SPOKANE, Wash. - The road to the NCAA Division III playoffs rolls through Spokane as Whitworth plays host to the 2019 Northwest Conference Tournament this weekend. The Pirates are officially the NWC's regular season champions, earning the right to host the conference tournament. However, the league's automatic bid to the NCAA playoffs will be decided this weekend.
Follow Whitworth's NWC Tournament webpage for live links to this weekend's games.
The Pirates: Whitworth is 22-12 overall and won the NWC regular season by four games with a record of 19-5. The Pirates finished conference play by taking two of three games against Linfield last weekend at Merkel Field.
After trailing 5-1 early in last Friday's opener, Whitworth exploded for an 18-5 victory thanks to a nine-run fifth inning. Taylor Poffenroth opened the big rally with a three-run home run, then finished it off with a two-run single to net five RBIs in one inning. JJ Fahnlander added a two-run homer late in the game. Mathew Pulliam earned the pitching victory with four innings of shutout relief.
After playing a single game on Friday, the teams closed the series with two games on Saturday.
The Pirates pulled out Saturday's opener 2-1 when Nicholas Nerud doubled leading off the bottom of the ninth and eventually scored on Jaxsen Sweum's bases-loaded single with one out. Nerud also scored Whitworth's first run in the third, which tied the game 1-1. Matthew Young (8-3) went the distance on the mound, scattering seven hits. He struck out eight with no walks.
Whitworth led the series finale 6-0 before Linfield rallied to win 9-7. Most Pirate starters only played five innings of the game. Tyler Bailey, Ian Sugrue and Casey Isa all drove in two runs apiece. Ryan Kingma went six innings on the mound and allowed three runs, but didn't factor into the decision.
Young, Nerud Honored: Matthew Young was selected as the NWC's Pitcher of the Week for the third time this season after his complete game against Linfield. Nicholas Nerud garnered Position Player of the Week recognition for the second time this season. Nerud batted .625 against Linfield with two RBIs and five runs scored.
Young leads the NWC with eight wins and three complete games and ranks fifth in ERA (2.91).
Crowded at the Top: Whitworth now has three of the top four hitters in the NWC, based on batting average. Nicholas Nerud leads the NWC with a .387 batting average. Tyler Poffenroth (.381) is third and Tyler Bailey (.380) is fourth.
All Facets: Whitworth leads the Northwest Conference in every key facet of the game. The Pirates are first in team batting average (.310), first in fielding percentage (.977 – second in NCAA DIII), and first in earned run average (3.68).
NWC Tournament Info: As the 2019 Northwest Conference regular season champions, Whitworth hosts the NWC Tournament this weekend (April 26-28) at Merkel Field. The NWC Baseball Tournament is a four-team, 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 will $10 for adults and $5 for children and senior adults. Students from participating schools are admitted free with valid college I.D. All seating is general admission.
NWC Tournament History: The Pirates won the first-ever Northwest Conference baseball tournament in 2015, when it was hosted at regular-season champion Pacific Lutheran. Whitworth hosted the NWC tournament for the first time in 2016, but PLU returned the favor by winning it that season. The Pirates returned to the conference tournament in 2017 and upset Linfield in the first round before being eliminated. The Bucs missed the 2018 NWC tournament at PLU. So far, the only host school to win the NWC tournament is Linfield in 2017.
The Other Schools: Pacific University (24-16 overall, 15-9) is the two seed after tying for second place in the league standings with Whitman. The Boxers won all three meetings against Whitman to claim the tiebreaker. Pacific comes into the weekend second in the NWC in ERA (4.04), third in runs scored (214), fifth in batting average (.269) and fifth in fielding percentage (.965). Sophomore infielder Ryan Kraut is hitting .359 with eight home runs and 39 RBIs. His home run total is second in the NWC and he is tied for the lead in RBIs. Senior LHP Casey Brown is 6-2 with a 2.15 ERA (1st in NWC) with 90 strikeouts (2nd in NWC). Whitworth's momentum toward the NWC championship began with a three-game sweep of Pacific on March 9-10 in Forest Grove, Oregon, including a tense 5-4, 12-inning win in the opener.
Whitman College (20-16 overall, 15-9 NWC) is in the NWC Tournament for the first time after tying for second place in the league standings. The Blues are third in the NWC in team ERA (4.12), third in team fielding percentage (.966), fifth in runs scored (198) and seventh in team batting average (.266). Whitman has a well-rounded lineup, but junior infielder Brett Williams provides the spark. He hits .286, leads his team with 27 runs scored and ranks second in the NWC in stolen bases (19). Sophomore pitcher Matthew Sox is 6-1 with a 3.24 ERA and 71 strikeouts (3rd in NWC). The Blues were Whitworth's NWC-opening series and Whitman won two of the three games, which were played in Tacoma due to snowy conditions in Walla Walla and Spokane.
Pacific Lutheran (22-14 overall, 14-10 NWC) tied for fourth place in the NWC with Willamette and George Fox, but earned the tiebreaker based on head-to-head results. The Lutes are the only school to appear in every NWC tournament since 2015. PLU is fourth in the NWC in runs (213), sixth in batting average (.269), sixth in ERA (4.67) and sixth in fielding percentage (.961). Senior IF Jacob Bockelie leads the league in homers (10) and RBIs (39) with a .333 batting average. Sophomore RHP Justin Armbruester is 5-1 with a 2.65 ERA and a league-high 106 strikeouts. Whitworh won two of three games at PLU on March 30-31 in a series that included three one-run decisions.
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.