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College baseball notes: Whitworth Pirates pick up where they left off

A group of seniors led Whitworth to a sterling regular season, a Northwest Conference tournament championship and the school’s second NCAA Division III tournament appearance.

Then those seniors graduated, and the Pirates got even better.

“We were a little nervous about losing those guys, because they did mean so much to the program,” coach Dan Ramsay said. “But when you start building the right groups of kids the next class steps up, and the next class steps up, and we did a pretty good job of bringing in a solid group.”

“We build programs not teams and that’s just a testament to it,” Ramsay continued.

A trio of undefeated underclassmen starting pitchers, including two freshmen, have led Whitworth to a 20-4 record, including a 12-3 Northwest Conference mark that gives them a two-game lead in the conference standings.

No. 10 Whitworth has had success behind the plate and in the field, but what the Pirates are doing on the mound is the primary reason for the team’s success, and it’s come because of the pitchers’ penchant for throwing strikes.

Freshmen Ryan Kingma (6-0) and Hugh Smith (4-0), and sophomore T.J. Orchard (4-0) have combined to strike out 65 batters and have issued just 19 walks.

Entering last week, the Pirates ranked No. 10 nationally by walking just 1.78 batters per nine innings. The staff also has the conference’s best earned-run average at 3.18.

“Coming in we didn’t really know what to expect, just because we’re so young,” said senior infielder Jeremy Druffel, a Pullman High product. “But our freshmen stepped up and are throwing strikes and barely any walks. It’s just been a life saver.”

Druffel (1.048 OPS, .371 avg.) leads a stellar offense for the Pirates, who average better than seven runs scored per game. That success at the plate has covered some blemishes the young pitching staff showed early, including five consecutive come-from-behind wins early in the year.

The Pirates’ biggest test comes when they host Pacific (Ore.) for a three-game series against the second-place Boxers on April 10-11. First, they will head to McMinnville, Oregon, this weekend for a three-game series at Linfield.

Around the area

Washington State picked up its first conference win of the season last weekend, taking the first game at Stanford before falling to the Cardinal in the final two contests. The Cougars (8-14, 1-5 Pac-12) will hope to pick up some wins this weekend against another struggling club, Arizona State (14-9, 1-5). WSU will need to watch out for ASU’s Friday starter, however, as Ryan Hingst earned Pac-12 Player of the Week honors after pitching a no-hitter against Utah.

The last time WSU won a series against the Sun Devils, 2010, ASU was ranked No. 1 in the country.

Taylor Jones’ 11th-inning triple gave Gonzaga an extra-innings win over Washington Monday night in Seattle. The Huskies led for most of the game, but a bases-clearing triple from Tyler Frost in the eighth inning knotted the score at six runs apiece. Two scoreless innings followed, before Jones drove in two runs in the 11th to give the Bulldogs (13-10, 3-3 WCC) the win. GU lost Tuesday’s game to the Huskies, 2-0.

The Bulldogs are locked in a three-way tie for fifth in the WCC right now, but will get some separation this weekend after traveling to Stockton, California, to play a three-game series against Pacific (9-13, 3-3).

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