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The Spokesman-Review Newspaper
Spokane, Washington  Est. May 19, 1883

Whitworth will open NCAA Division III Tournament at California Lutheran Friday

Whitworth’s Garrett Long goes up for a shot against Whitman’s Alex Pape on Saturday during the NWC Tournament Championship game at Whitworth Fieldhouse.  (Courtesy of Whitworth Athletics)
By Ethan Myers The Spokesman-Review

The Whitworth men’s basketball team’s playoff journey will start on the West Coast this season.

After traveling to Pennsylvania and Texas for postseason games in recent years, the Pirates (19-8) will face off against host California Lutheran (23-4) in Thousand Oaks, California, in the first round of the NCAA Division III Tournament.

The game will tip off at 6:05 p.m. on Friday night.

On the heels of a thrilling 81-75 win over Whitman on Saturday night to take the Northwest Conference title for the third straight season, the Pirates are hungry to use their momentum to make some noise in the playoffs.

Players and coaches gathered in a team room on Monday morning as the draws were announced.

“I think we’re excited about being able to stay on the West Coast and to have a little bit of familiarity with the team we’re playing,” Whitworth coach Damion Jablonski said.

The Pirates have faced and defeated California Lutheran twice in the past five seasons, including a decisive 71-56 win last year at the Whitworth Fieldhouse. The Pirates dominated 105-51 in 2019.

But the Kingsmen had a much improved year, finishing as the regular -season champions in the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletics Conference before losing to Claremont-Mudd-Scripps in the conference tournament championship.

California Lutheran, making its second consecutive tournament appearance, bowed out in the first round of last year’s tournament.

If the Pirates beat the Kingsmen, they will face the winner of St. Thomas (Texas) and Claremont-Mudd-Scripps.

Whitworth senior forward Jake Holtz said he is eager to make a deeper tournament run after first -round exits over the past two seasons.

“We beat (Cal Lutheran) a year ago at our place, so we know they’re a beatable team,” Holtz said. “We’re excited to go down there and play them.

“We know we’re dangerous and have a chance to win, so we’ll see what we can do.”