By Robert McKinney, Assistant Athletics Director, Communications
SPOKANE, Wash. -- Willamette University's baseball team begins the Spokane Regional on Thursday, April 17 as the 2018 NCAA Baseball Tournament gets underway. The Bearcats will play Chapman University (Calif.) at Avista Stadium in the opening game of the Regional at 11 a.m. (PDT). Other first round games in the Spokane Regional on Thursday include University of Redlands (Calif.) versus University of Texas-Dallas at 2:30 p.m. and Concordia University Texas against Texas Lutheran University at 6 p.m.
Chapman is seeded #1 in the Spokane Regional at 34-11 overall, while Willamette is seeded #6 at 28-17. Redlands is seeded #2 with a 33-11 record, and UT-Dallas is seeded #5 at 30-15. Concordia Texas is seeded #3 at 29-16, and Texas Lutheran is seeded #4 with a 34-9 record.
The Bearcats have been led by Matt Steindorf (Jr., RHP, Granite Bay, CA/Granite Bay HS), Connor Bailey (Jr., LF, San Diego, CA/Scripps Ranch HS) and Jack Brett (Sr., C, Aurora, CO/Regis Jesuit HS), but the true strength of the team is that most of its players have contributed to the team's success.
"Nearly every player on the roster came up with at least one big hit or a key play on defense, or a crucial out on the mound," Willamette Head Coach Aaron Swick said. "We put an emphasis on practicing those situations during the week to allow the players to feel more confident when those opportunities happen on the weekend."
Steindorf, Bailey and Brett stand out as First Team All-Northwest Conference selections with exceptional statistics.
So far this season, Steindorf is 10-3 on the mound with a 2.57 earned run average over 94 2/3 innings pitched. He is tied for fifth in NCAA Division III in victories and has thrown eight or more innings in six of his 13 appearances. He leads the Bearcats with 63 strikeouts and has allowed only 14 walks. He has limited Willamette's opponents to a .237 batting average. He is fourth all-time for the Bearcats with 24 career wins (24-7).
Bailey is tied for second in the nation with 14 home runs and is tied for fifth with 123 total bases. He is ranked 24th with a .728 slugging percentage and is 26th with 53 RBIs. Bailey leads the Bearcats with a .367 batting average, a .446 on-base percentage and 62 hits. He is tied for the team lead with 11 doubles and is first with four triples. He owns a .345 career batting average.
Brett is batting .357 this season with 29 RBIs, and is tied for the team lead with 11 doubles. He has belted eight home runs and has earned a .628 slugging percentage. On defense, he has achieved a .994 fielding percentage with 149 putouts, 24 assists and one error. Brett's career statistics include a .293 batting average, 14 doubles and 15 home runs. He has made 316 career putouts.
Willamette's surge to the NWC Tournament and the NCAA Spokane Regional resulted from a 19-6 record after the Bearcats began the season with a 9-11 mark through 20 games. Almost all of the field players have improved their hitting and offensive efficiency during the run to postseason play and many have made key contributions.
Mason Fessler (Sr., DH, Woodburn, OR/Blanchet Catholic School) is now hitting .319 for the season with a .441 on-base percentage. Perry Van Eckhardt (Sr., CF, El Cerrito, CA/El Cerrito HS) is batting .318 and ranks second on the team with 41 runs scored. He is tied with Bailey and Brett for the team lead with 11 doubles, and has smacked five homers.
Eric Del Prado (Sr., 1B, El Segundo, CA/Loyola HS) is hitting .298, while blasting 10 doubles and five homers. He has driven in 47 runs. On defense, he has set a Willamette single season record with 376 putouts and has established a new school record with 1,072 career putouts. Tyler Janitz (Jr., SS, Salida, CA/Joseph A. Gregori HS) owns a .290 batting average and ranks ninth in Division III with 0.29 sacrifice bunts per game (10 in 34 games).
At key times, Brendan Natuzzi (Jr. 3B/RHP, Sonoma, CA/Justin-Siena HS), Joseph Faudskar (So., CF/RHP, Phoenix, AZ/Pinnacle HS), Troy Conway (Sr., 2B, Moorpark, CA/Moorpark HS), Cameron Igarashi (Sr., RF, Honolulu, HI/Mid-Pacific Institute), and Aaron Fong (Sr., INF, Honolulu, HI/Punahou School) have provided big hits, sacrifice flies, stolen bases, runs scored or RBIs.
Natuzzi is hitting .261 and has nine doubles. Faudskar has scored 15 times and is 9 for 9 on stolen bases. Conway has 31 runs and 28 RBIs to go along with six doubles, and is 6 for 8 on stolen bases. Igarashi also has scored 31 times, while hitting six doubles. Fong has filled in due to injuries and has achieved eight runs plus seven RBIs, while going 5 for 6 on stolen base attempts.
Honorable Mention All-NWC recognition was earned by Del Prado, Conway, Van Eckhardt and Janitz.
Willamette's pitching staff has gained a 4.20 team ERA with 240 strikeouts in 394 innings pitched. Brandon Nelson (Jr., RHP, Murrieta, CA/Vista Murrieta HS) has provided a 6-6 record with 48 strikeouts in 71 innings. Natuzzi has claimed a 3-0 record with a 1.59 ERA, mostly in relief, but also including a start in the NWC Tournament. Faudskar holds a 2.08 ERA and nine strikeouts in 8 2/3 innings over six relief appearances, and has limited foes to a .179 batting average.
Nathan Gilman (Jr., RHP, Chino Hills, CA/Diamond Ranch HS) is 2-1 with a 2.84 ERA and 24 strikeouts in 38 innings. Brandon Murillo (Fr., RHP, Rancho Cucamonga, CA/Los Osos HS) has supplied a 2.28 ERA and a 1-0 record, and is tied for 26th in Division III with seven saves. Jason Snare (Fr., LHP, Seattle, WA/Bainbridge HS) has registered 18 strikeouts in 31 1/3 innings and is 1-2 with one save. Liam Keefe (Fr., LHP, Lake Arrowhead, CA/Rim of the World HS) is 2-0 with a 3.38 ERA. Benjamin Whitten (So., RHP, Danville, CA/San Ramon Valley HS) is 3-3 on the season.
About the Chapman Panthers
Chapman, which won the Southern California Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Tournament title, has three players who were named First Team All-SCIAC. Tristan Kevitch (Jr., OF) ranks fifth in the SCIAC with a .382 batting average. Gavin Blodgett (Sr., 3B/UT) is second in the SCIAC with 47 RBIs. Kevitch and Blodgett are tied for third in the conference with seven home runs. Matt Mogollon (Jr., RHP) owns an 8-3 record and has struck out 88 batters, while contributing a 2.30 ERA.
Other top players are Jared Love (Sr., 1B) and Tyler Peck (Jr., RHP). Love has smacked a school record 22 career home runs for the Panthers. He is batting .324 and has belted five homers this year. Peck is 7-2 and leads the squad with a 2.27 ERA on the mound. He ranks third in Division III by allowing just 4.67 hits per game. He is 13th in the nation in strikeouts with 96 on the season.
As a team, the Panthers rank second in Division III with 50 double plays on defense. Willamette is 28th in Division III with 37 double plays.