April 24, 2012

NWC Title Chase Will Come Down to This Last Weekend

SPOKANE, Wash. – It all comes down to the final weekend for three teams still in the chase for the 2012 Northwest Conference baseball championship.  Whitworth enters the week in second place, one game behind Pacific (Ore.) in the standings.  Pacific Lutheran is two games out, but hosts Pacific in a three game series this weekend.

The Pirates will host Whitman in a three-game series at Merkel Field.  The teams will play a doubleheader on Saturday at Noon and a single game on Sunday, also at noon. 

Click here for the current NWC baseball standings.

The Pirates: To say it has been a breakthrough baseball season under fourth-year head coach Dan Ramsay might be the understatement of the spring.  At 23-13-1 overall and 16-5 in the NWC, Whitworth has posted the most wins in single season since the 1995 team went 24-17.  A sweep of this weekend's series would tie the 1989 team for the most wins in a season in school history (26-14). 

The Bucs have played seven three-game series against Northwest Conference opponents this season and have won six of those. Whitworth has won 9 of its last 10 contests against NWC foes.

Whitworth's last Northwest Conference title came in 1991, the second of two straight league championships. 

Whitworth's hitting has been outstanding this season.  The Pirates lead the NWC in team batting average (.299), hits (403) and RBIs (237).  Whitworth ranks second in the league in runs scored (265) and doubles (67) and ranks third in home runs (21).  As a team the Pirates rank fifth in earned run average (4.80). 

Not to be overlooked is Whitworth's defense.  The Bucs currently have a team fielding percentage of .967, setting a pace better than the team fielding record of .964 set in 2006 and matched last season.

Playoff Scenarios: Pacific is the only one of the three schools that controls its own destiny to an outright NWC crown and the league's automatic berth to the NCAA Division III Tournament.    If the Boxers (20-14 overall, 17-4 NWC) sweep at Pacific Lutheran (23-11 overall, 15-6 NWC) this weekend, then Pacific will claim both the league title and the NCAA bid.

If Whitworth and Pacific tie atop the final NWC standings, they would be co-champions but Whitworth would receive the league's automatic bid based on head to head results earlier this season.

If Whitworth and PLU tie atop the final NWC standings, the same would apply.  The two teams would be co-champions and the Pirates would get the automatic bid based on winning two of three games from the Lutes.

There is no way for a three-way tie.

Post-Season History: Whitworth advanced to post-season playoffs 17 times in its history as part of the NAIA, but the Bucs have not been to the post-season since 1992 when Whitworth was swept in the NAIA District 1 playoffs by Lewis-Clark State. 

Whitworth advanced out of the NAIA District Playoffs to the NAIA Area Playoffs five times between 1984 and 1991, reaching the Area 1 championship game in 1987.  Whitworth also won the District 1 Playoffs in 1960 to advance directly to the NAIA World Series and the Pirates won that to claim the only team national championship in school history.

The Bucs won the 1959 District Playoffs against Western Washington, but the school could not afford to send the team to the national tournament that year.

Individual Accomplishments: The 2012 season has also been a great one for individual accomplishments by the Pirates.

First-year pitcher Jason Renner has broken the school record for saves in one season with six.  Fellow first-year pitcher Dan Scheibe is currently sixth on the single-season strikeout list with 67 (former major league pitcher Ray Washburn holds the top three single-season totals – including the school record of 112 in 1960).

Sophomore outfielder Tyler Pfeffer is a candidate for NWC Player of the Year based on the numbers he has posted this season.  He leads the league in home runs (11), RBIs (52), doubles (15), triples (4), runs scored (41) and slugging average (.765).  He ranks third in batting average (.399).

Pfeffer's RBI total is the second-highest in school history and he ranks among the top ten single season at Whitworth in all of the other categories:
Triples (tied for third)
Doubles (tied for fourth)
Hits (tied for fourth)
Slugging Avg. (sixth)
Runs Scored (seventh)
Home Runs (eighth)

The Opponents: Whitman comes into the week with a 5-31 overall record, 5-16 in the NWC.  The Missionaries were swept in a three-game non-conference series at Chapman last weekend. As a team the Missionaries are hitting .217 and have an ERA of 6.54. 

Freshman 1B Peter Valentine has twice been selected as the NWC Player of the Week (Feb. 28 and April 3).  He is batting .254 and leads the team in doubles (9) and RBIs (24) this season.  RHP Justin Weeks is 2-8 with a 5.40 ERA, but has a pair of recent outstanding performances.  He went seven strong innings in a 4-2 win over Willamette on  April 14 and allowed only three hits and one unearned run in a 1-0 loss at George Fox on March 24.

Last season Whitworth took two of three from Whitman in the last series of the season at Walla Walla.  The last time the teams played the series in Spokane (2010), the Pirates won all three games.

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