by Andrew Goodwin, Sports Information Assistant
SPOKANE, Wash. – After opening Northwest Conference play last weekend, Whitworth softball finishes out non-conference play this weekend at the Leadoff Classic in Tuscon, Ariz.
The Pirates take on six opponents in the classic, including two teams ranked in the top-25 by the National Fastpitch Coaches Association (NFCA) and four NCAA tournament squads from last season.
The Pirates: The Northwest Conference season is off to a rocky start for Whitworth (3-5, 3-3 NWC). The Bucs stumbled in the first doubleheader of NWC play, losing 7-0 and 5-0 to George Fox. The final two games of the series have been postponed to a later date due to inclimate weather.
Winner, Winner: Madelyn Carlson emerged victorious from each of her first three starts as a Pirate. Her three wins put Carlson second in the NWC. She also sits in third in the conference in strikeouts with 17 and fifth in ERA with a 2.21 mark.
Super Silva: Michelle Silva earned First Team All-NWC honors last season by leading the team in home runs (7), RBIs (42), and stolen bases (17). She also batted .374 from the cleanup spot.
Center of Attention: After being named the inaugural Northwest Conference Freshman of the Year, Kinsey McNaught is moving from right field to center. Last season, McNaught finished with a .983 fielding percentage in right field, totaling 52 putouts and 6 assists. She also contributed a .381 batting average with 32 runs scored as the leadoff hitter.
Fantastic Freshmen: Sara Gayer and Madelyn Carlson were the 2018 season's first Northwest Conference Student-Athletes of the Week. Carlson finished the week with a 1.09 ERA in four appearances, and Gayer batted .615 with three extra base hits.
The Opponents: Moravian will be opening its season when it squares off with the Bucs on Friday. The Hounds are currently ranked 18th in the NFCA's Top-25 poll and return a pair of All-Americans, catcher Janae Matos (1st Team) and pitcher Josie Novak (2nd Team). They finished 2017 with a 36-6 record.
William Paterson also begins its season at the Leadoff Classic. The Pioneers made the NCAA Tournament last season, but fell in both of its games to finish the year 28-13.
Birmingham Southern (6-3, 2-1 Southern Athletic Conference) finished 22-18 last season. The Panthers return third team All-Americans in first baseman Savannah Lee and designated player. Haley Crumpton.
Wittenburg starts its year in Tuscon after ending 2017 with a 29-7 record. The Tigers' season ended last season dropping consecutive games in the North Coast Athletic Conference Tournament after posting an impressive 15-1 conference record during the regular season.
Coe (1-1) made the NCAA Tournament last year after securing a 29-9 record during the regular season. The Kohawks won a pair of games in their regional, but dropped both of their matchups with the University of St. Thomas, which bounced them from the tournament.
Central (Iowa) earned a no. 22 pre-season ranking from the NFCA after making the NCAA Tournament with a 32-8 record last season. The Dutch were placed in the same regional as Coe and fell in both of their postseason games in 2017.
Looking Ahead: After returning from Arizona, the Bucs travel to Puget Sound March 10-11.
The Coach: Over her first six years as head coach of the Pirates, Cristal Brown has turned Whitworth into a perennial Northwest Conference championship contender. Through her first six years Brown has compiled a 166-95 record with three NWC regular season championships (2015-17), one NWC tournament title (2017), and two appearances in the NCAA Division III tournament (2016-17). Brown is also a two-time NWC Coach of the Year (2016-17). She is assisted by Associate Head Coach Randy Clark and Assistant Coaches Bob Castle and Jamie Brunner.