HILLSBORO, Ore. – Pacific Lutheran University aims for its second straight title while Willamette University makes its playoff debut in the Northwest Conference Baseball Tournament that will take place Friday-Sunday, Apr. 21-23, at Linfield College's Roy Helser Field in McMinnville, Ore.
Action gets under way Friday at 2:00 p.m. with top-seeded Linfield against No. 4 seed Whitworth University, followed by No. 2 seed Willamette vs. No. 3 seed Pacific Lutheran at 5:00 p.m. The tournament is a double-elimination format, with three games on Saturday and one, possibly two, on Sunday.
The official NWC Tournament page with spectator information, links to live statistics, live video coverage and results, and other information is available on the Linfield athletics web site at http://www.linfield.edu/sports/2017nwcbaseball.
2017 NWC Tournament Schedule
Friday, Apr. 21
Game 1: 2:00 p.m. - #1 Linfield vs. #4 Whitworth
Game 2: 5:00 p.m. - #2 Willamette vs. #3 Pacific Lutheran
Saturday, Apr. 22
Game 3: 12:00 p.m. – Loser of G1 vs. Loser of G2
Game 4: 3:00 p.m. – Winner of G1 vs. Winner of G2
Game 5: 6:00 p.m. – Winner of G3 vs. Loser of G4
Sunday, Apr. 23
Game 6: 12:00 p.m. – Winner of G4 vs. Winner of G5
Game 7: 3:00 p.m. (if necessary)
No. 1 Seed: Linfield Wildcats (24-10, 19-5 NWC)
vs. Willamette (1-2)
vs. Pacific Lutheran (1-2)
vs. Whitworth (3-1)
After a slow start to the season, the Wildcats stormed back to claim the NWC championship, the Wildcats' third in five years but first since 2014. Linfield needed a sweep of the Whitman Blues on the final weekend of the regular season to claim the title outright and the 'Cats did just that. Linfield enters this weekend's tournament riding a 13-game conference win streak that includes season sweeps of Puget Sound, Whitworth and Whitman. Led by the NWC's top-rated pitching staff (3.28 ERA), Linfield will lean on its star starters, Cason Cunningham and Riley Newman. Offensively, Linfield owns the conference's best team batting average (.308) and has hit a league-best 34 home runs. The 'Cats are without NWC Player of the Year candidate Scott Hilpert, who was lost to a season-ending injury suffered last weekend against the Blues. The surprise success story of the year has come in the form of McMinnville native Cameron Fox, who looks to keep up his production as he moves to a starting role in center field in place of Hilpert. Sluggers Ben Andrews and Ryan Pladson remain tough outs at the heart of the Linfield order. Linfield head coach Scott Carnahan enters his final NWC Tournament with his 12th conference championship after reaching 600 career wins at Linfield and 1,000 games coached.
No. 2 Seed: Willamette Bearcats (26-12, 18-6 NWC)
vs. Linfield (2-1)
vs. Pacific Lutheran (3-0)
vs. Whitworth (3-1)
Predicted to finish sixth in the NWC pre-season coaches poll, the Bearcats have been turning heads all season long. Willamette enters the conference tournament on a five-game win streak after defeating Puget Sound and Lewis & Clark to end the regular season. The Bearcats are a dangerous club after going 8-1 against the other teams in this year's tournament. Willamette has played exceptional defense behind starting pitcher Matt Steindorf, who rolled up a conference-best seven wins. Steindorf led the NWC in innings pitched (76.2) while maintaining a 3.87 ERA. Speedy slugger Perry Van Eckhardt headlines the NWC's No. 2 home run-hitting team with six HRs and is a perfect 16-for-16 in stolen base attempts. With a roster devoid of seniors, this group of playoff rookies get their first taste of postseason baseball this weekend. In a magical season in which they have thrived due to timely hitting and clutch pitching, the Bearcats are fully capable of continuing their Cinderella campaign all the way to the NWC Tournament title.
No. 3 Seed: Pacific Lutheran Lutes (22-10, 17-7 NWC)
vs. Linfield (2-1)
vs. Whitworth (2-2)
vs. Willamette (0-3)
The reigning NWC Tournament champions are back in the hunt for a NCAA playoff berth, although this season the Lutes enter as the No. 3 seed after going 5-5 in the month of April. PLU brings a three-game win streak to McMinnville, and after a sweep of 12th-ranked California Lutheran, the Lutes appear to have broken out of their slump. Sitting atop the NWC standings for most of the season, PLU faces the tall task of trying to knock off Willamette in the opening round in order to avoid the prospect of playing an early elimination game. Powered by terrific hitting, PLU is one of two teams in the NWC to bat over .300 (.301). The Lutes also field the league's best defense (NWC-low 17 errors). The leading hitter in the conference wears the black and yellow in the form of Landon Packard, who is the only player in the league to hit over .400. Packard's 42 RBIs rank second in conference statistics and his four triples top the NWC. The trio of Packard, Ben Welch and Kory VanderStaay is arguably the most dangerous in the tournament. PLU features two quality starters in Jacob Gleichman and Chad Gideon, both of whom showcase sub-3.40 ERAs. The Lutes are a mix of experience and youth. Having won the tournament a season ago, PLU's edge in experience could prove to be the difference against mostly postseason first-timers.
No. 4 Seed: Whitworth Pirates (22-13, 12-12 NWC)
vs. Linfield (1-3)
vs. Pacific Lutheran (2-2)
vs. Willamette (1-3)
Whitworth, the defending NWC champion and pre-season favorite to repeat, got off to an 0-5 start in the conference that nearly kept the Pirates out of the tournament. Whitworth swept Pacific on the final weekend of NWC play and then was aided by a Linfield sweep of Whitman that forced a tie for the final playoff spot with the George Fox Bruins, Whitworth winning the tiebreaker 3-0. Whitworth fields a healthy mix of speed and power that sparked a 7-3 run to end the regular season. The Pirates come into the tournament sporting a current four-game win streak. Leading the NWC with 22 stolen bases, Daniel Casanova could give teams fits this weekend on the base paths. The top offensive threat for the Pirates comes from Matthew Nelson, a senior who leads the conference with 44 RBIs and his team in nearly every other offensive category. Whitworth's young but talented pitching staff is headlined by freshmen and sophomores. Matthew Young, Ryan Kingma and Hugh Smith threw well against non-playoff teams but struggled against the other three NWC Tournament teams. Finishing 2016 as the NWC's regular-season champs but losing the tournament on its home field, Whitworth looks to resolve unfinished business this weekend in McMinnville.