No relaxing for the Zags
Representatives from the West Coast Conference attended Gonzaga’s game at Santa Clara on Sunday. They were there with a trophy and the formal acknowledgement that the Bulldogs had, indeed, clinched the league’s regular-season championship all by themselves.
But that was about the extent of Gonzaga’s celebration.
“There was no dogpile,” said coach Mark Machtolf.
Any such pile will have to wait another two weeks, which is when Gonzaga will enter the four-team WCC baseball championships as the No. 1 seed.
The Bulldogs will have to win three games on May 23-25 to lock up the league’s automatic bid into the NCAA postseason.
So it’s with the same focus and urgency that Gonzaga enters its final six regular-season games – three this weekend at home against Appalachian State, then three on the road next week against Pac-12 competition – as it hopes to improve its RPI to a level sufficient to receive an at-large bid if things don’t go the Bulldogs’ way in the WCC tournament.
Even after sweeping Santa Clara last weekend to finish with a WCC-best conference record of 18-6, Gonzaga (31-14-1) could still be left on the outside looking in when the selection committee meets at the end of the season.
Gonzaga’s RPI improved only two spots this week, from 89 to 87, and three WCC teams still remain ahead of the Bulldogs in that metric.
Machtolf isn’t sure if his team is assured of a tournament spot without winning the conference playoff.
“I don’t really have a good feel. I haven’t had a chance to talk to some of my cohorts who know a little bit more about it, about how much weight they put in a league championship,” Machtolf said. “There’s a lot of weight put on last 10 games, I don’t know how much is strictly RPI. Your guess is as good as mine right now.”
Machtolf said he shouldn’t have to tweak the Bulldogs’ pitching rotation too much in the weeks leading up to the conference tournament. Gonzaga plays two games at Oregon on Tuesday and Wednesday, then plays at California next Monday before beginning the WCC championships in Stockton, Calif., the following Thursday.
That should allow ace pitchers Marco Gonzales and Tyler Olson plenty of rest – assuming they each start against Oregon – before Gonzaga’s WCC tourney opener.
Machtolf said Gonzaga might play a simulated game the weekend before its contest against California.
Speaking of Olson, the senior left-hander was named this week as the Rawlings WCC Pitcher of the Month for April. Olson went 4-0 last month with a 0.51 ERA, and allowed only two earned runs in 34 1/3 innings. Three of his four starts were complete games.
Washington State: A make-or-break home series against Oregon last week wound up breaking the Cougars, who have now lost seven of their last eight games and 11 of 13, and reside in 10th place in the Pac-12 standings. The Ducks took a three-game sweep from WSU (20-24, 7-14 in Pac-12) at Bailey-Brayton Field last weekend, becoming the Cougars’ sixth consecutive Pac-12 opponent to defeat them in a series. … WSU ranks third in hitting and seventh in pitching in the conference, but its fielding percentage of .960 is last in the Pac-12. Defense cost the Cougars especially against the Ducks. After last Friday’s 5-3 loss, WSU coach Donnie Marbut remarked that “we’re the poorest defensive team in the league right now.”
Whitworth: A frustrating season is finally over for the Pirates. Whitworth finished 14-25-1 after losing two of three games in the Inland Cellular Tournament in Lewiston last weekend, ending the year with a 20-9 loss to Lewis-Clark State. After beginning the season 8-6-1, the Pirates lost 19 of their final 25 games. Gerhard Muelheims led the team with a .414 batting average in 32 games, and Dan Scheibe finished 5-3 with a 3.17 ERA.