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Whitworth preseason favorite to repeat as NWC baseball champs

From staff and wire reports

In what promises to be another competitive baseball race in the Northwest Conference, Whitworth has emerged as the favorite to win a second consecutive title in 2017, according to a pre-season poll of the league’s nine coaches as announced by the conference office Tuesday afternoon.

Whitworth received seven votes for first place and 70 total points in the poll, becoming the league’s preseason pick for the first time ever. Pacific Lutheran University and Linfield College collected one first-place vote apiece, PLU coming in second in the poll with 57 points and Linfield third with 50 points. Coaches were not permitted to vote on their own teams.

Whitworth won last year’s NWC crown with a 17-7 league record and hosted the NWC Tournament, where the Pirates fell to PLU in the title game. Whitworth received an at-large bid to the NCAA Division III National Tournament and hosted the Spokane Regional, going 1-2 to finish with a 30-13 overall record.

The Pirates were ranked 25th in the final Collegiate Baseball/American Baseball Coaches Association D-III poll.

Anchoring Whitworth’s bid to repeat as NWC champion are a pair of All-NWC First Team selections in senior designated hitter Jordan McGowan and sophomore staff ace Hugh Smith, the latter a All-West Region Third Team honoree.

Also back for the Pirates are Second Team senior second baseman Garrett Hughes, an ABCA/Rawlings Gold Glove winner, and starting pitcher T.J. Orchard, along with honorable mention shortstop Joel Condreay and starter Ryan Kingma.

Jeremy Druffel, a All-America honorable mention outfielder, left a big hole with his graduation. NWC Coach of the Year Dan Ramsay is in his ninth season directing the program at his alma mater.

Pacific Lutheran went 15-9 in the conference in 2016 to finish second, then defeated Whitworth in the NWC Tournament finale to earn the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament. The Lutes went all the way to the finals of the Spokane Regional, falling to eventual national champion Trinity University (Texas) for a final 29-19 record. PLU was ranked 22nd in the final poll.

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