Just before the midpoint in the season, the Spartan baseball team was facing an 8-9 record. The young team was playing well, but just couldn’t quite close out games.
But, head coach Matt Englander, said, something shifted shortly after the team returned from a string of games played in Florida.
The team ended the season with a stretch of 18 wins over 22 games.
By then, the team’s 10 first-years on the roster had gained valuable experience in the league. In April alone, the Spartans held opposing teams to an average of 3.66 runs a game, while boasting a .305 team average.
Having finished off the regular season with an overall record of 26-13, the team heads to Spokane, Washington, to compete in the NCAA West Regional tournament beginning today (May 18).
Third-seeded Case Western Reserve, which received one of two Pool “B” bids, will face host and the fourth-seeded Whitworth University Pirates (29-11) at 6:30 p.m.
Englander believes that in order to be competitive in the tournament, the team must build upon the strengths that helped it to get there in the first place.
Key to their success, Englander added, is that the team must remember that they are stronger as a unit than as individuals.
“We need to be who we are,” he said. “We are unique in how we play.”
The team will look to two of its season offensive leaders, sophomore first baseman and outfielder Daniel Watson and junior outfielder Aaron Cain, to get things rolling at the plate. Watson, who was selected as the University Athletic Association’s (UAA) hitter of the week in early April and late February, boasted a .352 batting average, with 26 RBIs, 23 stolen bases (for which he leads the team) and four home runs.
Meanwhile, Cain, named UAA hitter of the week in mid-April, recorded a .321 average, while bringing home 22 runs and leading the team in doubles with nine during the regular season.
In game one, Case Western Reserve will look to junior pitcher Jake Shields, who tallied eight wins and two losses in 72.2 innings over the course of the season with an earned run average (ERA) of 3.47.
First-year Mark Gross will take the mound for the Spartans in game two. Gross finished the season with three wins, four losses and a 3.25 ERA, over 61 innings pitched.
The other teams in the double-elimination tournament are:
- Top-seeded Trinity University (Texas);
- Second-seeded California Lutheran University;
- Fifth-seeded University of Texas–Tyler; and
- Sixth-seeded Pacific Lutheran University.
Win or lose, Case Western Reserve University will play again tomorrow (May 19). Should the Spartans win, they will compete against either California Lutheran University or University of Texas–Tyler.
If CWRU loses its first game, it will square off against either Trinity University or Pacific Lutheran University.
The six teams will face one another until only one is left standing, at which point, the final team will advance to the NCAA Division III Championships in Appleton, Wisconsin, from May 27-June2.
This will mark CWRU baseball’s fourth NCAA tournament bid, with their last appearance in 2014. Overall, the team has a 9-6 record in tournament history.
For more information about the tournament, visit whitworthpirates.com/sports/bsb/2015-16/2016ncaatournament.