For the past few years, when Dan Ramsay dreamed, visions of dogpiles danced in his head.
And as the Whitworth University coach and former player will attest, baseball’s championship right of passage – in reality – is far sweeter than the reverie.
“We begin every season by sitting down and talking about goals and expectations,” said Ramsay, who’s Pirates advanced to the NCAA Division III finals in Appleton, Wis., by winning the regional title last weekend in their first NCAA D-III national tournament appearance.
“It’s one of those things where we’ve had this dream of going to Appleton and now it’s coming true,” he added. “We opened this season by saying we wanted three dogpiles.”
The Pirates’ crusade has come to fruition twice now – first when they clinched a share of the Northwest Conference crown at the end of April, and again last weekend when they won their regional tournament.
That leaves the Pirates one dogpile short heading into the opener of their final tournament on Friday against defending national champion Marietta, Ohio.
“Let me put it like this: There are 383 teams at our level in the country at the beginning of the year and now there are eight left,” said Ramsay. “So it’s pretty special to be playing at this time of year.”
Especially considering where the Pirates (30-14-1) were four years ago when Ramsay’s current crop of seniors, including center fielder Kevin Valerio, infielder/designated hitter Landon Scott, first baseman JR Jarrell and starting pitcher and Gonzaga Prep product CJ Perry, went 10-26 as freshmen.
“We knew that group was special when they came in with their work ethic and their desire to win,” said Ramsay. “So we knew the foundation was there.”
Since then, Ramsay has gone to work piecing together the puzzle, putting the finishing touches on his dream season by adding several talented freshmen – shortstop and University High graduate Nick Motsinger, catcher Joshua Davis, right fielder and Sandpoint product Erik Nikssarian, third baseman and Mead grad Paul Miller and pitcher Dan Scheibe – to this year’s lineup.
Motsinger, Scheibe and sophomore outfielder Tyler Pfeffer, who led the NWC with eight home runs and 39 RBIs during the regular season, were All-NWC first-team picks, while Jarrell, Miller and sophomore second baseman Gerhard Muelheims made the second team.
Scheibe, a Richland native, dominated the last half of the NWC season and posted a 5-0 record, a pair of saves and a 1.73 ERA through the regular season. His 69 strikeouts in 52 innings led the NWC.
Davis, Scott, Valerio, Perry, freshman Carson Blumenthal (Mt. Spokane) and sophomore Jason Renner (Ferris) were honorable mention. Ramsay, in his fourth season as head coach, was named Coach of the Year.
“Basically, our entire starting lineup made that list,” Ramsay said. “We started to realize as the season went on that we had something special coming together, but I think our older guys laughed it off because they know what it’s like to be at the bottom. But they aren’t laughing anymore. It’s really a rags-to-riches story.”
One he hopes ends with nothing other than that third and final dogpile which, after four years of building, no longer seems like such a pipe dream.