Washington ‘playing with house money’ during its first College World Series appearance

Washington ‘playing with house money’ during its first College World Series appearance
Washington’s Jonathan Schiffer, No. 3, leaps with Willie MacIver as teammate Joe Wainhouse, foreground, looks on after the Huskies won their super regional opener. The Huskies are making their first CWS appearance. (The Associated Press)

One of the first questions first-time College World Series participants like Washington face is whether the team will be overwhelmed by the moment.

After what Washington went through to get to Omaha, third baseman Willie MacIver said, the last thing he’ll worry about is nerves.

“We’re playing with house money,’’ said the junior from Pleasant Hill, California. “We’ve been playing with house money for a while because we’ve been playing playoff baseball for about the past five weeks.

“We know we’re hot. We have confidence in our lineup, and with our pitching in knowing we can win. No opponent scares us.’’

To find out when the Huskies (35-24), who face Mississippi State on Saturday night, were truly terrified, go back to April 23.

Washington lost at home that day to Texas-Rio Grande Valley to fall to 18-18.

“At that point, we were playing for our lives,’’ MacIver said. “We wanted to make the postseason because we knew the whole time we had something special with this team. The feeling of chemistry and family we have is really rare for an entire team.

“The only way to get to Omaha is to be selfless.’’

To drive that point home, senior outfielder K.J. Brady called a meeting after the Rio Grande Valley loss.

“K.J. was the ringleader,’’ MacIver said. “He got us all together and pumped up. We started winning some games and actually believing we could do this. We got rolling and got hot at the right time, and now we’re here. It’s pretty amazing.’’

Washington has gone 17-6 since that meeting, going 3-0 in the Coastal Carolina regional, then sneaking past Cal State Fullerton by scoring a run in the bottom of the ninth inning and two in the bottom of the 10th to pull out the deciding super regional game 6-5.

Washington’s starting pitcher in that win-or-go-home game was Joe DeMers, who allowed one hit through eight innings.

DeMers and MacIver share special status as baseball teammates since the age of 8, playing together in Little League, middle school, high school and college. Joining them through the first three stages before going to other colleges were Oregon State outfielder Trevor Larnach and Cal outfielder Jeff Mitchell.

“It’s been like having three other brothers,’’ MacIver said. “How close we’ve been through all this is amazing. The first time we all met, we all gravitated toward each other. We had the same interests, played the same video games, played all the sports.

“It was fun, but we also pushed each other. Joe DeMers was so talented when we were young, it really pushed me and Trevor and Jeff to work harder and accomplish something. It fueled our fire for sure.’’

The competition paid off.

In the Major League Baseball draft last week, Larnach went in the first round to Minnesota, MacIver in the ninth to Colorado and DeMers in the 11th to Oakland.

“That’s been our goal since 8 years old,’’ MacIver said. “I knew from the time I was 8 I wanted to play college baseball and be a big leaguer. We all believed that. We had the humbleness and the confidence at the same time to know that if we worked hard, that it would pay off.’’

Before pro ball, MacIver and DeMers have a stop to make at TD Ameritrade Park for the College World Series. That’s a new experience for Washington but not an impossible one.

Two years ago, first-time CWS qualifier Coastal Carolina won the championship.