SPOKANE, Wash. – Whitworth is set to open the 2018 baseball season with its deepest pitching staff in many years. The Pirates hope that a plethora of strong arms will help carry them to a Northwest Conference title and another spot in the NCAA Division III tournament.
"This pitching staff is going to be fun to watch because of its versatility," said CJ Perry, who is Whitworth's interim head coach in 2018 after serving several seasons as the team's pitching coach. "We have eight different guys who we can use as starters on any given weekend."
Three of those pitchers bring previous All-NWC recognition with them. Two others have significant experience as starters.
Hugh Smith was a first team All-NWC honoree as a freshman in 2016 after going 6-1 with a 2.57 ERA. Smith battled persistent injuries in 2017, but still finished 3-4 and led the Pirates in strikeouts. Matthew Young is another Pirate who had a standout freshman season. Young earned second team All-NWC recognition last spring in his first season, going 5-2 with a 3.06 ERA. T.J. Orchard, now a senior, is 12-4 over his first three seasons as a starting pitcher. He also was second team All-NWC in 2016 when he finished 8-1.
Lefties Ryan Kingma, a junior, and Brady Simmelink, a senior, have starting experience as well. Kingma is 11-6 as a starter over his first two seasons at Whitworth. Simmelink made nine pitching appearances last season, including three starts, and finished 3-2.
Darren Crosby had 13 mound appearances in 2017, but 11 of those were in relief. He went 3-1 with a 2.68 ERA and could see more action as a starter this season. Finally, two freshman could have an immediate impact on the Pirates' starting pitching. Jake Briones and Austin Rice are both highly regarded recruits who will eventually make their marks at Whitworth.
The talent on this team goes beyond the players on the mound, according to Perry.
"We have great internal leadership, which really demonstrated itself during the coaching transition over the holidays," Perry said. "And I think this offense has a chance to be really well-balanced throughout the lineup."
Whitworth will have a new starter behind the plate. Cody Simmons picked up some key innings as a freshman backup catcher in 2017. He batted .237 and had three doubles with six RBIs backing up previous starter Nate Lamberty. Three new players will spell Simmons. Ian Sugrue is a transfer from Clark College in Vancouver, Washington. Jarred Yara and Jared McDaniel were standout high school catchers.
The Pirates bring back three starters on the infield. Joel Condreay is heading into his third season as the starting shortstop. He was honorable mention All-NWC as a sophomore and second team All-NWC as a junior in 2017. He has batted .329 over the last two years with 39 RBIs.
Nicholas Nerud proved to be a strong player all across the infield in 2017, seeing time at second, third and shortstop while hitting .278. He has a chance to earn the full-time starting role at second base with the graduation of Garrett Hughes.
Liam Fitzpatrick started several games at third base in the first half of last season. He will get a shot at the full-time starting job in 2018.
Whitworth will have a new starter at first base following the graduation of All-NWC honoree Matthew Nelson. Spencer Locati (senior), Matthew Pulliam (junior) and Dalen Hainline (soph.) will all battle for the starting role.
The only returning starter in the outfield is J.T. Phelan. A senior, Phelan has a .315 average, 25 doubles, eight home runs and 60 RBIs over his first three seasons as a Pirate. He should continue to hold down the starting spot in right field.
Transfer Taylor Poffenroth was an All-Northwest Athletic Conference honoree as a sophomore at Edmonds Community College. He has a chance to nail down the starting spot in center field.
The left field spot is up for grabs. Brett Moser has returned from a battle with illness that kept him out of baseball during the last two years. He batted .309 as a freshman in 2015. Ben Wintringer was a highly regarded recruit, but found little room to play as a freshman in last year's deep outfield. Grayson O'Neil is another impressive recruit who could see action as a freshman in 2018.
Any one of the players mentioned above could take on the role of designated hitter this season.
This Whitworth baseball team will not sneak up on anyone in 2018. The Pirates are picked second in the 2018 Northwest Conference coaches poll and got two first place votes. Whitworth will test itself against a difficult non-conference schedule that includes three teams ranked in the preseason top-25 polls: Centenary, Texas-Tyler and Trinity. Whitworth will also see traditional league powers Linfield and Pacific Lutheran in the non-conference schedule.
Perry believes this team is ready for the challenge. "We want to be tested and prove that we are once again a national caliber team," he said.
Whitworth will open the season at the Gents Baseball Classic this weekend in Shreveport, Louisiana. The Pirates will play two games each against host Centenary and against East Texas Baptist. Whitworth is aiming for a third NCAA tournament berth in the last four years, and fourth overall since 2012.