February 27, 2012

WNC Heads for Colorado

SWAC Season Opens This Weekend

If the Scenic West Athletic Conference title comes down to pitching, the Western Nevada College baseball team has to like its chances.

Pitching has piloted Western Nevada to an 11-5 non-conference record. The Wildcats have pitched to a 1.98 team earned run average, with two starters compiling a 0.68 or lower ERA.

“We thought pitching would be the strength of this team, although they are exceeding expectations,” said WNC Coach D.J. Whittemore. “They worked hard and made improvements over the winter, and they are reaping the benefits of the work they put in.”

The Wildcats begin the defense of their 2011 conference championship on March 2, when they open a four-game set against Colorado Northwestern Community College in Rangely, Colo.

Snow is in Rangely’s forecast three times this week, so Whittemore is unsure when and where the games will be played.

Experience has triggered WNC’s dominant start on the mound. Whittemore returns three of his four starting pitchers from last year’s team that went 37-3 in the SWAC regular season: Anthony Consiglio, Andrew Woeck and Brandon Jackson.

Woeck (2-1) has stepped up as the No. 1 performer so far, with two scoreless performances and a 0.48 ERA. He has 24 strikeouts in 18 2/3 innings and has complemented his starts with several key relief spots that have netted him two saves.

The starting rotation revealed depth in the preseason as Dylan Baker (3-0, 0.68), and Tyler Spencer (3-1.53 ERA) have been impressive. Spencer and Matt Robertson are the top returners in the bullpen, but Spencer’s move to the starting rotation appears to be permanent.

Making the early season numbers more impressive is that only one WNC pitcher has allowed a homer in 16 games, and four of those matchups were played with aluminum bats. The Wildcats and the other five SWAC teams use wooden bats during the conference season and in most preseason games.

“They’ve been commanding the bottom of the strike zone, and our depth is excellent,” said Whittemore. “The internal competition is outstanding, and the leadership of our pitching staff is one of the strengths of our team.”

Salt Lake Community College, the defending Region 18 champs, is off to a solid start as well, and pitching has been a primary reason why the Bruins are 9-2. In 85 innings, the Bruins have allowed just 15 earned runs and sport a 1.59 team ERA.

“Salt Lake is obviously the favorite,” said Whittemore, whose club has won two of the past three conference titles. “They’ve only given up 15 runs on the season, they have a lot of speed to contend with, and they return most of the team that won last year’s region championship.”

Salt Lake was ranked 17th in the preseason poll by Collegiate Baseball and is the only SWAC school given preseason recognition by the National Junior College Athletic Association, which ranked the Bruins 17th.

Western Nevada and Salt Lake meet March 30-31 at John L. Harvey Field and conclude the conference season May 4-5 in Salt Lake City.

Salt Lake, however, will have its hands full in the opening weekend of conference play, travelling to Southern Nevada for four games. Southern Nevada has won nine straight games and has a 13-3 overall record.

“Southern Nevada is hitting over .300 as a team and scoring a bunch of runs,” Whittemore said. “I expect they are going to have a fabulous team.”
College of Southern Idaho, which has a 10-5 preseason mark, should also be in the thick of the conference title chase, according to Whittemore.
“CSI is more than dangerous,” Whittemore said. “They never have a down year. Their recruiting network is massive, and they bring in talent from throughout the West Coast.”

Whittemore also enjoys the competitive spirit and sportsmanship that CSI consistently brings to the diamond.

“They keep their mouths shut and play hard; it makes for good baseball,” he said.

Going into the wood bat conference season, the Wildcats are hitting .259, with AJ Hernandez leading the way with a .414 average. Other top averages belong to Dillon Ness at .339, Neil Lawhorn .333, Tony Guidara .333 and Zach Hendrix .316. Mike Umscheid .293 and Alex Schmidt .286.

Ness has hit two of the team’s four homers, swatted six doubles and driven in a team-leading 13 runs. Derrick Pitts has provided 10 RBI.

After the four-game series with Colorado Northwestern, the Wildcats will return to Carson City to play their home-opening series against College of Eastern Utah on March 9-10 at John L. Harvey Field.

Press Release: February 25, 2012

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