Willamette University’s baseball team entered the West Regional of the NCAA Division III Baseball Championship as the lowest seed last week in Spokane. The Bearcats opened the tournament Thursday by upsetting No. 15 Chapman University 10–5. After two more wins and one loss, they earned their way to the regional final, where the winner would advance to the national championship.
The Bearcats pushed No. 6 Texas Lutheran into extra innings in the final, before falling 6–5 in the 10th. In spite of the loss, Willamette completed its most successful season in decades. The team tied the school record for victories set in 1998 by finishing 31–19 and progressed farther in the NCAA tournament than any previous Willamette team. The Bearcats’ last NCAA postseason appearance was in 2001.
Center fielder Perry Van Eckhardt ’18 blasted a leadoff home run in the ninth to force the extra inning in Sunday’s championship. In a postgame press conference, Van Eckhardt said participating in the positive culture change that has taken place on the team since his first year made walking off the field for the last time better.
“We’ve done so many great things. I couldn’t be more proud of the other seven seniors and other players on the team,” said Van Eckhardt. “This has been an absolute amazing experience.”
Willamette Head Coach Aaron Swick shared the same pride for the team. He attributed the Bearcats’ success to the players’ depth of talent, resiliency and fight.
“I’m just extremely proud of my players, my team. They left it all on the field,” Swick said. “In 2017, our goal was to play in the last game of the conference tournament, and we did that. This year, our goal was to play in the NCAA regionals. We did it. We’re going to continue to raise the expectations of our program. We definitely have the talent and the effort to keep raising the bar.”
For full game recaps, statistics, press conference interviews and game highlights, follow the links on the game scores.