Bearcats edge defending NWC champion Bruins in extra innings

SALEM — Freshman Matt Johnson singled home the game-winning run with one out in the bottom of the 11th inning Sunday, enabling Willamette to upend defending Northwest Conference champion George Fox, 4-3, at John Lewis Field. It was the NWC opener for both teams.

The victory improved Willamette’s record to 3-3 on the season, while the Bruins fell to 7-4. GFU has won three games in its final at-bat already this season.

Johnson, WU’s second baseman, singled a 1-1 pitch sharply into left field to score pinch runner Ken Halpin from third base. Halpin was running for Travis Shull, who had opened the inning with a single to right field.

The decision made a winner out of Bearcat reliever Zach Vande Griend, who struck out five batters in three innings of work. Vande Griend (1-2) came on in relief in the ninth inning for Jeff Jensen, who scattered 10 hits and three walks over eight frames.

George Fox starter Scott Hyde fanned 11 batters over nine innings, allowing just five hits, three walks and two runs. But reliever Thomas Chivers (1-2) took the loss after loading the bases in the 11th on Shull’s single and walks to Mike Allen and Brian Gilmore. Johnson then got the game-winner off right-hander Andy Bailey, who had just entered the game.

Willamette took the first lead of the game with two runs in the fourth inning. Allen singled sharply down the left field line, scoring Shull and Matt Drahn.

GFU narrowed the gap to 2-1 in the seventh and tied the game in the eighth when Stephen Donohue’s single to left-center scored Derrick Jones from third base.

The Bruins then took their only lead of the game in the top of the 10th. David Peterson, who went 3 for 4 for the Bruins, scored Jones on a sacrifice fly. But the Bearcats tied the score in the bottom of the frame when pinch hitter Jason Chatterton singled to left field with two out, scoring Drew Ecklund from second base.