Finding that silver lining
The two losses gave the 2012-13 Wildcats the dubious honor of being the worst in program history — both in number of losses (21) and winning percentage (.190). It’s also the fewest wins by a Linfield men’s team since the Wildcats went 3-10 during the 1924-25 season.
It was a tough task to ask the Wildcats to stay above the low-water mark heading into the last weekend of the season. Linfield was 4-19 but faced the daunting challenge of playing the two best teams in the Northwest Conference. Now that the dust has settled, the weekend went much like the rest of the season has. The Wildcats (4-21, 3-13) played aggressively throughout the two games, kept the score close for a time but faded.
The Wildcats lost 10 of their final 11 games of the season.
“You try to find the silver ling,” Linfield coach Larry Doty said last Wednesday. “It’s been a struggle. Any time you have as few wins as we have, you try to find solace in other positives.”
After Friday’s loss to Whitworth — one in which the Wildcats didn’t score for the first 7 minutes, 57 seconds of the game — Doty said it’s hard to start any game down 13-0, let alone against a top-10 team in the nation.
“Sometimes we were the most aggressive,” he said. “Other times we weren’t. That’s a good team.”
Doty said something else that, throughout all the losing, has remained true this season.
“It would have been easy for guys to tank,” he said, “and they’re just not doing that.
“The group, in general, has continued to work hard and fight.
Doty admitted the past two seasons have been trying. The Wildcats were 5-20 last year, and he said going 10-40 was tough. He, of course, was adding a win vs. Whitman to the two-year total. As it is, the Wildcats are 9-41 in the past two seasons and have finished in last place in the NWC the past three seasons.
Granted, the Wildcats struggled for much of the second half of the season after losing sophomore Andrew Batiuk for the season a month ago. Batiuk is the leading scorer in the conference, but doctors found stress fractures in both his feet, and he is having surgery in the offseason to repair them.
“(Andrew is) going to give you scoring and rebounding and a presence inside,” Doty said. “He’s just a guy who understands the game.
“With Batiuk in the lineup, he makes everyone else in the lineup better. We’re missing that big piece of the puzzle.”
Doty referred to an example of the presence Batiuk brings to the team after the Wildcats lost 57-56 to Cal State Maritime in the second game of the season. Batiuk brought the team together on the court and spoke at length about coming together.
“That’s the kind of leadership you like to see,” Doty said. “That’s been the little bit of a challenge this year. There has been a leadership void because our best players aren’t our upperclassmen.”
Linfield loses two players from this season’s team. Zach Meikle is a senior and will graduate in the spring, and sophomore Brandon Harris is quitting the team to transfer to Linfield’s Portland campus to take nursing classes.
Doty seemed to find the silver lining he was looking for in the four-win season. The Wildcats are returning 18 players that played.
“Not many years in our program where we would get that many guys on the floor,” he said.
The Wildcats again enter the offseason extremely down, and Doty said he did feel the pressure mounting for the program to be successful again. He said it’s the pressure he puts on himself, but it’s still there.
“There was a lot of jubilation but also lots of frustration,” Doty said. “All you can do is keep putting one foot in front of the other and do your best.”