Luke Schwartz | Sports Editor
The Bucs baseball club got swept off their own field this past weekend as the visiting Willamette Bearcats won all four games and put up 25 runs in game one to set the tone for the weekend.
The last time Whitworth was swept at Merkel Field in Spokane was April 2nd, 2018 vs nationally ranked NWC opponent Linfield. This is the first time in school history that the Pirates have lost all four games in a conference matchup in a series. The Bearcats led the NWC in home runs coming into the weekend and they certainly held onto that title.
The final score of each game was 25-11, 6-5, 12-9, and 11-3. That gives Willamette a 13.5 runs per game average vs Whitworth. To put that into perspective, that’s ⅔ the amount the Pirates have achieved all season with 21 bombs. Now, for context, there were some hard-fought battles after game one, which featured five rockets over the fence, as well as a 13-0 lead before the Bucs even put up a run on the board.
Game two had a solid response from the Pirates. After a three-run blast over the right field fence courtesy of freshman Aidan Morrison in the bottom of the third inning, the Bucs would lead 3-2 and before the 4th inning tipped off, Jaxsen Sweum drove in a run with a single into right field. 4-2, the Bucs were leading and scoring. However, it wouldn’t be long before the Bearcats knotted it up 4-4 in the top of the sixth. Because the NWC is playing four games instead of three this year, the nightcap only goes to seven innings. Both teams went scoreless in the seventh, going to extra innings. Top of the 8th, the Bearcats put up two runs. When the Pirates had one last chance in the bottom of the eighth, they scored one run but couldn’t get a tying or winning run across home plate. Bearcats won 6-5 and led the series 2-0.
Sunday morning brought in a bright and sunny afternoon with no hints at hail or strong gusts of wind like on Saturday. The Pirates were determined to bounce back and they fought hard. In arguably the best game of the weekend, game three saw multiple lead changes and a fight to the finish. After four innings, Willamette led 4-2. Pitching extremely well for the Bearcats was RHP Ben Whitten who only allowed two runs and three hits to the Bucs offense. Head coach of Willamette, Aaron Swick, decided to make a pitching change in the top of the 5th and in came JD Willis. Willis, whose stats showed 2-0 in the win-loss column and a low ERA, looked to come in and finish the job, but the Pirates went ballistic at the plate vs Willis. With 5 runs in the bottom of the 5th, Willis allowed 8 hits to give the Pirates a 7-4 lead, started by a Dawson Warner double that sent two runners home and capped off by another double from Brenden Duncan who allowed one runner to score.
A scoreless sixth inning – then at the top of the 7th the Bearcats wouldn’t go away easily, scoring four more runs to capture the lead once more at 8-7. Bottom of the 8th now. Bucs trailing by one. Junior Gage Gibson hit a solo homerun over the left field fence and we had ourselves a tie ball game.
Next up to the plate was freshman designated hitter David Bedell. Bedell, who was making his first start at Merkel Field, was 2-3 at the plate before his next at bat. Bedell on the fourth pitch made solid contact from the barrel and the entire dugout, bleachers and berm crowd went silent as his hit flew farther and farther back until it went past the left fence and his first career homer as a Pirate gave the Bucs a 9-8 lead after 8 innings. Pressure was on now. Top of the 9th, freshman closer Hunter Dryden was on the mound. His first batter hit a solo home run to make it 9-9. Two batters after the bomb found a base and then Joey Faudskar hit a dagger of a hit that ended up being a 3-run homer over the right field fence. The Bucs couldn’t respond in the bottom of the ninth and lost a heartbreaker.
Game four was tough. Energy, momentum and any hope for the Pirates to win the last game of the series was sucked out after a draining third game. The Bearcats won easily in the fourth game to sweep the Bucs 11-3.
Here are the facts: four straight losses, the first series loss since 2018, heartbreaking moments and a remaining chance to walk away with a win under their belts. The Pirates are heading with six straight losses to George Fox, ranking 5th in the NWC at 9-6 in conference, this upcoming weekend.
Ben Wintringer, former player and current assistant coach for the Pirates, said, “We just have to find a way to overcome adversity. The competitor in me isn’t satisfied with losing. We have to do everything we can going forward to win ball games and eliminate the freebies.”
Coach Perry’s message to the team was short and sweet following the conclusion of both double-headers on Saturday and Sunday, but after he addressed his squad, Pirate players looked determined that this series wouldn’t define their season.
As the Pirates’ play-by-play broadcaster, I can say that this team has young, special talent. Rookies are making plays at the dish, on the mound and all around the yard. Slowly but surely, the Bucs are picking up the pieces and finding their identity. It’s going to take a drill- heavy practice week before George Fox to turn this season around, but just like Coach Perry, the team members and assistant coaches, I have faith in this team. Where do they go from here? Hopefully – up. Hard work and good coaching can make that happen.
“Something needs to change and we’ve got to light a fire under these guys, but they have got to want it. We can’t win it for them and no one is going to save them but themselves. It sucks losing, but we’re going to turn it around.” Wintringer said.