It’s not hard to understand what Dan Ramsay was feeling when his Whitworth team clinched its first NCAA tournament bid last weekend.
Or, at least, it’s not hard to understand why he was feeling it.
“The feeling I had at the end of that game was amazing,” said Ramsay, the Pirates’ fourth-year head coach. “It’s just kind of a culmination of all the work myself and our assistant coaches and our players have put in, and something I felt like we really deserved.”
The last time Whitworth made the postseason was 1992, when Ramsay was 6 years old and the Pirates were still an NAIA member.
This time, they will play in an NCAA Division III regional in Linfield, Ore., which begins May 16. The tournament field will be announced May 14.
Ramsay won’t speculate as to who might be in the field – “there’s at least three Texas schools we obviously haven’t played,” he said – and doesn’t particularly care, either.
“We’ve kind of prided ourselves in not worrying about what our opponents are doing all year long,” Ramsay said. “We don’t place as much emphasis on it as some sports and some programs do.
“I think we’re going to match up well with anybody. They’re in the same boat we are in terms of figuring out who we’re going to be playing. I think we benefit all the way around from that.”
They’ve also benefited, Ramsay said, from being forced into what amounted to a lose-and-you’re-done scenario during the season’s final weeks. With Pacific atop the conference standings for much of the season, Whitworth knew two weeks ago it needed to win out to have a chance.
That’s what the Pirates did, sweeping Willamette before doing the same to Whitman, holding off the Missionaries 8-7 on Sunday to clinch a share of the NWC crown. A tiebreaker gave Whitworth the league’s NCAA bid over Pacific.
For Ramsay, this season is the next step in an upward trend that began last season when Whitworth won 20 games for the first time since 2002.
Along with an offense led by perhaps the NWC’s best hitter, Tyler Pfeffer (.393 batting average, league-leading 11 homers and 54 RBIs), Ramsay credits the efforts of second-year pitching coach Brandon Harmon and first-year infielders coach Cody Reeves for giving the Pirates the extra boost they needed to get to the top.
The results speak for themselves. Whitworth’s fielding percentage of .966 is the best in school history. And the Pirates have two pitchers – Dan Scheibe and C.J. Perry – in the top five in the conference in earned-run average. Scheibe also leads the NWC in strikeouts.
Ramsay hopes there will be a few more this season.
“It’s something we’ve fallen back on over and over again – we’re not done yet,” Ramsay said. “We’ve said that every game. We’re not done yet. That’s kind of the attitude we’ve taken.”
Around the area: Washington State (22-18, 8-9 Pac-12) faces California in a crucial three-game series this weekend at Bailey-Brayton Field with a chance to improve its NCAA tournament resume – the teams are tied in the national RPI rankings at 73. Projections from both ESPN.com and Baseball America have the Cougars on the wrong side of the tournament bubble, though PerfectGame.org sees WSU as a No. 3 seed. … Despite recent struggles, most projections still include Gonzaga (27-16, 7-8 WCC) as an at-large tournament selection. But the Bulldogs have lost seven of their last eight games, and are in seventh place in the WCC as they head south this weekend for a three-game series at Saint Mary’s. … Gonzaga pitcher/first baseman Marco Gonzales was named the Rawlings WCC Pitcher of the Week after striking out 15 batters in 11 shutout innings against Loyola Marymount last week. Gonzales was also named to the 60-player midseason watch list for the Golden Spikes Award, which is given annually to the nation’s best player.