The Whitworth baseball team hasn’t had an overall winning season in seven years. The team hasn’t been in the top three of the final Northwest Conference standings since the 2001 season, and the Bucs haven’t won a conference title since the 1991 season.
This season is a different story. With the sweep of Whitman College this weekend, the Pirates finished the regular season atop the Northwest Conference standings along with Pacific University. It is the first conference championship for the Bucs in 11 years.
The program’s conference championship is the culmination of a turnaround that has been building for a while under fourth-year head coach Dan Ramsay, who is The Whitworthian’s choice for 2011-2012 Coach of the Year.
“He is a great guy to be around and have a voice on the team,” senior pitcher James King said. “The passion he has for the game, he lives and breathes baseball. That’s what you want to see out of a coach. He’s making the program as good as it can be.”
Ramsay, hired as head coach in 2009, has led the Pirates to back-to-back 20 win seasons, including a conference title this season. The Pirates’ 26 wins this season are the most wins for a Pirate team since the 1989 season, when the Bucs also won 26 games. Heading into postseason play, Whitworth has a chance to set the school record for wins in a single season.
Even though Ramsay has a four-year record of 66-86-1, he has steadily improved the team over the years.
“We won 10 games my first year, then 13, 20 and now we’re at 23,” Ramsay said. “I came in at 22 [years old] with hardly any coaching experience and I have learned something every year.”
A major part of the team’s success has been because of the offense. Whitworth is in the top three in the Northwest Conference in runs, hits, RBI’s, batting average, doubles and home runs.
An even bigger contribution to this season is how Ramsay has built the team over the past four years.
“I think it’s been a trickle-down effect,” Ramsay said. “It starts at the top with the people we have in our program — coaches and assistant coaches to players. It’s a good fit with personality and the personnel is a good fit for the team.”
One of those good trickle-down moves has been pitching coach Brandon Harmon.
“One of the biggest things that Coach has done is bring in [pitching coach] Brandon Harmon,” King said. “Thing’s were rough for pitching his first couple of years, but Brandon helped improve our pitching a lot.”
Recruiting quality freshman talent has been a staple in the Ramsay years, with no exception this season. Freshman pitchers have locked down opponents this season. Team leaders in strikeouts, wins and saves are all freshman players. The seniors who Ramsay recruited in his first year, though, have set the tone for the team’s success.
“The seniors have been impact players,” Ramsay said. “It’s been cool to see the work they put in over the years has been starting to pay off. They laid the expectations for the rest of the players and where we are has a lot to do with those individuals.”
Ramsay started his Pirate career as a player in 2007 when he was a catcher, earning Second-Team All-NWC in 2007 and Honorable-Mention All-NWC in 2008. Ramsay, having only been five years removed from playing the game, uses that as an advantage.
“He relates to players really well,” senior third baseman Landon Scott said. “He is a younger guy that understands the mental part of the game and knows what the players are going through.”
Ramsay said the culture of Whitworth baseball has changed dramatically from his playing days.
“When I played here there were times when I didn’t want to wear my baseball cap around campus because I didn’t want people to ask how we did that weekend. I didn’t want to tell them that we always lost,” Ramsay said. “That’s not the case now. People are excited about this team. I get people coming up to me wanting to buy baseball caps, and everyone wears their gear around campus.”
As evident with the recent turnaround of the program and conference championship, the culture has changed and Whitworth baseball has regained swagger.
“My expectations for the players at the beginning of the season were if they didn’t want to win a championship, then I don’t want them on this team,” Ramsay said.
With the sweep of the Missionaries this weekend, the Pirates have been able to celebrate with a dog-pile. With Ramsay at the helm, Whitworth now heads into the National Division III Tournament representing the Northwest Conference.
Contact Nathan Webber at email@example.com.