WALLA WALLA — Whitman held its own with Willamette throughout its three-game Northwest Conference baseball series that wrapped up Sunday afternoon at sun-kissed Borleske Stadium.
Unfortunately for the Missionaries, the fourth inning of each game led to their downfall.
After giving up five runs in the fourth inning of game one of a Saturday doubleheader and six runs in the fourth frame of game two of the twin bill, Whitman allowed seven runs in the dreaded stanza on Sunday during a 10-9 Senior Day setback to the Bearcats.
The Missionaries slipped to 7-14 in the NWC with the narrow defeat and are now 18-17-1 overall.
Willamette shot up to 13-4 and 20-11.
“Willamette is a good team,” Whitman coach Sean Kinney said. “This conference is tough from top to bottom. That’s why you’ve seen an NWC team go to the (NCAA Division III) World Series the last two years.”
Whitman took a 1-0 lead in the bottom of the first inning on Sunday without the benefit of a hit. It used two Bearcat errors to plate the game’s initial tally.
Willamette scored twice in the second inning before the Missionaries put up a four spot in their half of the third. Aaron Cohen doubled in the first two runs, Cam Young brought in the third run with a grounder to third base, and Jonny Lari capped the rally when he sliced an RBI single down the left-field line to give Whitman a 5-2 lead.
The Bearcats collected five hits against Whitman starting pitcher Brett Lambert during their seven-run surge in the fourth that gave them the lead for keeps, 9-5.
“You can’t let big innings happen,” Kinney said. “That was the tale of the weekend.”
Whitman got a couple of runs back in the fifth on a wild pitch and another Bearcat gaffe.
Willamette scored its final run in the sixth and led 10-7 after six-and-a-half innings.
The Missionaries picked up a run in the seventh inning on a Kyle Buckham single and another in the eighth on a Cohen ground out.
Buckham drew a two-out walk to give Whitman hope in the bottom of the ninth. But Willamette closer Jackson Watt got Jimmy Madden to fly out to right to end the game and nail down his seventh save of the season.
“The boys played as hard as they could,” Kinney said. “One great thing about this team is its resiliency.”
Sunday’s game was the last at Borleske Stadium for 13 Whitman baseball athletes including 11 seniors — Lari, Madden, Young, Buckham, Cohen, Lambert, Chris Konolige, Dakota Matherly, Kyle Moyes, Connor Madden and Sterling Spilinek — and juniors Spencer Hobson and Eli Mathieu.
“Opposing coaches (in the NWC) have been complimentary about the way our guys are playing,” Kinney said. “They are taking notice about how the program has improved and is getting better.
“That means a lot to our seniors,” Kinney said. “They have been an amazing group. They’ve been through a lot. There are so many little things about each of them that speak to the quality of their character. It’s been a joy coming to practice every day to work with them. Their desire to improve is something that excites me.”
Whitman ends its regular season April 26-27 with a three-game series at Whitworth.
Willamette 10, Whitman 9
Willamette 020 701 000 — 10 10 5
Whitman 104 020 110 — 9 9 2
Hoffman, Tsubata (7), Watt (8) and Breier. Lambert, Matherly (5), Cohen (6) and Lari.
HR — none.
Hits — Will: Gallant 2, Wyatt, Breier 4, Himuro 2, Harrison. Whit: Buckham 2, Madden, Braff 2, Cohen, Carmichael, Heywood, Lari.