SPOKANE, Wash. - The Whitworth University baseball team can close in on its first Northwest Conference championship since 2016 this weekend when the Pirates travel to Portland to take on Lewis & Clark College. Whitworth and L&C will play a doubleheader on Saturday and a single game on Sunday. Both days are scheduled to start at noon.
Watch the Pirates' baseball schedule for live links to this weekend's games.
The Pirates: Whitworth is 17-11 overall and 14-4 in the NWC after sweeping last weekend's home series against the University of Puget Sound. Led by NWC Position Player of the Week Nicholas Nerud, the Pirates' bats came alive to the tune of 34 runs over three games.
Austin Rice (4-1) won his fourth straight start during Whitworth's 10-2 win in the series opener. He allowed one run on six hits and a pair of walks over six innings, with five strikeouts. Mathew Pulliam finished up the final three innings. The Bucs set the tone for the entire series by scoring five runs in the first inning. Cody Simmons stroked a three-run double during that rally. Nerud and Liam Fitzpatrick had three hits each and Fitzpatrick scored three runs.
Whitworth broke open a 3-3 tie in the second game by scoring six straight runs. Nerud went 4-4 with three RBIs and two runs scored in the 9-6 win. Taylor Poffenroth went 4-5 and drilled his second home run of the season in the sixth inning to give Whitworth a 9-3 lead. Matthew Young threw six innings and improved to 6-3. Brett Thomas tossed three innings of relief to net his third save of the season.
The Pirates rallied from an early 5-0 deficit by batting around in consecutive innings. Whitworth scored seven runs in the third and six more in the fourth to take control on the way to a 15-8 victory in Sunday's series finale. Nerud, Simmons and Jaxsen Sweum all had two hits and two RBIs each and Tyler Bailey hit his first homer of the spring. Connor Grytdal threw 4.1 innings of relief to pick up his second victory of the season.
Nerud hit .643 (9-14) and led the Bucs with six runs batted in and scored four runs to garner the NWC weekly honor.
Whitworth's defense leads the NWC and ranks fifth in all of NCAA Division III with a .975 fielding percentage. Despite two home runs last weekend, Whitworth remains last in the conference in homers (5), yet the Bucs are second in the NWC in runs scored (178) and second in batting average (.298). Whitworth pitchers have allowed the fewest hits per nine innings (8.45) and own the lowest ERA (3.79) in the Northwest Conference. The Pirates also lead the NWC in batting average against (.249).
Leading the League: Whitworth (14-4) is in first place in the Northwest Conference standings with two weekends (six games) to play. The Pirates lead George Fox (14-7) by three games in the loss column. Pacific (11-7) is in third place. PLU, Whitman and Willamette are all tied in fourth place at 10-8. Whitworth holds a tiebreaker advantage over all but Whitman due to head-to-head results.
The NWC's regular season champion will host the conference tournament on April 26-28. The tournament will determine the league's automatic bid to the NCAA tournament. The top four teams in the league standings qualify.
The Opponents: Lewis & Clark (9-22 overall, 4-14 NWC) is coming off its second NWC series victory of the season after the Pioneers took two of three games at Linfield College. L&C has a team batting average of .252 and a team ERA of 5.88. They rank second in the NWC with 69 doubles this season. Senior OF Matt Donovan hits .339 and leads the team in doubles (13), home runs (4), RBIs (22) and walks (23). Sophomore Dominic Monozon is 2-5 and leads L&C in innings (55.0), starts (10) and strikeouts (38) with a 3.93 ERA.
The Pioneers have already matched their win total from last season (9-30 overall, 5-19 NWC). The Pirates won two of the three meetings against L&C last year in Portland.
The Coach: CJ Perry is in his second season as head coach of the Pirates, after serving five seasons as an assistant coach. He had two players taken in the major league draft in 2018, pitcher Hugh Smith in the sixth round by the Detroit Tigers and shortstop Joel Condreay selected in the 31st round by the Colorado Rockies. As pitching coach in 2016, Perry's staff led all of NCAA Div. III in walks allowed per nine innings (2.07) and posted a team ERA of 3.95.