Wildcats prevail under wintery conditions
Western Nevada College Baseball opened their conference season with a four-game sweep of Colorado Northwestern Community College, Saturday-Sunday, March 3-4 in Rangely, Colo. The 4-0 start in the Scenic West Athletic Conference (SWAC) puts the Wildcats in a first-place tie with College of Southern Idaho, and one game ahead of Salt Lake (3-1).
After cruising to 18-0 and 7-1 victories on March 3, WNC had a tougher time on day two to close out the back-to-back doubleheader sweeps, winning 5-2 and 9-8.
Strong pitching from WNC’s Dylan Baker and Tyler Spencer highlighted the first doubleheader. They pitched nine combined innings, allowing three hits and no runs.
“That might be the best one-two punch we’ve had here,” said WNC Coach D.J. Whittemore.
The series started in overpowering fashion for WNC as Baker worked four no-hit innings and the Wildcats banged out 17 hits for a five-inning mercy-rule victory. Baker didn’t return to the mound in the fifth after his team scored 13 runs in the fourth and four more in the fifth.
“It wasn’t worth sending him back out there. He was sitting there for a long time in cold temperatures and a heavy wind chill,” Whittemore said of playing conditions, which never got any warmer than 33 degrees throughout either game. Whittemore said his pitchers are well aware that individual feats are not a team priority.
“I tell our guys that I’m not worried about individual statistical accomplishments,” Whittemore said.
Dillon Ness and Alex Schmidt collectively knocked in half of the Wildcats’ runs. Ness went 3-4 with five RBIs, and Schmidt tripled in a 3-4 day at the plate that also included four RBIs and three runs scored. Zach Hendrix was 2-3 and touched home plate three times, while Mike Umscheid was 2-2 with three runs scored and an RBI.
In game two, the Wildcats again delivered on the mound. Spencer tossed five scoreless innings, allowing three hits and striking out three. The bullpen also came through as Anthony Consiglio struck out eight in three innings, and Rayne Raven gave up just one hit in a scoreless ninth inning.
Infielder Taylor Smart ignited the WNC offense by hitting 3-3 with two walks and three RBI. WNC didn’t take control until scoring four times in the seventh inning. Ness provided more punch at the plate for the Wildcats, going 2-5. Raven added a 2-3 plate showing, and Derrick Pitts hit a solo homer.
Temperatures warmed into the mid-40s for the second day of play on March 4. Whittemore said it was a credit to the Spartans’ field maintenance crew that all four games were played.
“They had snow earlier in the week; to get the field playable this time of the year is worth some praise,” he said.
Smart and Ness got the Wildcats off to a quick start in game three as each stroked two-run doubles in the first inning for a 4-0 WNC lead. That was more than enough support for starter Matt Robertson and relievers Brandon Show, Brandon Jackson and Andrew Woeck. Robertson, working on a predetermined pitch count because of being inactive since earlier in the season, allowed one hit and fanned three in three innings. Show tossed 1 2/3 innings and Jackson got the final out of the fifth with the tying run at the plate, setting up Woeck for his third save of the season. Woeck gave up one hit and no walks and retired three hitters on strikes over the last two innings.
Ness finished 2-4 and Smart 2-3 off Spartans’ starter Charles Lutz, who surrendered eight hits in pitching the distance.
The final game of the series was completely different than the first three. WNC overcame two separate Colorado Northwestern leads, and then survived a two-out scare in the ninth to complete the sweep.
The Wildcats retired the first two Spartan hitters in the ninth but a third-strike passed ball stirred a last-gasp rally. Two base hits and a walk followed, but with runners on first and second, Show protected WNC’s one-run lead by getting a fly out to center field for the final out. WNC overcame six errors and eight unearned runs to pull out the win.
“Our offense really bailed us out,” Whittemore said. “It’s a great way to start conference play and to do it on the road makes it more meaningful.”
Pitts provided a pair of solo homers and was intentionally walked with two out and the bases clear in the fourth inning.
A Pitts homer and Hendrix RBI-double tied the score at 4 in the third. After CNCC regained the lead at 5-4, WNC went ahead for good in the fourth when Ness hit a sacrifice fly and Smart singled and scored. Ness extended WNC’s lead to 8-5 with a two-run double in the seventh, and Smart’s sacrifice fly in the ninth put the Wildcats on top, 9-6.
WNC (15-5 overall) can now turn its attention to its first home game series of the season. The Wildcats will play host to College of Eastern Utah, Friday-Saturday, March 9 and 10 at John L. Harvey Field. Games are scheduled for noon and 2 p.m. on March 9 and 11 a.m. and 1 p.m. on March 10.
“It’s a short turnaround,” said Whittemore, whose club was flying home on Monday and wasn’t scheduled to practice until Tuesday.
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