By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SALEM, Ore. -- The Willamette University baseball team, which finished the 2017 season at 28-14 overall, including 18-6 in the Northwest Conference, has been chosen to finish third this season according to the NWC Preseason Poll, as voted on by the NWC head coaches. Linfield was picked to repeat as NWC champion.
A year ago, the Bearcats took second place in the NWC regular season standings. Willamette advanced to the NWC Tournament championship game before falling to Linfield.
In this year's Preseason Poll, Linfield received four of eight first place votes and a total of 62 points, as the Wildcats were selected to reclaim the title. Last year, Linfield was 40-15 overall, including 19-5 in the NWC. The Wildcats edge out Willamette for the NWC regular season title by a single game. At the NWC Tournament, Linfield defeated the Bearcats twice, 7-2 and 6-4. Cason Cunningham (Jr.) returns after being named NWC Pitcher of the Year in 2017.
Whitworth followed the Wildcats in this year's poll, as the Pirates grabbed two first place votes and 55 points. Whitworth tied for fourth place in the NWC with George Fox University last season at 12-12, but held the tie-breaker to earn the fourth and final NWC Tournament berth. The Pirates upset Linfield, 4-3, in the first round, but lost to Willamette, 13-8, in the second round. Whitworth was eliminiated from the tournament with a loss to Linfield.
The Bearcats received two first place votes in the poll on their way to 53 points overall, just two points behind Whitworth. Pacific Lutheran University, which joined Linfield, Willamette and Whitworth in the NWC Tournament last spring, was listed first on one ballet and placed fourth in the poll with 47 points. Last year, PLU was 25-14 on the season, 17-7 in the NWC. Willamette edged the Lutes, 6-5, in the NWC Tournament.
Fifth place in the poll went to George Fox with 33 points. The Bruins completed the 2017 season with an 18-20 overall record and a 12-12 mark in the NWC to tie for fourth place. Whitman College was sixth in the poll with 32 points, just a single point behind GFU. A year ago, the Blues were 17-20 on the season, 11-13 in the NWC (6th place).
Pacific University held seventh place in the poll with 21 points after going 15-23 overall and 7-17 in the NWC last spring. University of Puget Sound was eighth in the poll with 18 points. The Loggers finished 2017 with a 14-24 record, including 7-17 in the NWC. Pacific and Puget Sound tied for seventh place in last year's NWC standings.
Lewis & Clark College was listed ninth in the poll, as the Pioneers received 12 points. L&C concluded last season at 7-31 overall and 5-19 in the NWC (9th place).
Top returning players for Willamette this spring include pitchers Matt Steindorf (Jr., RHP, Granite Bay, CA/Granite Bay HS) and Jett Gallagher (Sr., RHP, Santa Cruz, CA/Santa Cruz HS), plus hitters Eric Del Prado (Sr., 1B, El Segundo, CA/Loyola HS) and Connor Bailey (Jr., LF, San Diego, CA/Scripps Ranch HS). Steindorf and Del Prado were named First Team All-NWC last season, while Gallagher and Bailey earned Second Team All-NWC honors. Last year, the Bearcats had no seniors on their roster. This season, Willamette will be led by eight seniors.
The Bearcats will open the season on Friday, Feb. 2 at Claremont-Mudd-Scripps. First pitch in Claremont, California, is set for 2:30 p.m. (PST). Willamette will play two games at Whittier College (Calif.) on Saturday, Feb. 3, and will conclude the trip with a game at Pomona-Pitzer on Sunday, Feb. 4. Action on Saturday and Sunday will begin at 11 a.m.
2018 NWC Baseball Preseason Poll (1st place votes in parentheses)
1. Linfield (4), 62 points, 30-15 overall, 19-5 in NWC in 2017
2. Whitworth (2), 55 points, 24-17 overall, 12-12 in NWC
3. Willamette (2), 53 points, 28-14 overall, 18-6 in NWC
4. Pacific Lutheran (1), 47 points, 25-14 overall, 17-7 in NWC
5. George Fox, 33 points, 18-20 overall, 12-12 in NWC
6. Whitman, 32 points, 17-20 overall, 11-13 in NWC
7. Pacific, 21 points, 15-23 overall, 7-17 in NWC
8. Puget Sound, 18 points, 14-24 overall, 7-17 in NWC
9. Lewis & Clark, 12 points, 7-31 overall, 5-19 in NWC
Note: Points were awarded on a 9-8-6-5-4-3-2-1 basis. Coaches could not vote for their own team.