By Alan Wiederhold
Sports Information Director
LONGVIEW, Texas – Ashley McPhail's go-ahead home run in the bottom of the sixth inning lifted the LeTourneau YellowJackets to a 9-8 upset victory over No. 6 Pacific Lutheran to earn a doubleheader split Wednesday.
McPhail knocked a two-run home run over the left field fence that also scored Juliana Tuel and helped the Jackets reclaim the lead for good and cap a four-run inning.
The visiting Lutes (23-7), ranked sixth in the latest Division III poll released by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association, defeated LeTourneau 13-4 in the opening game of the doubleheader.
The YellowJackets (13-13) handed the Lutes their first loss of their 10-game road trip through Texas and the American Southwest Conference. PLU had won its first seven games of the trip, which included sweeps of Hardin-Simmons, Mary Hardin-Baylor and East Texas Baptist. The Lutes visit No. 10 Texas-Tyler on Thursday.
LeTourneau's triumph over Pacific Lutheran was its first win over a ranked opponent since April 16, 2011, when the Jackets defeated East Texas Baptist 3-0 to salvage a doubleheader split in Marshall. The Tigers were also ranked sixth in the Division III polls.
LeTOURNEAU 9, PACIFIC LUTHERAN 8
Taylor Thibodeaux pitched all seven innings to earn the complete-game victory and improved her season record to 8-10. Thibodeaux gave up only three earned runs and threw 154 pitches in the game.
The Jackets' four-run sixth negated Pacific Lutheran's fifth-inning outburst when the Lutes scored six runs. The Lutes sent 12 runners to the plate and broke a 5-5 tie when Montesso Califano knocked a bases-loaded double that scored three runs.
Pacific Lutheran's six-run fifth inning swung momentum away from the YellowJackets, who had led since the bottom of the first.
With two outs in the bottom of the sixth, the Jackets began to piece together a rally when Robin Waggoner and Chloe Cooper knocked back-to-back singles. One batter later, Juliana Tuel knocked a double to left-centerfield that scored both Waggoner and Cooper.
In an attempt to stanch the Jackets rally, the Lutes brought in staff ace Stacey Hagensen to pitch, bringing her to the circle for the second time in the game. As an ever-increasing crowd watched, McPhail knocked a 2-2 pitch over the left field wall, bringing the LeTourneau fans to their feet.
The Lutes did not go away quietly when they went to the plate in the top of the seventh as Califano led off the inning with a double down the left field line. The Jackets, however, got a big lift when the next batter, leadoff hitter Amanda Goings, lined a bunt attempt right to third baseman Kelli Parton.
Thibodeaux got the next out when she induced Haley Harshaw to strike out swinging on a 3-2 pitch. After Hagensen, a .393 hitter, was intentionally walked, Kaaren Hatlen knocked a slow roller to second baseman Cooper, who made a quick underhand toss to Sarah Whitehead for the final out that gave the Jackets the win.
The Lutes opened the second game by scoring two runs in the top of the first. The Jackets responded with a four-run inning that included back-to-back bases-loaded singles by Brooklyn Green and Parton that scored Whitehead and Christin Mickelboro, respectively.
Anna Winter stretched LeTourneau's lead to 5-2 in the bottom of the third with a solo home run. Winter, Tuel and McPhail all knocked two RBIs in the game.
Every LeTourneau player in the starting lineup collected at least one base hit in the game; Whitehead went 3-for-4 while Cooper went 2-for-3.
PLU's Hagensen took the loss despite giving up only two runs in the game – both to LETU's home run hitters. She twice relieved Leah Butters, who walked four batters and gave up seven earned runs.
PACIFIC LUTHERAN 13, LeTOURNEAU 4
Hagensen was also denied the victory in game one despite not allowing a hit and only yielding two baserunners. Her 2 2/3 innings as the starting pitcher did not qualify her for the five-inning win after head coach Erin Van Nostrand emptied her bench with a big lead.
Thibodeaux took the loss after giving up nine runs in 4 1/3 innings, though only three were earned. She struck out nine batters in the game. Hatlen picked up the victory for PLU and improved to 8-1 on the season.
Parton went 2-for-3 in the game and scored two runs, while Tuel and Whitehead also collected two hits in the game.
The YellowJackets return to action Saturday when they host Louisiana College in an ASC East doubleheader. First pitch is scheduled for 1 p.m. at the LETU Softball Field.