By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SALEM, Ore. -- The Willamette University Bearcats will open the 2018 Northwest Conference Baseball Tournament by taking on Linfield College on Friday, April 20 at 3 p.m. (PDT) in Tacoma, Washington. The tournament is being hosed by Pacific Lutheran University, which won the NWC regular season title.
Willamette (23-14, 15-9 NWC) and Linfield (22-14, 16-8 NWC) are joined in the tournament by Pacific Lutheran (22-14, 18-6 NWC) and George Fox University (21-16, 13-11 NWC). The winner of the double-elimination event will receive the NWC's automatic bid to the NCAA Division III Tournament.
Friday's schedule for the first day of the NWC Tournament begins with Pacific Lutheran, seeded #1, playing against George Fox, seeded #2, starting at 12 p.m. (PDT). The Bearcats and Linfield will play Friday's second game. Video and Live Stats will be available.
Teams losing on Friday will battle each other on Saturday, April 21 at 10 a.m. Winners on Friday will meet in Saturday's second game at 1 p.m. The winner of Saturday's early game will take on the loser of the Saturday's second game at 4 p.m. to complete the second day of competition. The two remaining teams after Saturday will play at 12 p.m. on Sunday for the championship, with a second championship game set for 3 p.m. if both teams have one loss.
The Bearcats have been led by strong pitching. Matt Steindorf (Jr., RHP, Granite Bay, CA/Granite Bay HS) leads the team with an 8-3 record and a 2.71 earned run average. His eight wins rank first in the NWC. Steindorf has struck out 50 batters in 79 2/3 innings, while alloweing just 12 walks and holding opponents to a .252 batting average. He has thrown two nine-inning complete games and one eight-inning complete game that was ended due to darkness. Brandon Nelson (Jr., RHP, Murrieta, CA/Vista Murrieta HS) adds a 6-5 record and 4.25 ERA for the Bearcats. Nelson has thrown 65 2/3 innings this season and has recorded 47 strikeouts. He has limited opponents to a .266 batting average.
Willamette's pitching staff has achieved a 3.90 team ERA with 202 strikeouts in 323 innings pitched. Opponents are batting just .261 against the Bearcats.
On offense, Connor Bailey (Jr., LF, San Diego, CA/Scripps Ranch HS) leads the way for Willamette with a .367 batting average. He ranks first in NCAA Division III and the NWC with 13 home runs and 105 total bases. He has belted nine doubles and three triples, while scoring a team-high 39 runs and driving in a team-leading 45 RBIs. He owns a solid .755 slugging percentage and leds the Bearcats with a .452 on-base percentage.
Jack Brett (Sr., C, Aurora, CO/Regis Jesuit HS) follows with a .362 battting average. Brett has pounded out nine doubles and eight home runs. He has recorded 23 RBIs. As Willamette's starting catcher, he has earned 129 putouts and a .993 fielding percentage. Perry Van Eckhardt (Sr., CF, El Cerrito, CA/El Cerrito HS) is hitting .333 with eight doubles and four homers. He is 12 of 16 on stolen bases and has scored 34 runs, while contributing 23 RBIs.
Also hitting over .300 with at least 37 at bats on the season are Mason Fessler (Sr., DH/INF, Woodburn, OR/Blanchet Catholic School) at .317, Tyler Janitz (Jr., SS, Modesto, CA/Joseph A. Gregori HS) at .313 and Eric Del Prado (Sr., 1B, El Segundo, CA/Loyola HS) at .309. Fessler has played in 132 games with 118 starts in his career and has a .290 career batting averag. Janitz has contributed 14 runs, 12 RBIs and four doubles this season despite missing about 10 games due to illness. Del Prado has provided WU with 42 RBis this season, while pounding out nine doubles, one triple and four home runs. He has made 297 putouts and holds Willamette's career putout record (993).
Willamette is making its second consecutive trip to the NWC Tournament. Last year, Willamette reached the championship game of the tournament before losing to Linfield. The Bearcats finished the season with a 28-14 overall record, including 26-12 over the NWC regular season schedule.