Success has taken a while at Whitworth University.
The Pirates last had a winning record in Northwest Conference play in 2006. They last won 20 games in 2002.
By winning two of three last weekend at Whitman, the Pirates accomplished both of those things in 2011.
“It took a while to do it, but it’s a culture change and we kind of have an expectation to win now,” third-year coach Dan Ramsay said. “I know, 20-20, that’s .500, that’s obviously not where we want to be. In a couple of years from now I would rather be able to have a conversation and say, ‘Yeah, that 30-10 season was a lot of fun, I’m looking forward to the regional.’ ”
That may be possible in that the Pirates, who finished 20-20 overall and 13-11 in NWC play, will return all but two regular starting position players.
That group includes do-everything junior Landon Scott.
“He’s a pretty special athlete,” Ramsay said. “It’s one of those deals where you can’t say enough about him. He’s pretty gifted with his hand/eye coordination and he’s probably the strongest kid I’ve ever been around.
“He’s done a great job of leading our guys, too. He’s stepped into that role.”
Scott, a third baseman, had a record-setting year in 2010 (a .465 average, with six home runs and 40 RBIs) and followed that up with a more-than-solid 2011, hitting .389 with another six home runs and 39 runs batted in.
Freshman Gerhard Muelheims (St. George’s) and senior Nick Ashley joined Scott in hitting better than .300, finishing at .311 and .310, respectively.
The Pirates also got it done on the mound, posting a 4.60 earned run average, the school’s best since joining the NCAA Division III ranks in 1999.
“We really didn’t have one guy who ate all of our innings on the mound,” Ramsay said.
Only senior Nathan Johnson (5-4, 4.14 ERA) threw more than 50 innings, with seven returnees having thrown more than 10 innings.
Whitworth also has commitments from five high school pitchers, including locals Spencer Ansett (Ferris), Carson Blumenthal (Mt. Spokane) and Nick Scourey (Pullman). They’re part of a recruiting class of 11, including nine from Eastern Washington.
“I kind of made a vow to myself that I wasn’t going to let schools in Portland and Seattle steal kids from our own back yard,” Ramsay said. “Especially guys who are talented as this group that we are bringing in.”
Around the area
It’s crunch time for Washington State (20-22 overall, 5-13 in Pac-10 play). The Cougars, who played in the last two NCAA tournaments, are tied with Oregon for eighth in the Pac-10. But WSU has a chance to close strongly, starting with a three-game series in Pullman against Arizona (30-16, 9-9). The series opener is Saturday and begins a stretch of five games in four days for the Cougars. After Arizona leaves town, WSU will host Portland State in a nonconference doubleheader Tuesday then welcome the Ducks (24-23) next Friday for the final home series of the season. … If there is one obvious difference between this year’s WSU team and the last two NCAA squads, it’s on defense. The Cougars’ fielding percentage of .964 is significantly lower than 2010 (.970) and 2009 (.971). WSU’s batting average is also lower than the past two years, but that’s a trend around college baseball because of a change in the bats. … Despite a hiccup late last month when it lost two of three at home to Saint Mary’s, Gonzaga is still in the West Coast Conference driver’s seat. The 23rd-ranked Zags (26-14-1, 9-3 in the WCC) are in first place in the conference, though San Francisco, with an 11-4 record, has played one more conference series. GU won’t catch up this weekend, as the Zags travel to Portland (17-25, 6-6) and USF hosts Pepperdine (20-24, 5-7). But the Dons (25-22 overall) have next weekend off – GU will be at Pepperdine – before traveling to Spokane for a regular season-ending three-game series. … GU senior catcher Cameron Edman, recently named to the academic all-District 8 first team with a 3.62 grade point average, has been even more productive on the field. Edman leads the WCC in average (.375), slugging percentage (.701), total bases (101, tied with USD’s Kris Bryant) and home runs (nine, tied with Bryant). He’s also second in on-base percentage (.448). … CCS (20-22, 10-16 in NWAACC play) finishes its season Saturday with a doubleheader at Columbia Basin. The Sasquatch have won four consecutive games.