By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SALEM, Ore. -- The Willamette University baseball team earned a 28-14 overall record in 2017, while placing second in the Northwest Conference and reaching the championship game of the NWC Tournament. It was the eighth 20-win season for the Bearcats in the past 10 years, and the most wins for the team since going 29-16 in 2000-01.
Part of Willamette's success was achieved by advancing runners with sacrifice bunts. The Bearcats recorded 53 sacrifice bunts overall and ranked sixth in NCAA Division III.
Leading the way were Kyle Paguio (So., 3B, Stevenson Ranch, CA/West Ranch HS) and Tyler Janitz (So., SS, Modesto, CA/Joseph A. Gregori HS), each with nine sacrifice bunts. Troy Conway (Jr., 2B, Moorpark, CA/Moorpark HS) provided eight sacrifice bunts. A total of 15 Bearcats contributed at least one sacrifice bunt during the season.
Willamette also produced many of its runs by hitting homers, as the Bearcats pounded out 33 home runs to rank 30th out of 386 teams in Division III. The Bearcats were 32nd in home runs per game (0.79).
Perry Van Eckhardt (Jr., CF, El Cerrito, CA/El Cerrito HS) topped the offensive chart with seven home runs. Connor Bailey (So., LF, San Diego, CA/Scripps Ranch HS) added six homers and Mason Fessler (Jr., DH/INF, Woodburn, OR/Blanchet Catholic School) blasted five. Ten Willamette players smacked at least one home run.
Willamette was successful on 78 of 105 stolen bases. The successful work on the base paths allowed the Bearcats to rank 42nd in total stolen bases and to finish 63rd in stolen bases per game (1.88). In addition, WU was listed 51st in walks with 181 and 86th in hit by pitches with 50.
Stolen base leaders were Van Eckhardt, who went 19 for 20, and Mason Fessler, who finished 11 of 14. Fessler also led Willamette with 30 walks, while Bailey walked 25 times.
The Bearcats combined their offensive efforts with solid defensive play. Willamette ended the year ranked 29th in fielding percentage at .967. WU just missed equaling the school record of .968 set in 1993.
Willamette's defense ended the season with 35 double plays to rank 59th in Division III. The Bearcats were 83rd in double plays per game (0.83).
Starting pitcher Matt Steindorf (So., RHP, Granite Bay, CA/Granite Bay HS) ranked 41st on the NCAA individual statistics with eight wins during the season. He was 5-2 in regular season NWC games, and also picked up the win in a 6-5 victory over Pacific Lutheran University in the NWC Tournament.
Steindorf and Willamette's other pitchers combined to place the Bearcats 62nd on the national stats in fewest walks allowed per nine innings (3.20). The Bearcats walked 134 batters in 377 1/3 innings this spring In addition, WU was 75th in WHIP (walks plus hits per inning pitched) at 1.42.
Throughout the season, Willamette was very strong in close games. The Bearcats were 12-4 in games decided by one-run, including 12-2 against NWC opponents.
Willamette was an impressive 17-2 when leading after six innings, 21-1 when leading after seven innings, and 20-0 when entering the ninth inning with the lead. Willamette won four of six games that were tied after eight frames, and picked up three wins when trailing after eight innings.
All of the team's success was earned without any seniors. Even so, the Bearcats had significant leadership with 10 juniors on the roster.