single to the right-field gap to lead off the second and Lindell doubled to the left-field corner in the third, but both Wildcats were left stranded as the Bruins kept the deficit manageable.
Johnson bobbled Zeller's infield single to give George Fox a baserunner in the third, but redeemed himself when he and Chance Laboda connected to catch Zeller stealing second in the next at-bat.
Linfield's offense, meanwhile, did more two-out damage in the fourth. VanDomelen doubled, Fisher drew a free bag off a hit by pitch and Wylie walked to load the bases. Truex battled in the box, fouling off at least two pitches before dropping a fly ball just inside the right-field line to plate VanDomelen and Fisher, and drive Buckles from the game.
After surrendering singles to Josh Rapacz and Derek Dixon and allowing Rapacz to reach third on a fielding error, Brandon and the ‘Cats got out of the jam with two consecutive fly outs.
Linfield pushed its lead to 5-0 in the sixth. VanDomelen singled and Fisher drilled a fly ball deep to left, but Bruins left fielder Nannini leaped up the fence and got enough of a glove on the ball to drag it back into play. Truex' sacrifice fly scored VanDomelen, and Linfield may have had more had Israel not made a great play on Lindell's line drive at short.
George Fox finally got to Brandon in the sixth. Derek Blankenship and Clifford singled, and Dixon shot the gap in left center for an off-the-fence RBI double. A Zach Rapacz single pushed another Bruin across, and Brandon handed off to Zach Manley, who yielded a single to Israel before striking out Hegelmeyer to end the frame and set the stage for a big offensive inning.
Eric Lawson started things off with a one-out walk, and advanced to second and then third on consecutive errors. Johnson blooped a single to left to score Lawson, and a VanDomelen walk loaded the bases. Fisher smashed a fly ball to the center-field warning track to plate Laboda, and after the Bruins intentionally walked Wylie, Truex made the defense pay by shooting the gap in right to give the Wildcats a 9-2 lead.
But Linfield wasn't quite finished. Wylie scored on a wild pitch, and Lindell blasted a two-run homer 365 feet – plus some – over the left-field wall for a 10-run advantage.
George Fox managed just one more run when Gabe Louthan, who drew a leadoff walk, scored on Israel's double down the left-field line.
Joseph Stevick pitched one scoreless inning for the Wildcats, recording three outs in a row to preserve the 12-3 win.