May 7, 2012

Wildcats Tentatively Scheduled to Play CSI in First Game

WNC Pursues Third Region XVIII Championship

The Region XVIII Tournament baseball title has been an elusive achievement for some very successful Western Nevada College teams of late.

Last year, the Wildcats were poised to win the regional in front of their home fans, advancing into the finals without a defeat. But Salt Lake came through the losers' bracket to beat the Wildcats back to back and abruptly end WNC's season. The year before that, Western Nevada lost to College of Southern Nevada in the finals after winning two tough games in the losers' bracket.

In order to claim its first region title in three years and third overall, WNC will need to do a better job of closing out games, particularly against Salt Lake. The Wildcats have allowed three leads to slip away against the Bruins, leading to three of their four defeats against the Scenic West Athletic Conference champions.

WNC (42-13 overall) will open the Region XVIII Tournament at 2:30 p.m. (PST) on May 10 in West Jordan, Utah. The Wildcats' likely opponent will be College of Southern Idaho, a club they have beaten eight times in eight tries this season. That successful trend doesn't make WNC Coach D.J. Whittemore feel any better.

"More than ever in the postseason, the mantra of playing one game at a time becomes paramount," Whittemore said. "It doesn't matter who we play; they are going to be dangerous. We're gonna do what we've working hard to do: throw low strikes and make plays. Pitching and defense wins championships."

Top-seeded Salt Lake (40-8 overall) will play the lowest-seeded winner from the first-round games played on May 9 at Cate Field, which is located in West Jordan, a suburb of Salt Lake City. Fourth-seeded College of Southern Nevada (35-21) plays fifth-seeded Colorado Northwestern (7-40) in one opening-round game, while third-seeded CSI (32-22) clashes with sixth-seeded Eastern Utah (13-41) in the other.

If Salt Lake and WNC win their initial games, they will meet for a spot in the finals at 11 a.m. (PST) May 11. Qualifying for the championship game ensures that team of a spot in next week's district tournament.

"We're not worried about hosting a tournament, we're not worried about winning the region tournament; the only thing we're worried about is playing at 3:30 p.m. (MST) on Thursday," Whittemore said.

Whittemore's current club has compiled the fourth-most wins in program history, relying on a strong pitching staff featuring three starters with seven victories or more and a team earned run average of 2.13. The Wildcats are also collectively hitting .305, with Mike Umscheid leading the way at .361.

"They take a lot of pride. You don't win 42 games for nothing," Whittemore said. "In a lot of ways, it was one of the finest regular seasons we've ever had. As I know, teams are ultimately judged by performance in the postseason. The jury is going to be out for 2012 for a little while longer."

Umscheid and Cole Ferguson's hot hitting last weekend at Salt Lake gives the Wildcat lineup extra firepower and won't make Whittemore's job of writing out a starting lineup any easier. Umscheid collected seven hits and four RBI in the four games against Salt Lake, and Ferguson delivered four hits and five RBI.

"We strive to have great depth," Whittemore said. "It feels good to have a lot of guys confident. It gives us plenty of good options in terms of who's starting, depending on which pitchers we're gonna face. Each pitcher has strengths and weaknesses, and it's fun to try to match up."

As a result, Whittemore will hold off naming a game 1 starter until he knows the opponent.

"This team's strength is quality and depth of pitching. Unfortunately, you only get to pitch one guy at a time," Whittemore said.

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