Not all Tri-City baseball fans will be glued to the goings-on this weekend at Gesa Stadium.
Yes, the Class 3A and 4A state baseball championships are the only diamond show in town, but several local players will be in Appleton, Wis., with their eyes on something pretty big as well.
A national title.
Former Kennewick players Kevin Valerio and Landon Scott, both seniors, and freshman Dan Scheibe of Hanford are key contributors for the Whitworth Pirates, who are in the midst of the greatest season in school history and open the NCAA Division III finals Friday.
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The upstart Pirates, who heavily rely on freshmen and sophomores, were picked to finish sixth in their conference, but they are one of just eight teams still alive in the D-III title chase. Whitworth (30-14-1) opens with the top-ranked and defending champion Marietta Pioneers (42-7) from Ohio. Southridge graduate Brandon Ellendt has seen spot duty on the mound for Whitworth, and freshman Chris Synoground of Hanford also is on the team.
Game time Friday is 5:45 p.m. PDT, and Scheibe — the Pirates’ top thrower — is set to start.
“It’s really cool,” Scheibe said this week while making a quick stop home. “I think the seniors appreciate it more than us freshmen because coming into college (this year), this is my college experience — making it to the world series.
“The seniors won 10 games as freshmen, barely made it back to .500 last year. Now, we’re conference champions, regional champions, and we have a shot at national champions.
“It’s real cool for the seniors.”
Seniors such as Valerio and Scott, who like Scheibe were named to the all-region team last weekend and are nearing the end of decorated seasons.
Valerio was the regional MVP after hitting .439 (7-for-16) and driving in seven runs. Scheibe turned in 131⁄3 scoreless innings, tossing a shutout in the regional opener and then getting the save with 4 1⁄3 innings in the deciding game.
Scott, a four-year starter for the Pirates and multiple all-Northwest Conference selection, was on the Kennewick Lions state championship team in 2008. Valerio, a D-III Gold Glove-winning outfielder, graduated from Kennewick in 2007.
It has been a standout freshman season for Scheibe, an NWC first-team selection after going 7-2 with a 2.49 ERA. He said the biggest adjustment has been going from a power pitcher to using more finesse, and his go-to pitch now is a slider instead of the split-finger fastball.
But one of his best assets, Scheibe said, has been a big-hitting offense stacking up runs. The Pirates are hitting .305 as a team and average better than seven runs a game.
As for the nerves that can come from pitching on this big a stage for the first time, Scheibe expects to keep them under control.
“I really love it,” he said of the pressure. “I feel like if you don’t love it, you shouldn’t be playing. It brings out the best in me.”
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