WNC Return to Salt Lake City for Third Straight Week
Western Nevada College's baseball team is spending so much time in the Salt Lake City area recently that the WIldcats might be mistaken for residents.
The Wildcats are returning to Cate Field in West Jordan, Utah, for the third straight week. This time, the stakes are the highest that they've been for program since 2009 as the Wildcats are one of four teams competing in the National Junior College Athletic Association Western District tournament.
"We'll drive wherever there are games … I'll drive to Alabama," said WNC Coach D.J. Whittemore.
WNC (44-15) opens the double-elimination tournament at 6 p.m. (PST) Thursday against defending district champion Central Arizona (47-13). Region 18 winner Salt Lake (43-8) meets Lamar, Colo., (46-10) in the other opening-round game.
That familiarity with Salt Lake City has, at the very least, established some team favorite hot spots.
"Now we have it down where we go to eat before going to the yard," said WNC sophomore outfielder Dillon Ness.
Western Nevada took three of four games from Central Arizona early in the season, outcomes that mean little now, according to Whittemore.
"Honestly, I don't think we caught them on their best weekend," Whittemore said. "They are going to be better than what we saw in February; that was more than three months ago."
In the four meetings, WNC won 15-4, 2-0 and 14-3, with Central Arizona avoiding the sweep with a 7-4 triumph.
If Salt Lake and WNC should share the field for the ninth time this season at some point during the tournament, Whittemore isn't worried about the residual effect of losing toe the Bruins five times, including three times by one run.
"Our team feels like when we play well, we're good enough to beat anybody," he said. "It's not a fluke that Salt Lake is ranked in the top 5 in country; they are a formidable talent."
Ness, who leads the Wildcats with 45 RBI, doesn't doubt his team's chances should it meet Salt Lake again.
"We don't feel like they have an edge on us," Ness said. "We've outplayed them every game, and that's the way the ball bounces sometimes. We approach it like they are another team."
The Wildcats haven't been blown out in a single game this season. Of their 15 losses, seven have come by one run, and their largest margin of defeat has been by three runs.
"We are in every game, and sometimes we have to make one more play or one more hit against the other team," Whittemore said. "We've played in a lot of close games, and we're ready to handle that kind of pressure."
All four teams' hitters will have a different feel in the batter's box this week. The clubs have used wooden bats for the most part to this point but will have aluminum bats in their hands the rest of the way.
"It is what it is," Whittemore said. "It's not going to make a difference."
If the Wildcats win their tournament opener, they will play at 2 p.m. Friday. An opening-game loss will send the Wildcats into an 11 a.m. elimination game Friday. The winner of the four-team tournament advances to the NJCAA World Series on May 26-June 2 in Grand Junction, Colo.
Listen to the Wildcats online at www.ustream.tv/channel/western-nevada-baseball or by using the tournament stat tracker at www.slccbruins.com/sports/2010/3/18/GEN_0318105121.aspx?id=48.
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