By Ben • Ben Schorzman • 

Linfield baseball is top Cat

Following a rash of upsets including to then-No. 1 Salisbury, Linfield (18-3) earned nine first-place votes in the NCBWA/ to leap from sixth to the top spot this week. In the Collegiate Baseball poll, the Wildcats earned 433 points to move up from fourth to first.

Linfield swept Whitworth in a three-game series last weekend and plays its first series as the No. 1 team in the country today and Saturday vs. Puget Sound.

“It’s definitely big that we got the ranking,” Linfield senior second baseman Tim Wilson said. “I think it’s a big step in our program.”

Linfield’s first full year as a Division III program came during the 1998-99 school year. Before then the Wildcats played at the NAIA level. While it’s unclear if the Wildcats were ever ranked No. 1 during the season during its time at NAIA, they did win two national championships in 1966 and 1971, and it would figure Linfield finished those seasons ranked No. 1.

When the rankings were released late Monday night, Wilson said word quickly spread among players. Their sixth-year coach, Scott Brosius, wasn’t as thrilled about the nod. He followed a time-honored athletics tradition of downplaying the importance of being ranked No. 1.

“The rankings are pretty meaningless to be honest,” said Brosius, who played for Linfield from 1985-87. “It’s nice because it’s a recognition to know we’re having a good season, but it’s really, truthfully a meaningless ranking because it has nothing to do with playoffs, seeding or anything like that.

“Our future is completely dependent on our conference and winning the conference. As opposed to some other sports and other levels where a national poll might come into play in terms of seeding or at large, it has nothing to do at all with our becoming a playoff team. Nothing changes for us at all. We’re very focused on this weekend and trying to have a successful weekend vs. UPS.”

Brosius added that it’s hard — especially at the Division III level — to get an accurate ranking because there are so many teams and no one has time to watch every team play.

“Who really knows who is good?” Brosius said. “We’re winning games, and that’s great that it’s moving us up in the polls, but more importantly it puts us on top of the conference at the halfway point. But we’re at the halfway point. We need to have an equally successful second half, and if we do that then we’ll be in the playoffs and that’s ultimately our goal.

“The only time the national rankings mean anything are at the end of the year. If you’re ranked No. 1 at the end of the year you’ve had a great year.”

The Wildcats went about their business during their spring break, enjoying the fact they didn’t have to also attend classes. Practices started earlier this week, which Wilson said was good for focusing and dealing with the reality of being No. 1. Still, there’s no added pressure, he said.

“Pressure is just something you put on yourself,” he said. “Just because we are now ranked No. 1 doesn’t mean we should come out and change the way we’ve been playing.”

It has been a rocky season and a half for the Wildcats. Entering the 2012 season, Linfield was enjoying its typical success after back-to-back 20-4 seasons and Northwest Conference championships. Expectations were fairly high last year, and the Wildcats climbed to No. 2 in the polls by the midway point in the season. Then there was a stretch last April where Linfield went 2-8. It plummeted in the rankings and despite winning its final four games of the season, Linfield was left out of the playoffs. The university still hosted an NCAA regional, though, and players had to watch as NWC opponent Whitworth won at Roy Helser Field.

“My point of view, we didn’t deserve to get in with how we played earlier in the year,” Wilson said of the 2012 season. “That gave us some motivation, especially seeing Whitworth win it on our home field. Made guys think about it. We don’t want to go through that again. We take pride in winning the conference every year. You could see from day one in the fall the different focus guys had. That was a big step we took.”

So far, that focus has paid off. The Wildcats have been dominant on defense and pitching and are averaging 11 hits a game.

Brosius said motivation was never a worry this year.

“The guys are playing with a chip on their shoulder after hosting a regional and watching another team win it on their field,” he said. “Focus hasn’t been an issue, intensity hasn’t been an issue. This has been a very driven team. I don’t see that changing from week to week.”

Note: Because of the Easter weekend, Linfield moved the series with UPS up a day. Today’s doubleheader starts at noon, and the teams will play a single game at noon Saturday.

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