There will be plenty of wound rubbing at the baseball diamonds of Spokane’s college baseball teams, as both Gonzaga and Whitworth suffer through extended waits before their opportunities to put cutting losses behind them.
Top-seeded Whitworth fell to Pacific Lutheran in the championship game of the Northwest Conference tournament, 6-5, and will have to wait until Monday, May 16, before learning its postseason fate.
The Pirates (28-11), ranked No. 19 in the country, should receive an at-large bid to the Division III NCAA tournament. But there are no guarantees.
“You just never know how the numbers are going to shake out,” said Pirates coach Dan Ramsay. “The fact that we’re hosting I think benefits us. I don’t think the NCAA will make decisions based on money, but at times that happens on our level.”
Gonzaga, meanwhile, gave up pole position in the race for the West Coast Conference pennant after dropping two of three games last weekend at BYU. The game-three rubber match was an especially crushing defeat – the Bulldogs entered the ninth inning with a 3-0 lead in the 5-4 loss.
Because of that loss, Gonzaga (25-15, 13-8 WCC) now trails both BYU and Saint Mary’s in the conference standings, each of whom have a 12-6 record in WCC games. Fortunately for the Bulldogs, however, they maintain a three-game lead over fifth-place Pepperdine. That is a critical gap because the top four teams will advance to the WCC tournament after the regular season.
Maybe a few extra days off will help the Bulldogs regain perspective after the loss. Or maybe this isn’t a good time for the young players to stew.
“I think our kids are tough enough to realize, yeah, it was an opportunity lost, but we’ve got to get ready to go,” Bulldogs coach Mark Machtolf said. “(A break) might come at the right time. It’s hard to predict.”
The Bulldogs will not play again until two games at Oregon next Monday and Tuesday, and will not resume conference play until the following week. The team will practice this week, while also focusing on the players’ upcoming finals.
Gonzaga’s players do not take a reduced courseload in the spring. The ability to focus only on baseball should be helpful during the final leg of the season, but now it means an intense workload in addition to practice and travel for games.
“First and foremost they’re students, so we encourage that workload,” Machtolf said. “We think with discipline you can handle that.”
At Whitworth, Ramsay is giving the pitchers a few days off to recover after a grueling season. And he’s hoping that players who heated up at the end of the season can keep their mojo going over a few weeks between games.
Catcher Zach Thibault, a sophomore, battled injury this season and played just 12 games. In those games, he batted .281, however, with a 1.095 OPS, giving the Pirates a great deal of pop from what is typically considered a defensive position.
Freshman hurlers Hugh Smith and Ryan Kingma may have had more sizzle this year, but sophomore starter T.J. Orchard quietly put together an 8-1 record on the mound, and his last three outings were “phenomenal” per Ramsay.
Washington State gave up six runs in the eighth inning at Oregon on Sunday to drop the rubber match of its three-game series against the Ducks 11-7. The Cougars (14-25, 7-14 Pac-12) host Utah this week, with games to be played on Saturday, Sunday and Monday.
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