by Andrew Goodwin, Sports Information Assistant
SPOKANE, Wash. – After clinching third place in the Northwest Conference with a doubleheader sweep of Willamette, Whitworth softball heads to George Fox this weekend to defend its conference tournament crown.
The Pirates open the NWC Tournament by taking on Linfield at 2:30 p.m. on Friday, April 20. Fans can follow the team with live statistics and video links that will be posted on the tournament's website.
The Pirates: Whitworth (24-16, 17-11 NWC) struggled on the road last weekend against Pacific (Ore.), but bounced back with a sweep of Willamette on Tuesday to close out the regular season. The Bucs' pitchers had a difficult time retiring the Boxers in Friday's doubleheader, allowing 17 runs in a pair of losses. Whitworth partially bounced back the next day with a 7-4 win, but fell 10-6 in the series finale. The Bucs got back on track on Tuesday afternoon, defeating Willamette 13-5 and 10-2. The highlights of the day were a grand slam from Kelsey Downey in the first game and a towering home run that cleared the right-center field scoreboard from Natalie Edlin in the second.
Crafty Carlson: Halfway through her freshman season, Madelyn Carlson has established herself as one of the best pitchers in the Northwest Conference. Carlson is 11th the nation in shutouts with six and ranks fifth in the NWC in strikeouts (66).
Making Hay(es): After taking a year off from softball to focus on her Nursing degree, Chelsey Hayes is taking advantage of another opportunity to play for the Bucs. The junior first baseman ranks in the top-15 in the conference with a .378 batting average and is 6th in the conference with 47 hits.
Slugging 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). This season, Silva is again one of the best hitters in the Whitworth lineup, batting .444 and slugging .747. The junior third baseman also leads the Bucs with 19 extra base hits.
A Walk in the Park: Sara Gayer makes getting on base looks easy. The freshman shortstop is seventh in the NWC in walks (18), which has helped her pile up the fourth-best on-base percentage (.504) in the conference as well.
There's No Catching K-Lo: Kaylie Lowery is just a freshman, but she already looks like one of the best leadoff hitters in the NWC. Lowery has the tenth-best batting average in the NWC (.4394) and is ninth in the conference in stolen bases (12). She is one of two top-10 base stealers who has yet to be caught stealing this season.
Center of Attention: After being named the inaugural Northwest Conference Freshman of the Year, Kinsey McNaught switched positions from right field to center. Last season, McNaught finished with a .983 fielding percentage in right field, totaling 52 putouts and 6 assists. Despite the transition, she has been just as good this season, totaling up 49 putouts and 8 assists with a .983 fielding percentage.
Triple the Fun: Whitworth's offense has been aided by an excess of three-base hits this season. The Bucs lead the NWC in triples with 19 three-base hits from eight players, twice as many as the second-best team. Kinsey McNaught leads the Pirates with five.
The Opponents: Top-seeded George Fox (33-7, 24-4 NWC) is an NWC co-champion and hosting the tournament by virtue of owning the tiebreaker over fellow co-champion Linfield. Madison Sorenson has keyed the Bruins' success this season with a 1.39 ERA (1st in NWC) and 150 strikeouts (1st in NWC). George Fox also has a dangerous offense, leading the NWC in home runs (63) and slugging percentage (.573). Allison Meyer leads the Bruins and the NWC with 14 round trippers, while Annie Veatch brings 12 (2nd) and Roni Braun has 11 (3rd). The Bruins swept the Pirates when the teams squared off earlier in the year.
Second-seeded Linfield (32-8, 24-4 NWC) earned its spot as NWC co-champion after winning 9 of its last 10 games. Eliza Rossman has been Linfield's best pitcher this season, posting a 3.09 ERA with 67 strikouts, both of which are top-five marks in the NWC. At the plate, the Wildcats lead the NWC with a .353 batting average and .434 on-base percentage. Melanie Oord powers those marks with a .464 batting average, the second best in the NWC. The Wildcats defeated the Pirates in three of their four games earlier this season.
Fourth-seeded Pacific (21-15, 15-13 NWC) enters the weekend having won four of its past five games, all of which were played against NWC tournament foes. The Boxer offense is paced by Kaitlynn Donaca, whose .418 batting average is fifth in the conference, with run production coming from Hailey Miller, who leads the team with 33 RBIs. Alyssa Burns leads Pacific in the circle with a 3.31 ERA, the sixth-best in the NWC. The Boxers won three of the four games they played against the Pirates last weekend.
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.