Wildcats Win NJCAA Western District Playoffs
Western Nevada College baseball team is heading to the NJCAA World Series for the second time in three years after downing Central Arizona College 10-7 Saturday in the Western District finals. WNC beat the Vaqueros twice in the double elimination playoffs to secure the title, avoiding a tiebreaker third game. The victory sent the jubilant Wildcats into a massive pileup at midfield, and brought coaches and parents alike to tears.
"Spectacular, grateful, humble, lucky," said Head Coach DJ Whittemore when asked how he felt about winning the title. "These are great kids from great families, and I have the best coaching staff in the world."
There were three lead changes in a game that featured seven outstanding pitchers, five with ERAs under 2.0, along with 22 hits. The outcome was unclear until the final out as the Vaqueros, down 10-6, scored a home run in the first at-bat of the ninth inning to move within three. Western ace closer Kramer Champlin allowed two runners on base so the tying run was on the mound, but struck out two batters and Lance Ray caught the final ball - a high flier to right field, to start the celebration.
WNC scored two runs in the bottom of the first inning on a hit by catcher Jerome Pena, aided by one of Central Arizona's four errors. The Vaqueros tied the score in the second and went ahead 5-2 before Western scored two in the bottom of the fourth on a Vaquero error and an RBI by second baseman Mike Stiles. Shortstop Daniel Zylstra added an RBI double in the fifth to pull WNC within one at 6-5.
The sixth inning belonged to the Wildcats as they held the Vaqueros scoreless with nimble fielding by Zylstra and first baseman Eric Maupin, then scored five runs to take the lead for good. Pena smacked a three-run homer, while centerfielder Mike Long and Zylstra each added singles.
Afterward, Pena said he and his teammates have improved throughout the season by getting better one day at a time. "We've been playing one pitch at a time all season," he said. "We've gotten confidence from playing with each other." This season, this championship, though, "It's the best baseball memory I've ever had," he said.
"Work and win," echoed Whittemore. "We win because we work. It's about creating a culture and painting a vision for every day excellence, humility and respect."
Now the Wildcats are heading for Colorado and are slated to face No. 1 ranked Howard College of Texas at 10 a.m. Saturday.
Whittemore said Howard's 57-1 record might seem intimidating to the Wildcats, 45-12, but he doesn't mind being the underdog. "We're not that far behind, and we relish that role. It takes five wins to be champs, and you have to be good and lucky." In his mind, the Wildcats are both.
Press Release: May 17, 2009
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