SPOKANE, Wash. – With a 3-1 win over visiting Pacific on Sunday at Merkel Field, Whitworth made sure that the 2012 Northwest Conference baseball title chase will come down to the last games of the season.
The Pirates improved to 20-12-1 overall and 13-5 in the NWC, moving within a game of the first-place Boxers (17-13, 14-4).
Spencer Ansett earned his team-leading fifth pitching victory of the year and Jason Renner picked up his conference-leading sixth save of the season. But neither of those accomplishments came easy as Pacific threatened to score in all nine innings and ultimately left 13 runners on base.
The momentum took a turn in Whitworth's favor in the fourth inning. The Boxers had the bases loaded with two out and a 3-0 count against batter Donnie Bradley. But Ansett came back to strike out Bradley and leave the bases loaded.
Landon Scott and JR Jarrell opened the bottom of the fourth with back to back singles and were sacrificed to second and third. Kevin Valerio drove a ball deep to left field, scoring Scott with a sacrifice fly. Erik Nikssarian followed with a seeing-eye single through the left side of the infield that drove home Jarrell, but Nikssarian was thrown out trying to go to second base.
Whitworth catcher Michael Takemura was hit by a pitch leading off the bottom of the fifth and the Pirates took advantage. Takemura was sacrificed to second base and Gerhard Muelheims drilled a ball to center field that scored Takemura.
The Boxers got on the scoreboard in the seventh inning. Kevin Schwartz lined a one-out double down the left field line and Nick Tasaka followed with a long fly ball out to right field that moved Schwartz to third. C.J. Perry relieved Ansett and Jared Van Hoon greeted Perry with a single to right field that drove in Schwartz. Nate Rasmussen followed with another single and it looked like Pacific was in the midst of a full-fledged rally when the runners moved to second and third on a wild pitch. But with the tying run in scoring position Perry induced Mike Nagamine into a comebacker to end the threat.
After each team left a runner on base in the eighth inning, Renner came on to pitch the ninth. Schwartz singled to open the inning, but was out on Tasaka's fielder's choice back to Renner. Van Hoon walked to put the tying run on base. But Renner got Rasmussen to foul out to first base for the second out. Nagamine lined a ball to left field, but it was right at leftfielder Tyler Pfeffer for the final out of the game.
Ansett went 6.2 innings and allowed one run on seven hits to improve to 5-3. He struck out seven and walked only one batter. Perry didn't allow a run in 1.1 innings of relief.
Chad Fahey (4-2) took the loss for Pacific after allowing three runs on six hits in 6.0 innings. Van Hoon moved from shortstop to pitcher and threw two scoreless innings in relief.
The top four teams in the NWC standings are now only separated by two games with two weeks left in the season. Linfield (15-6) is only percentage points behind Whitworth and Pacific Lutheran (12-6) is only two games out of first place. George Fox (12-9) is still mathematically alive as well.
After Tuesday's game against NAIA Lewis-Clark State, the Pirates' final non-conference contest of the season, Whitworth will travel to Salem, Oregon for a three-game NWC set at Willamette (7-11 NWC) next weekend.
Pacific hosts Puget Sound (5-13) next weekend while PLU travels to Lewis & Clark (4-17). Linfield and GFU will play each other to end their conference schedules.