Stellar season puts 2007 in the record books

By Nick Dawson and Chris Ramirez ’08
Joe DiPietro felt sharp – and looked it – in the first three innings of Pacific Lutheran’s baseball game against Northwest Conference power George Fox on a Saturday in late March. DiPietro, a senior from Yakima, mowed down nine straight Bruin batters.

With game-time temperatures in the low 50s and the wind blowing, however, DiPietro felt the chill seeping through his sweat-soaked undershirt. Struggling to stay warm, he walked two batters, got an out, and then walked another to load the bases. That brought Daniel Downs to the plate, the Bruins’ No. 5 hitter, who packed an impressive .395 batting average.

That’s when DiPietro “the pitcher” took over. Making the most of his veteran defense, DiPietro threw a slider that Downs pounded into the ground. Shortstop Logan Andrews fielded the ball near the second base bag and turned the double play to get the Lutes out of the inning. DiPietro finished with a three-hitter in a 9-1 PLU victory, setting up a three-game series sweep of the No. 5-ranked Bruins, and catapulting the Lutes into first place in the conference standings. It’s the kind of performance that has defined the team all season long.

This spring, the Lutes won their first conference title of any kind since Pacific Lutheran College won consecutive Evergreen Conference championships in 1953-54. The Northwest Conference title was the first ever for a Pacific Lutheran baseball team. As conference champion, PLU qualified for the NCAA Division III regional tournament held May 16-20. The team’s unparalleled success, including a school record 21 wins during the regular season, can be credited to an outstanding young coach and his first PLU recruiting class – eight seniors who form the heart and soul of the program.

This year’s senior class is the first that Geoff Loomis, the program’s head coach since 2003, personally recruited. A coach’s first recruiting class is always special, but in a conference with loads of talent, sentimental value will only get a team so far. The eight seniors on the team – plus two transfers who have since joined the program – have made it their goal to make this a year to remember.

DiPietro has become the focal point of this group of seniors. His stellar numbers in 2006 – including a 6-3 record and 2.61 ERA – earned him the Northwest Conference Pitcher of the Year award in 2006. He’s off to an even better start this season with a 7-1 record and a miniscule 1.62 ERA.

“Joe has a chance to be the most celebrated pitcher in PLU history,” Loomis said of his ace right-hander. “His goal this year is to repeat as conference Pitcher of the Year and to lead us to a Northwest Conference championship.”

DiPietro would be the first to say, however, that his senior mates make his job easier. Senior pitcher Jeff Caley is counted among that first recruiting class, and along with transfer senior Kael Fisher, all work well with catcher Bryce Depew, who splits the catching duties with standout sophomore Brandon Sales.

Second baseman Roger Guzman, shortstop Logan Andrews and third baseman Jared Simon anchor a record-setting infield. Over the last three years the PLU team defense has been ranked in the top 15 in the nation. “They are as solid a group as I have ever had, and they bring to the table great senior leadership,” said Loomis.

The starting outfield consists entirely of seniors, including four-year starters Ryan Thorne and Justin Whitehall. Thorne patrols centerfield with flair and speed, and as a senior is on pace to shatter the single-season stolen base record. Whitehall earned first team all-conference honors as a junior and is one of the team’s best hitters in the clutch. One of the two transfer seniors, Tyler Green, set a PLU single-game record with three home runs against British Columbia on Feb. 23.

This year’s team has everything needed to win – the bats, plenty of solid pitching arms and plenty of senior experience. While those things are good, traits that set this squad apart from past teams can’t be measured – work ethic and mental toughness. “I think toughness is based around experiences, and this senior group has been through a lot,” Loomis said.

One of those experiences came when the seniors were sophomores and they missed out on a conference championship and regional playoff berth by one game. It was a lesson that, based on the 2007 season, seems to have been well learned.

New coach named for women’s soccer team

Pacific Lutheran University hired Tacoma native Lynnette Buffington, as women’s soccer head coach.

Women's soccer coach, Lynnette Buffington

“We are pleased to have Lynnette join our athletic program,” said Athletic Director Laurie Turner. “She has proven winning experience as a women's soccer coach at the collegiate level, and also brings excellent administrative skills to PLU.”

In addition to coaching, Buffington will provide administrative oversight of the school’s women’s and men’s soccer programs and assume other duties within the PLU athletic department.

Buffington brings four years of college coaching experience at the NCAA Division III level to PLU. From 2003-06, she served as women’s soccer head coach at Villa Julie College in Baltimore, Md. In those four years she improved the winning percentage of the program from .139 to .714, and won two conference championships to lead her 2006 team to the national tournament in its division.

Prior to coaching at Villa Julie, Buffington was the women’s soccer head coach at Tacoma Community College, where she compiled a 35-5-4 overall record from 1999-2001. She led the Titans to two Southwest Division championships and three tournament appearances, taking two of the teams to the quarterfinals and one to the semifinals.

Buffington, who graduated from Tacoma’s Stadium High School in 1992 and from Gonzaga University in 1996, becomes the fourth coach in the program’s history. She replaces Jerrod Fleury, who stepped down last fall after compiling a 47-43-7 record from 2002-06.

Women’s soccer started at Pacific Lutheran in 1981 under the guidance of head coach Colleen Hacker, who led the program to three NAIA national championships (1988, 1989, 1991) in five title-game appearances.

All sports rewards

Man of the Year
Joe DiPietro, baseball
Major: Business Administration, Marketing
Hometown: Yakima, Wash.

Woman of the Year
Nicole Petrzelka, tennis
Major: Nursing
Hometown: Burlington, Wash.

Athlete of the Year
Kati McGinn, volleyball
Major: History
Hometown: Puyallup, Wash.

Athlete of the Year
Andrew Eisentrout, football and
basketball
Major: Biology
Hometown: Olympia, Wash.

Frosty Westering Inspirational Award
Michael Turcott, swimming
Major: Sociology
Hometown: Rainier, Wash.

George Fisher Scholar-Athlete Award:
Jenna Hannity, crew
Major: Nursing
Hometown: Tacoma, Wash.

George Fisher Scholar-Athlete Award:
Kelly Brown, football
Major: Business
Hometown: Colville, Wash.

Valor Award:
Alana Schutt, softball
Major: Business
Hometown: Lynnwood, Wash.

Lute Service Award:
Andy Pederson, basketball
Major: Business, Economics
Hometown: Dallas, Ore.

Team of the Year: Baseball

Team GPA Award: Women's swimming (3.43)

Photo top: Senior members of the conference-winning baseball squad were pivotal to its success. Pictured in front are Jared Simon and Logan Andrews; from left to right in the back row are Bryce Depew, Ryan Thorne, Tyler Green, Kael Fisher, Joe DiPietro, Jeff Caley, Justin Whitehall and Roger Guzman.