by Corina Gebbers
Sundays have officially become the Whitworth baseball team’s favorite day of the week. After sweeping Whitman College in a three game series this past weekend, the Bucs earned an automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament, their first ever appearance.
“For the program, this is huge,” senior first baseman JR Jarrell said. “When I was here as a freshman, we won 10 games total and now, four years later, we’re conference champs.”
Pacific stood in first place until a Boxer loss on Saturday allowed the tie. Whitworth holds the advantage against the Boxers in head-to-head play, which earns it the automatic bid in the tie situation.
Whitworth opened Saturday’s doubleheader with a 7-4 win.
“We knew going into the weekend that we’d have to get the sweep in order to win conference,” said senior third baseman Landon Scott. “We went out and got the job done.”
Freshman Dan Scheibe pitched a complete game for the Bucs and allowed Whitman just two hits in the first six innings. The Missionaries broke through in the top of the seventh, tying up the score when they rallied for all four of their runs.
“It wasn’t the greatest game defensively,” freshman shortstop Nick Motsinger said. “But offensively we did a fairly good job executing.”
Whitworth answered with four hits and three runs of its own to take the final lead of the game.
Neither team got on base in the eighth inning and after Whitman managed a single hit in the ninth, Scheibe secured the win for the Bucs with his 11th strikeout of the game.
“[Scheibe’s] been great for four straight weeks,” Scott said. “Whenever he pitches we feel like we’re going to win the game.”
Whitworth breezed past the Missionaries in game two, with a dominating 13-2 victory and earning the first place tie spot with Pacific.
Jarrell led the way with four hits which included his third home run of the season. Motsinger collected five RBIs with a two-run double, two-run single and a RBI sacrifice bunt.
“It’s really helpful for our pitchers’ confidence when we put up runs and get up early,” Motsinger said. “Keeping the pressure going all nine innings translated to good results on the defensive end.”
The Bucs took an early 2-0 lead when Jarrell’s single to center field scored Muelheims and then Niksarrian hit a single to right field to score Scott.
“The second game we put it on them really quick,” Motsinger said. “[We] put up runs every single inning, which is what you have to do to put a team away.”
In the sixth, Whitman loaded the bases with no outs, but freshman pitcher Carson Blumenthal struck out two in a row and then got the last batter to ground out. The Pirate offense responded with three runs of their own off a Motsinger double and Scott single.
Jarrell’s homer came in the seventh and Whitworth wrapped up its doubleheader sweep with four runs off three hits in the eighth inning. Motsinger drove a two-run single to center field, scoring the final two runners of the game for the Bucs.
“They kind of jumped back up on us when we had gotten comfortable,” Jarrell said. “But we executed like we needed to and got big hits like we needed to.”
Blumenthal tossed eight innings for Whitworth, allowing one run off six hits, while striking out six batters and giving up four walks. Senior James King pitched one inning of relief and gave up one run off three hits.
Sunday’s contest was the determining factor for Whitworth’s share of the NWC title and Whitman made the Bucs earn it. In a down-to-the-wire final game of the three-game series, Whitworth defeated the Missionaries 8-7, improving their record to 19-5 in NWC action and tying the school record with 26 games won in a single season.
“It’s the first conference championship since 1991,” Scott said. “At the end of the day, winning conference, you can’t really explain the excitement.”
The Bucs took a 3-1 lead after three innings.
“I think offensively we executed pretty well,” Jarrell said. “We put up enough runs to win but it was a lot closer than any of us wanted it to be.”
Whitman took a 4-3 lead in the top of the sixth, but the Bucs answered in the bottom of the inning with five runs to regain the lead.
“I thought we were pressuring [ourselves] a little bit today,” Motsinger said. “Even though we had the lead we weren’t as loose as we have been in past games.”
Whitman challenged the Bucs’ lead again when it scored three runs in the eighth, but Whitworth was able to hold on and capture the one-run victory.
CJ Perry started for the Bucs and threw four innings, giving up one run off three hits. Taylor Isadore came in for just over an inning and allowed three runs off four hits before freshman Spencer Ansett pitched two innings and gave up three runs off two hits. Sophomore Jason Renner closed the game for the Bucs in one inning of relief, allowing no runs and one hit to earn the save.
“Today was senior day so CJ got the start,” Scott said. “Taylor Isadore is tied for the team lead in appearances, Ansett will keep us in the game every time and Renner has been our shut down guy all year.”
Whitworth celebrated its biggest win on Merkel Field in 20 years with a dog-pile near the pitcher’s mound and will travel to Linfield College May 16-20 for the West Regional games of the National Division III Tournament.
Contact Corina Gebbers at firstname.lastname@example.org.