Whitworth traded mile markers for a milestone Sunday.
The Pirates posted their fourth consecutive 20-win season and ended the regular season by reversing an earlier loss with an 83-78 victory over Lewis and Clark in a Northwest Conference men’s basketball game at the Whitworth Fieldhouse.
Whitworth (20-5, 12-4) secured second place with the victory and will host third-seeded Linfield on Thursday at 7 p.m. in the semifinals of the four-team NWC tournament. Lewis and Clark (16-9, 10-6) slipped to fourth in the conference and will travel to play regular-season champion Puget Sound in the other semifinal.
Had the Pirates lost Sunday, they would have been forced to travel to Lewis and Clark for the teams’ third meeting this season – and the site of LC’s 74-62 victory over Whitworth on Jan. 23.
“The neat part is that whenever your team is in the postseason, it’s special,” Pirates coach Jim Hayford said. “And to share that experience with your fans, that’s what’s extra special. I expect a great atmosphere Thursday.”
Tim Sellereit scored five points in the final minute to help Whitworth stave off the Pioneers’ comeback effort. He converted a three-point play with 50 seconds left to push the Pirates’ lead to 76-72, and his two free throws with 13 seconds left gave the Whits a 81-75 lead and sealed the outcome.
“Coach tells us to play aggressive and go out and take victories,” Sellereit said. “That means not letting up on defense. We want to get stops, make baskets and take victories.”
The Pioneers opened the game with a scintillating shooting performance. They buried five 3-pointers in the first six minutes to open up a 21-7 lead. That cushion evaporated, however, when Whitworth reeled off a 19-2 spurt during a five-minute span. Calvin Jurich’s layup capped the run and gave the Pirates a 37-32 lead with 4:40 left in the half.
“I wasn’t concerned after that first run,” Hayford said, “but if they put up another one, I would have (been). I thought we showed composure. We didn’t look rattled.”
David Riley scored 21 points, and Jurich added 20 points and 11 rebounds for Whitworth. Ross Nakamura (16), Sellereit (11) and Bo Gregg (10) also scored in double figures.
Lewis and Clark’s leading scorer (14.9 points per game), guard Josh Kollasch, underwent emergency surgery two weeks ago and will sit out the rest of the season. He is battling Crohn’s disease.
Tyson Papenfuss powered LC with 21 points, and David Berggren scored 17 of his 19 points in the first half.
Jurich and Sellereit both said the Pirates will face a difficult challenge against Linfield, a team that split two games with Whitworth this season. Linfield lists five players at 6-foot-6 or taller, and guard Cody Tesoro is third on the team in scoring with 12.6 points a game.
Whitworth 80, Lewis and Clark 72
Whitworth’s best shooting performance of the season allowed the Pirates to outlast Lewis and Clark in both teams’ season finales.
Whitworth made 25 of 50 field goal attempts, the first time the Pirates reached the 50-percent mark this season. Whitworth, which had lost six of its previous seven contests, led 38-35 at halftime and pushed its lead to as much as 10 in the second half.
Natalie Orrell and Cassie Pilkinton poured in 25 and 23 points, respectively, for the Pirates (13-12, 6-9). Liz Horiatis chipped in 14 points.
Kimberly Kittell paced LC (11-14, 3-14) with 18 points.