SPOKANE, Wash. – Somehow the Whitworth Pirates have snuck into the 2017 Northwest Conference baseball tournament. Now the Pirates get a clean slate and all four remaining squads are 0-0 in the hunt for the conference's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III tournament.
The 2017 NWC baseball tournament will take place Friday through Sunday at Linfield College, the regular season NWC champion. The games will be played on Roy Helser field. Click here for the tournament website, which will include links to live video and live statistics.
Tournament Info: The NWC Baseball Tournament is a double-elimination format. Two games are scheduled for Friday and three games are scheduled for Saturday. The championship game (or games, if necessary) will take place Sunday. Tickets are $6 for adults and $3 for children and senior adults. Students from participating schools are admitted for free with valid college I.D. All seating is general admission.
Friday, April 21
Game 1: Linfield (1) vs. Whitworth (4), 2 p.m.
Game 2: Willamette (2) vs. Pacific Lutheran (3), 5 p.m.
Saturday, April 22
Game 3: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, noon
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 3 p.m.
Game 5: Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 6 p.m.
Sunday, April 23
Game 6: Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5, noon
Game 7: Winner Game 6 vs. Loser Game 6, 3 p.m., if necessary
The Pirates: Whitworth (22-13 overall, 12-12 NWC) needed two big things to happen last weekend to even get into the NWC tournament. First, the Pirates needed to sweep all three games from visiting Pacific. Second, Linfield had to win all three games at Whitman to drop the Blues behind the Bucs in the NWC. If Whitworth and Whitman had finished tied in the league standings, Whitman would have claimed the tiebreaker based on head-to-head results. The Pirates head into the weekend with a team batting average of .279 and a team ERA of 4.50.
Whitworth played some of its best baseball of the season while sweeping the Boxers. The Pirates won Friday's opener 12-5 after trailing 2-0 in the fourth inning. In fact, Whitworth did not get its first hit of the game until the bottom of the fourth against Pacific ace Spencer Backstrom, who came into the weekend leading the league in ERA. JT Phelan went 2-4 with four RBIs, while Nicholas Nerud and Jordan McGowan had three hits each. Matthew Young improved to 5-2 after allowing five runs on 11 hits in 8.2 innings.
The Pirates won the second game 7-3 behind the stellar relief effort of Darren Crosby. Crosby came into the game in the third inning with one out and the bases loaded. The Boxers had scored twice to take a 2-1 lead. Crosby fanned the first two batters he faced and went on to finish the game on the mound. He allowed one run on four hits with eight strikeouts and no walks while improving to 2-1. Garrett Hughes went 3-4 with three runs scored. Tyler Bailey had a big two-run single and went 2-4.
Whitworth never trailed in the 11-4 win in the series finale on Saturday. Joel Condreay and Ryan Bird drove in three runs each, while Bailey went 2-4 with two RBIs and two runs scored. Ryan Kingma started on the mound and allowed two runs in four innings. Matthew Pulliam tossed the final five frames to pick up the win and improve to 2-0. He allowed two runs on four hits.
Bailey Honored: Tyler Bailey has been selected as the NWC's baseball Position Player of the Week. He had a huge weekend as the Pirates' DH vs. the Boxers. He batted .583 (7-12) with a pair of doubles, drove in six runs and scored four. In the opener, he had a double, two runs and two RBIs, drove in two in the second game, and had a double with two runs and two RBIs in the finale. He finished with a .615 on base percentage and a .750 slugging percentage.
Won Before: Whitworth has been in this position before. In 2015 the Pirates went to top-seeded Pacific Lutheran and won the NWC tournament to claim the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. In 2016 PLU returned the favor, winning the tournament championship at top-seeded Whitworth. The Pirates and Lutes are the only two conference schools to have played in all three NWC post-season tournaments.
The Rest of the Field: Linfield College heads into the tournament 24-10 overall and 19-5 in the NWC. The Wildcats' sweep of Whitman elevated Linfield to the regular season conference crown – its first since 2014 and the 'Cats enter the tournament having won 13 games in a row. Linfield leads the league in team ERA (3.28), paced by sophomore Cason Cunningham who is 5-1 with an NWC-best 1.65 ERA. The Pirates will likely face Cunningham, who leads the league with 88 strikeouts, in the tournament opener. OF Scott Hilpert was having an MVP kind of year (.383, 12 home runs, 40 RBIs) before he was injured in the finale at Whitman. Senior IF Ben Andrews is hitting .338 with 31 RBIs. Head Coach Scott Carnahan has announced his retirement, effective at the end of the season. Linfield took three of four games from the Pirates two weeks ago in McMinnville, including a 3-2 decision in 11 innings in the second contest.
Willamette University (26-12 overall, 18-6 NWC) is the surprise of the spring in the conference after entering the year picked sixth in the preseason coaches' poll. The Bearcats went 8-1 against the rest of the NWC tournament field in conference play. Sophomore pitcher Matt Steindorf is 7-2 with two complete games and an ERA of 3.87. Junior Perry Van Eckhardt is hitting .309 with six home runs and 20 RBIs. He has also stolen 16 bases in as many attempts. Whitworth beat Willamette 15-4 in the season-opening, non-conference tournament in February. But the Bearcats swept the Pirates in a three-game NWC set in March, which was played at PLU because Whitworth's Merkel Field was still covered in two feet of snow.
Pacific Lutheran (22-10 overall, 17-7 NWC) heads into the tournament as the number three seed. The Lutes were in the conference title hunt all spring and carry a .301 team batting average into the weekend. Senior Landon Packard leads the conference in batting average (.400) and is second in RBIs (42). Fellow senior Kory VanderStaay is hitting .350 with five home runs and 28 RBIs. Senior pitcher Jacob Gleichman is 5-1 with a 3.13 ERA. The Lutes are very experienced in the post-season. They won the 2016 NWC tournament and advanced to the championship of the NCAA Division III regional in Spokane. PLU and Whitworth split four games this season, however the Lutes took two of the three conference counters.
Fleet Feet: With 65 stolen bases Whitworth currently ranks second in the NWC and ranks 27th in all of NCAA Division III. Daniel Casanova is the NWC leader this season with 22 stolen bags, while teammate Garret Hughes ranks second with 17.
Pirate Hammer: Matthew Nelson is having an All-Conference kind of year at the plate. With a .313 batting average he currently leads the NWC (and ranks 8th nationally) in RBIs with 44. He is second in the NWC (and fourth in DIII) in home runs with 11. And he leads the conference (and ranks 8th nationally) in sacrifice flies with six. In addition, Nelson has been stellar on defense with only two errors in 312 total defensive chances (.994).
The Coach: Dan Ramsay has led the Bucs to the NCAA Division III tournament three times (2012, 2015, 2016) and was named Northwest Conference Coach of the Year in 2012 and 2016 and West Region Coach of the Year by D3baseball.com and the ABCA in 2012. Ramsay, now in his ninth season coaching Whitworth, earned his 150th career victory during the 2016 season. He is 159-164 overall.
In his eight years at Whitworth Ramsay has coached a First Team All-American and two Third Team All-Americans, 21 All-Northwest Conference selections, ten ABCA All-West Region selections, one Academic All-American and four Academic All-District selections, one conference batting champion, one West Region Gold Glove Award winner, one Rawlings Gold Glove National Award winner, and has had three players sign professional contracts.