SPOKANE, Wash. – Whitworth University will open the 2012 baseball season this week when the Pirates travel to Southern California for four combined games against Pomona-Pitzer Colleges and Occidental College.
The Pirates made significant strides last season while posting a 20-20 overall record and a 13-11 mark in the Northwest Conference, good for a tie for fifth place. That winning conference record was Whitworth's first since 2006.
The Bucs' won more games last season in large part due to improved defense and pitching. The team's overall fielding percentage of .968 was tied for the highest ever and the team's overall earned run average of 4.60 was the lowest since Whitworth became an NCAA Division III member in 1998.
Fourth-year head coach Dan Ramsay sees one more important area the Pirates will be improved in 2012.
"Our team speed has increased dramatically which will be a great addition to what could be one of the better offenses in the Northwest Conference," Ramsay said. "We tied the school fielding percentage record in 2011 and I believe we're even better in the field this year."
The Pirates return seven field players who started at least half of Whitworth's games last season. Leading the way is two-time NCAA All-Region honoree Landon Scott (Sr., 3B), who batted .389 last season with six home runs, 35 runs batted in and 38 runs scored, all of which led the team.
Kevin Valerio (Sr., OF) was selected as a 2011 Rawlings Division III Gold Glove winner. He committed only one error in 133 defensive chances for a fielding percentage of .992 last spring. In addition, Valerio made five defensive assists from his centerfield position while batting .295 with nine stolen bases.
Gerhard Muelheims (So., IF) and Tyler Pfeffer (So., OF) had breakthrough seasons as freshmen in 2011. Muelheims batted .311 and had nine stolen bases while Pfeffer hit .294 with 12 doubles and 34 RBIs.
JR Jarrell (Sr., 1B) and Michael Takemura (Sr., C) return as two-year starters at their respective positions. Jarrell batted .273 last spring with 25 RBIs. Takemura hit .252, but his on-base percentage of .423 was second best on the team.
Ryan Beecroft (Sr., OF) started 23 games for the Pirates in 2011 and finished with a .209 batting average.
As much as Ramsay likes who he has back, his incoming class appears to be the strongest at Whitworth in many years.
"We've improved all over the diamond," Ramsay said.
"We've added some left-handed pitchers which we've had a lack of in the past as well as depth behind the plate and at shortstop. Our pitching staff will be young but talented."
CJ Perry (Sr., RHP) is the top returning starter on the pitcher's mound for the Pirates. He finished 3-2 in eight starts last season.
Dan Scheibe (Fr., RHP) and Specer Ansett (Fr., LHP) are two of the young pitchers who could make an immediate impact for the Pirates. Both may see action on the mound in the first weekend in California.
If Whitworth is to make a move in the Northwest Conference this season, the Pirates will have to do so against a deep and talented field of teams. Linfield is ranked 4th in preseason polls and the Wildcats were picked first in the NWC Coaches Poll. Traditional powers George Fox and Pacific Lutheran return much of their talent from last season, as does Pacific University and University of Puget Sound.
But Ramsay believes his squad is up to the challenge.
"We are as mentally tough and as competitive as any team I've been a part of," Ramsay said. "Our guys have worked extremely hard in the offseason and are eager to grind out some wins this spring."