SPOKANE, Wash. – Whitworth University heads into the 2019 Northwest Conference softball tournament in McMinnville, Oregon with some real momentum. The Pirates are the two seed behind regular season NWC champion Linfield. The winner of the NWC tournament earns the league's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III playoffs. The Pirates will open the conference tournament on Friday at 4:30 pm against Pacific (Ore.).
The Pirates: Whitworth finished the regular season 29-9 overall and 23-5 in the NWC after sweeping Pacific at home in a four-game series last week and then winning a pair of suspended games on Wednesday night at Linfield.
Whitworth won all four games against Pacific over two days, but Friday's games played out much differently than Saturday. The Pirates rolled to a 12-0, 5-inning win in Friday's opener. Sara Gayer and Desi Graham each drove in two runs, while Maddy Thomas had two doubles. Drea Schwaier-Wolf allowed only one hit. The Pirates won the second game 7-2 as Madelyn Carlson threw a complete game. Kinsey McNaught had a pair of hits and Rheanne Lewis drove in two runs.
Saturday's games were a pair of tense, walk-off victories for Whitworth. The Bucs won the opener in the bottom of the seventh when Kaylie Lowery's infield hit was thrown away at third base, allowing Morgan Portlock to score the winning run. Schwaier-Wolf went the distance, allowing one earned run on only three hits. Whitworth won the finale 5-4 when Brynn Radke drilled an RBI single in the bottom of the eighth. Thomas hit a two-run homer in the second to get the Bucs on the board. Shwaier-Wolf won the game in relief.
Whitworth traveled to McMinnville, Oregon on Wednesday to complete a pair of suspended games. The Pirates pulled out a 5-4 win over Linfield in a game that was suspended by rain on April 7 with the Bucs ahead 4-2 going to the bottom of the sixth. After the Wildcats rallied to tie the game in the bottom of the seventh, Thomas drilled a home run in the top of the eighth for the winning margin.
Whitworth then completed a game against George Fox that was suspended by darkness with the teams headed to the tenth inning tied 8-8. After a scoreless tenth, the Pirates exploded for five runs in the 11th and ended up with a 13-9 victory.
The Other Teams: Regular season champion Linfield (32-6-1 overall, 25-3 NWC) will host the tournament. The fifth-ranked Wildcats lead the NWC in runs (310) and batting average (.358). Linfield is second in the league in ERA (2.95) and in fielding percentage (.967). Darian Stedman is hitting .402 with nine home runs. She leads the NWC in doubles (18) and RBIs (45). Infielder Makenna Clizer is batting .339 with 44 RBIs. Senior pitcher Shelby Saylors is 17-4 with a 3.25 ERA and a league-leading 103 strikeouts. Linfield took three of four games against Whitworth this season.
Pacific University (23-16 overall, 17-11 NWC) is the third seed in the tournament, based on tiebreakers. The Boxers come into the weekend third in the NWC in ERA (4.19), fourth in fielding percentage (.954) and fifth in both batting average (.337) and runs (232). Sophomore catcher Montana Vaught hits .391 with ten home runs and 41 RBIs. Sophomore OF Nichole Martinez is batting .409 with 38 runs scored and 24 stolen bases (first in NWC). Junior Morgan Masters leads a staff-by-committee rotation at Pacific with a 6-4 record, a 3.92 ERA and 50 strikeouts. Whitworth completed a series sweep of Pacific last weekend at Marks Field.
George Fox University (25-14 overall, 17-11 NWC) bounced back from an 0-6 start to the season to finish well. The Bruins are second in the NWC in runs (298), fourth in batting average (.339), fourth in ERA (5.14) and sixth in fielding percentage (.942). Junior OF Roni Braun hits .358 with 12 home runs and 37 RBIs. Junior IF Aaliyah Kautz has a .371 batting average with eight home runs and 44 RBIs. Senior pitcher Winter Ridgeway is 11-5 with a 4.58 ERA and 66 strikeouts. Whitworth swept all four games against George Fox this season.
NWC Tournament Info: As the 2019 Northwest Conference regular season champions, Linfield hosts the NWC Tournament this weekend (April 26-28) in McMinnville, Oregon. The NWC Softball 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 $8 for adults and $3 for children and senior adults. Students from participating schools are admitted free with valid college I.D. All seating is general admission.
Excelling in All Areas: Whitworth ranks at, or near, the top of the NWC statistics in all three key areas of the game. The Pirates lead the league in team earned run average (2.61) and in opponents' batting average (.240). Offensively Whitworth is slugging .509 and batting .339 and the team is second in the NWC in stolen bases (91). Finally, the Bucs lead the conference in team fielding percentage (.968).
NWC Leaders: Whitworth's pitching pair of Drea Schwaier-Wolf and Madelyn Carlson are a big reason the Pirates lead the league in team ERA (2.61). Schwaier-Wolf leads the NWC in ERA (2.20), is tied for first in wins (17) and is fourth in strikeouts (61). Carlson is third in the NWC in ERA (2.73), fifth in wins (11) and fifth in strikeouts (59).
Show Me the Way to Go Home: Because of the heavy snows that hit eastern Washington in February and March, Whitworth had to play its first 20 games away from Diana Marks Field. A series with George Fox (March 2-3) and a series with Puget Sound (March 16-17) were moved to the opponents' field. Whitworth's first home games were March 24th when the Pirates hosted DePauw University.
Slammin' Silva: Michelle Silva is closing out one of the best careers in school history. The two-time first team honoree has a .361 career average as a Pirate. She has driven in 124 runs in 166 games with 39 doubles, nine triples and 19 home runs. Her career slugging average is .592.
The Coach: Cristal Brown is in her eighth season leading the Whitworth softball team. She has posted a record of 190-113 through her first seven years with three NWC titles to her credit (2015, 2016, 2017). Brown has coached 30 players to All-Northwest Conference recognition.