By Mak Karge, Asst. SID
SPOKANE, Wash. - The Whitworth baseball team has made a powerful statement in the Northwest Conference, claiming the outright title with a week to spare in the schedule after sweeping Lewis & Clark College in Portland last weekend. The Pirates play their last regular season home series of the year this weekend against Linfield. The teams will play a single game on Friday (noon), followed by a doubleheader on Saturday (starting at 11:00 am).
Watch the Pirates' baseball schedule for live links to this weekend's games.
The Pirates: Whitworth is 20-11 overall and 17-4 in the NWC after sweeping Lewis & Clark last weekend. The Pirates outscored the Pioneers 39-7 in the three-game series. Both Luke Bruno and Tyler Bailey hit grand slams.
Whitworth held on for an 8-4 win in the series opener on the back of strong batting performances. Jaxsen Sweum went 3-5 with a pair of doubles and a home run. Austin Rice (5-1) earned the win with five innings pitched, boasting eight strikeouts. Matthew Pulliam earned his second save of the season, pitching the last four innings of the game.
Saturday was scheduled as a doubleheader but due to severe weather, the second game of the series was pushed back to Sunday.
The Pirates turned on the gas in the second game, crushing the Pioneers 18-3. Luke Bruno hit a grand slam in just his sixth plate appearance as a Pirate and finished with five RBIs. Taylor Poffenroth drove in four runs, while Nicholas Nerud and Tyler Bailey scored three times each. Matthew Young (7-3) took the win after allowing two earned runs in seven innings.
Whitworth put together all the pieces in the final game, pairing 13 runs with a shutout of Lewis & Clark. Tyler Bailey hit a grand slam in the top of the eighth making sure to put the game out of reach. Ryan Kingma (6-3) struck out five in seven shutout innings. He retired the first 16 batters he faced and allowed only one hit. Connor Grytdal and Brett Thomas maintained the shutout pitching an inning each.
Young leads the NWC with seven wins. Tyler Bailey (.383) is third in NWC batting average, while Taylor Poffenroth (.382) is fourth, and Nicholas Nerud (.373) is fifth. Whitworth leads the NWC and is tied for second in NCAA Division III in fielding percentage (.976).
NWC Tournament Info: As the 2019 Northwest Conference regular season champions, Whitworth will host the NWC Tournament on April 26-28 at Merkel Field. The NWC Baseball 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 $10 for adults and $5 for children and senior adults. Students from participating schools are admitted for free with valid college I.D. All seating is general admission.
NWC Tournament History: The Pirates won the first-ever Northwest Conference baseball tournament in 2015, when it was hosted at regular-season champion Pacific Lutheran. Whitworth hosted the NWC tournament for the first time in 2016, but PLU returned the favor by winning it that season. The Pirates returned to the conference tournament in 2017 and upset Linfield in the first round before being eliminated. The Bucs missed the 2018 NWC tournament at PLU. So far, the only host school to win the NWC tournament is Linfield in 2017.
The Opponents: Linfield (6-26 overall, 3-17 NWC) is coming off a weekend trip to Southern California. They lost two of three at Cal Lutheran and fell once at Whittier. Linfield has a team batting average of .255 and a team ERA of 7.10. Sophomore 1B Wyatt Smith hits .341 and boasts an OPS of .881. Senior Cason Cunningham is 0-7 and leads Linfield in innings (51.0), starts (10, tied) and strikeouts (66, 3rd in the NWC) with a 4.94 ERA.
Last year, the Wildcats were 24-18, 16-8 NWC. Linfield swept all four meetings with Whitworth last year.
The Coach: CJ Perry is in his second season as head coach of the Pirates, after serving five seasons as an assistant coach. He had two players taken in the major league draft in 2018, pitcher Hugh Smith in the sixth round by the Detroit Tigers and shortstop Joel Condreay selected in the 31st round by the Colorado Rockies. As pitching coach in 2016, Perry's staff led all of NCAA Div. III in walks allowed per nine innings (2.07) and posted a team ERA of 3.95.