Despite winning its first Northwest Conference regular-season championship, the Whitworth Pirates baseball team had to wait for two weeks to see if they would receive an at-large selection into the NCAA Division III tournament.
They did. And they won’t have to leave town just yet because the Pirates will host the six-team regional that starts Wednesday at Avista Stadium.
“We love it. This is finals weeks for our guys,” Whitworth coach Dan Ramsay said. “So it’s nice to be at home and sleep in your own bed. But it is a little odd to travel downtown for a game.
“But it’s definitely better than Tyler, Texas, or McMinnville, Oregon, where we played the last two” tournaments in 2015 and 2012.
The No. 4 seed Pirates (29-11) take on No. 3 seed Case Western Reserve (26-13) Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. in the third game of the day.
In the early game, No. 6 seed Pacific Lutheran (26-17), which beat Whitworth in the conference tournament final for the automatic bid, plays No. 1 seed Trinity (Texas) (35-7) at noon.
In the middle game, No. 2 seed Cal Lutheran (31-11) plays the No. 5 seed Texas-Tyler (30-17) at 3:15 p.m.
The double-elimination tournament continues through Saturday when the regional champion advances to the Division III World Series held May 27-June 2 in Appleton, Wisconsin.
“It’s kind of fun. I remember a time when I competed, and honestly, I don’t think we knew what a regional was,” said Ramsay, who played for Whitworth in 2007-08. “But now we have a freshman and sophomore class and that’s all they know. It’s fun to know that’s a part of our culture.”
Ramsay will rely on freshman pitcher Hugh Smith (5-1, 2.55 ERA) against a Case Western Reserve (Cleveland, Ohio) team that also was picked at-large after facing the nation’s toughest schedule this season.
“We used (Smith) in relief early on. He kind of separated himself and earned that starting job,” Ramsay said.
On the offensive side, the team is led in most offensive categories by Jeremy Druffel (.394 batting average). The senior from Pullman leads the team in home runs (9) and stolen bases (22) and is tied for third on the team with 29 RBIs.
“I’ve had him for four years. It’s been pretty impressive to watch his maturity,” Ramsay said. “He deserves to go out this way.”
Along with Druffel’s leadership, Ramsay believes he’s got enough arms with T.J. Orchard (8-1, 3.89 ERA) and Ryan Kingma (8-3, 4.39 ERA) to make a run.
“We are as deep as or deeper than the teams we will face,” Ramsay said. “My guys will play eight games in two days if they have to. They just want to compete and earn a trip to Wisconsin.”
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