The Whitworth Pirates are deep into the postseason, but they’re definitely not out of their depth.
Coach Matt Logie goes to his bench often, but three players have provided the spark that has carried the Pirates all the way to Friday’s third-round game in the NCAA Division III tournament in Whitewater, Wis., against Virginia Wesleyan.
Key reserves Jack Loofburrow, Colton McCargar and Michael Taylor are part of an eight-man rotation that has kept the engine running, even against the up-tempo teams in the NCAA tournament.
“We have a lot of confidence in our whole program,” said Logie, “and our guys prepare every day for their opportunity.”
Opportunity knocked, or rather came pounding, last weekend for Loofburrow, a 6-foot-7 senior post who came off the bench in the Pirates’ second-round game against Trinity. Whitworth’s lead had shrunk from 21 points to three before Loofburrow hit two baskets from long range in the final minutes.
The Pirates’ 64-53 victory last week in Belton, Texas, has them back in the Sweet 16 for the third year in a row.
McCargar has been a steady sixth man at guard, replacing either Wade Gebbers or Dustin McConnell, depending on the situation. McCargar, a sophomore from Richland, is averaging almost five points a game and has played double-digit minutes throughout the postseason.
“They’ve had all year to prepare for postseason opportunities like this,” Logie said. “And when you play back to back with how hard we try to play, you have to have confidence in those guys.
“And they’ve produced for us all year long.”
And then there’s Taylor, the most unreserved reserve on the team. The 6-foot-8 senior from Aspen, Colo., is an emotional, fist-pumping spark off the bench.
“It’s good to show positive emotion, and then when things don’t go your way, to let it roll off your back,” said Taylor, who also credits the game atmosphere at the Whitworth Fieldhouse. “And that’s been my biggest role on the team, just being that emotional lift.”
Taylor went from spark plug to drive train earlier this year, starting five games as the Pirates endured several weeks without Loofburrow and starter Mack Larkin.
Taylor averages 3.9 points and 2.6 rebounds and has played in every game this season.
“It’s been awesome, the ideal senior year for me, I wanted to put in as many minutes as I could,” said Taylor, who didn’t think about college basketball until after his junior year in high school.
But former assistant Craig Fortier, who moved to Eastern Washington University this season along with head coach Jim Hayford, drove hundreds of miles through the mountains to meet Taylor.
“That really sealed the deal for me,” said Taylor, who will graduate this spring with a degree in kinesiology, then apply to graduate schools. Sitting in the fieldhouse earlier this week, he said “It doesn’t get any better than this.”
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