Watch and Listen to JUCO World Series
For the third time in the seven-year history of the Western Nevada College baseball program, the Wildcats are headed to the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series. The Wildcats secured their reservation to Grand Junction, Colo., with a three-run ninth-inning rally against second-ranked Salt Lake Community College on Saturday. But before the Wildcats stepped on the bus Tuesday to head for Colorado, a large contingent of the student-athletes took the time to walk across the stage at Monday’s graduation ceremonies to pick up their associate degrees.
WNC (47-15) will open the May 26-June 2 double-elimination JUCO World Series tournament against Polk State College of Winter Haven, Fla., (45-10) at 2 p.m. (PST) Saturday at Sam Suplizio Field. The third-ranked Eagles are making their first trip to the JUCO World Series after claiming the Gulf Region 8 district championship.
"We look forward to challenging ourselves this week against the best teams in the country,” WNC Head Coach DJ Whittemore said. “To open with the Florida State Champion and their number one pitcher who looks to be one of the best in the entire country, is exhilarating.
"This year's journey has been made very special by all the disappointment and heartache we have had to endure along the way, but it makes it so sweet to have overcome and persevered," he said. "So many individuals deserve credit for getting this team to this point. And we want to say 'Thank you' to all of them."
Western Nevada, now ranked sixth in the NJCAA poll, eliminated season-long nemesis Salt Lake by beating the Bruins twice on their home field at the Western District tournament last weekend. A week earlier, the Bruins won the Scenic West Athletic Conference title by one game over WNC, then rallied from three runs down to overtake the Wildcats for the Region 18 title. The teams wound up splitting their 10 matchups, seven of which were decided by one run.
"The whole last month of the season was a lesson in perseverance … never giving up on your teammates, believing in what you are doing and feeling good about your preparation," Whittemore said.
WNC can now focus on playing in its first national tournament game since 2009. Then, the Wildcats finished a school-best third by winning three of five contests, and both of WNC’s losses were at the hands of Howard College, the eventual winner with a 63-1 season record.
An opening victory on Saturday will put WNC in a 1 p.m. winners' bracket game on Monday, May 28, while a loss would send the Wildcats into a 1 p.m. losers' bracket contest on Sunday, May 27.
Whittemore's Wildcats also appeared in the 2007 JUCO World Series in only the second year of the program, splitting four games to place fifth. The seventh-year Wildcat skipper offered an explanation why his teams have won once they've reached the national tournament.
"We do play very good teams throughout the season … the Southern Nevada teams we had to beat to go to the World Series in previous years, and this year it was Salt Lake," Whittemore said. "All three years we had to get through Central Arizona in the Western Districts, and they have finished second and third, respectively, at the World Series. We feel very prepared when we get there."
The coach has reiterated throughout this season the belief that his Wildcats are capable of beating any team they face. The team's game-by-game competitiveness has been evident since the opening of the season; WNC hasn't lost a game by more than three runs all season.
"Anytime a team is built on pitching, you have a chance of winning any tournament, World Series or otherwise," said Whittemore, whose pitching staff has a collective 2.34 ERA and not one of his 12 arms has an ERA of more than 4.05.
Polk State has also relied on strong pitching. Alec Asher, the Suncoast Conference pitcher of the year, brings a 12-1 record and 1.38 earned run average to Grand Junction.
"He looks to be one of the best pitchers in the country," Whittemore said. "Scouting reports have him throwing up 97 mph. It's going to be good old country hardball."
The Eagles overcame adversity to win their district crown. In their second district game against Palm Beach, Polk State's Conor Szczerba touched off a celebration by scoring what looked like the deciding run in the ninth inning, but umpires ruled that he didn't touch the plate, and Palm Beach eventually won the game 4-0 in 11 innings. The Eagles then gathered themselves and reeled off four straight wins, including an 8-4 championship victory over Palm Beach.
"Winning the Region 8 Gulf District and winning the Florida state tournament are equally as hard as winning the World Series, that's how good those teams are," Whittemore said.
WATCH OR LISTEN TO THE WILDCATS
Fans who don't attend the games in person still can watch or listen to the Wildcats. WNC baseball voice Chris Graham is making the trip to Grand Junction to call each of the Wildcat games on Internet at ustream.tv/channel/western-nevada-baseball. The games will also appear live on Internet at www.njcaatv.ihigh.com or on iPhone, iPad or Android device at m.ihigh.com, then click on "media".
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