SPOKANE, Wash. - Hugh Smith threw 8 ⅔ innings and top-seeded Whitworth used a four-run first inning to build an early lead before holding off fourth-seeded Pacific for a 5-3 victory in the NWC Tournament opener on Friday afternoon at Merkel Field.
Whitworth (26-8) will face second-seeded Pacific Lutheran (23-16) at 1 p.m. on Saturday. The winner will advance to Sunday's championship while the loser will play later on Saturday in the double-elimination tournament, facing the winner of third-seeded George Fox (21-16) and fourth-seeded Pacific (23-15). The Bruins and Boxers face off in a loser-out contest at 10 a.m. on Saturday.
The Pirates produced a strong start to the game as Smith threw a 1-2-3 first inning before Whitworth produced six hits and took advantage of a Pacific error to put four runs across the plate in the bottom of the first, including three runs with two outs.
Jeremy Druffel sparked the offense with a one-out single and then stole second base. Jordan McGowan followed with an RBI double to center field before Matthew Nelson singled to place runners on first and third. Joel Condreay came through with a two-out double to plate McGowan and Nelson, and advanced to third with a throwing error on the play. Garrett Hughes then singled home Condreay before the Boxers could end the inning.
Whitworth increased the lead to 5-0 in the second inning with an unearned run. Druffel once again was a catalyst for the offense, doubling to left-center field with one out. After a walk to McGowan, Druffel scored on a fielder's choice by Nelson. Nelson hit a ground ball to first base, but the throw from first base to the shortstop sailed into left field and allowed Druffel to score.
Pacific cut the lead to 5-1 in the fourth inning with an RBI single by Dylan Wright following back-to-back singles from Walker Olis and Kurtis Kloke. Smith was able to record a strikeout and a groundout to escape further damage following Wright's base hit.
Wright provided the offense again for the Boxers in the top of the sixth, bringing Pacific within 5-3 by hitting a two-out, two-run home run. His third home run of the season cleared the high wall in right field and scored Olis, who had doubled with one out.
The Pirates came close to adding to the lead in the seventh inning but Nelson was thrown out at the plate trying to score from first base on a two-out double from JT Phelan. Whitworth loaded the bases an inning later but was still unable to score.
The Boxers brought the go-ahead run to the plate in the ninth inning following singles by Justin Strayer and Kane Ulrich. But reliever JD Page, who entered the game with two outs in the inning, induced a soft line drive that was caught by third baseman Nicholas Nerud to conclude the game.
Smith (5-0) posted a career-long outing, allowing three earned runs on eight hits. He struck out six and walked one. Smith did not allow a hit until the fourth inning, retiring nine of the first 10 batters he faced. Page picked up his third save with ⅓ of an inning pitched.
Pacific starter Paul Wolfram (6-5) allowed five runs (four earned) on 11 hits in 7 ⅔ innings pitched. He struck out five and walked two. Wolfram settled in after the second inning, allowing just four hits and setting down nine in a row from the third inning to the fifth inning.
Druffel finished 2-for-5 with two runs scored. Nelson (2-4, run), Condreay (2-4, run, 2 RBIs) and Hughes (2-3, RBI) also helped lead the offense.
Wright went 2-for-3 with a walk, scoring one run and recording three RBIs. Olis was 2-for-4 with two runs scored.