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Whitworth in the mix for baseball title going into final weekend

Before Whitworth’s baseball team began its pursuit of the Northwest Conference championship, coach Dan Ramsay showed his players a photograph.

This was during the Pirates’ first meeting of the season. The picture was of the dogpile that ensued after South Carolina won its second consecutive College World Series championship last season.

The message was clear – play every game as if you want to celebrate the last.

“We told them that if that’s not what they were here for, they didn’t belong,” Ramsay said.

They’ve proved that they do, in fact, belong in the NWC title race, winning more games this season (23-13-1, 16-5 NWC) than any Whitworth team since 1995.

But at least two wins over Whitman this weekend – the teams play a doubleheader Saturday at noon, then another game Sunday at noon at Merkel Field – will be needed for the Pirates to have a chance to extend their season. The NWC regular-season champion earns an automatic berth to the NCAA tournament.

Whitworth enters the final weekend of the regular season trailing Pacific (20-14, 17-4) by one game in the conference standings. Pacific Lutheran (23-11, 15-6), which hosts a three-game series against Pacific this weekend, trails the Boxers by two games.

The Pirates own the tiebreaker over both Pacific and PLU, meaning they need to beat Whitman at least twice this weekend and hope for PLU to beat Pacific at least twice, as well.

If Whitworth sweeps Whitman, then the only result that would keep Whitworth out of the NCAAs would be a Pacific sweep of PLU.

That is to say, Whitworth’s task appears far more manageable – Whitman enters the weekend one game out of last place, at 5-16 in league and 5-31 overall.

Others might be surprised by his team’s ascension this season, Ramsay said. Twenty-one of his players are underclassmen, and at times they’ve played five or six freshmen at once.

But being a part of the title chase is an expectation that has lived inside Whitworth’s locker room from the day of that first meeting. It’s showed in their performance – they lead the NWC in batting average, hits and RBIs.

The Pirates are led by sophomore outfielder Tyler Pfeffer, who has more home runs (11), RBIs (52), triples (four) and doubles (15) than any other player in the league. His .399 batting average is third in the NWC.

“If we don’t win the league title there will definitely be some disappointment,” Ramsay said. “But there’s always the hope that we could get in with an at-large.”

Ramsay noted that Chapman, which usually snags this region’s at-large bid, is having a down year – they’re just 16-19 – and Whitworth’s record against D-3 teams (22-7) and its conference road record (11-1) could make it an attractive option to the selection committee.

Ramsay said that if Whitworth doesn’t win the league title, he’d be “hopeful,” but not necessarily optimistic, that his team could still get into the tournament.

Around the area

Former Washington State coach Bobo Brayton, who coached the Cougars for 33 seasons with a .689 winning percentage, will be inducted into the Washington Sports Hall of Fame prior to WSU’s series opener against Arizona State tonight at Bailey-Brayton Field. First pitch is scheduled for 5:30 p.m. … The Cougars (21-16, 7-7 Pac-12) took two of three games from No. 6 Oregon last weekend in Eugene, and can make up more ground in the standings with a strong showing against ASU (24-16, 9-9). … After being swept at San Francisco last weekend, Gonzaga (26-12, 6-6 WCC) returns home for a three-game series against Loyola Marymount. The Bulldogs will be without leadoff hitter Eric Lane for the rest of the season after he broke his jaw in a collision on Sunday.

TeamWCC  Pct.Overall
San Diego9-3.75032-9
San Francisco7-6.53820-25
Saint Mary’s3-9.33319-19
Santa Clara2-10.16719-18
TeamPac-12  Pct.Overall
Arizona12-6.667 26-13
Oregon St.8-7.53327-12
Arizona St.9-9.50024-16
Washington St.7-7.50021-16
Washington6-9.400 21-17
TeamNWC  Pct.Overall
Pacific17-4 .810 20-14
Whitworth 16-5.762 23-13-1
Pac. Lutheran15-6 .714 23-11
George Fox 15-9 .62519-18
Willamette 7-14 .33312-22
Puget Sound 5-16 .2389-26-1
Whitman 5-16 .238 5-31
Lewis & Clark 4-20 .167 7-33

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