One-game-at-a-time approach serves program well
That D.J. Whittemore's 300th victory came at the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series last weekend didn't make it any more special than victory No. 1. Whittemore earned his 300th victory as head coach of the Western Nevada College baseball program on Sunday as his Wildcats routed Cisco, Texas, 9-3.
"That's awesome," said WNC pitcher Dylan Baker after learning of his coach's milestone. "He's the greatest coach I've ever had. He cares about his players and knows what he's doing."
The victory extended WNC's season and kept the Wildcats in the running for the school's first national championship before being overtaken by No. 1-ranked Iowa Western 6-4 on Sunday. Whittemore's game-by-game approach keeps him and his players focused on the moment.
"I feel the next victory is going to be most special regardless of a running total," he said. Whittemore's teams have averaged more than 44 wins per season to allow him to reach the 300-win milestone in only seven seasons. His success has certainly earned the respect of his Scenic West Athletic Conference peers, including College of Southern Idaho's Boomer Walker.
"He does a tremendous job," said Walker, who has been a coach at CSI for 17 years, including the past eight as the head coach. "The thing about D.J. is you are always going to play a team with unbelievable preparation."
Even in the program's start-from-scratch first season in 2006, Whittemore's team won 37 games.
"Absolutely, that season surprised me," Whittemore said. "We had some leadership on that team in 2006 that worked hard enough to deserve to win." The core of that team was from Sierra Vista's 2005 state championship club, a team that went through similar circumstances as the Wildcats. "They built it from a first-year program when they were freshmen to walking out as state champions four years later," Whittemore said. "They understood what it was like to build a program and what it was like to win."
The immediate success and lack of growing pains at WNC surprised Walker.
"Perception-wise, you have to come in and take your lumps. He proved that to be untrue," Walker said. "That's a credit to D.J. and his staff. To get a program up and running and win, that's something you don't see very often."
Whittemore came to WNC after spending a season coaching at Feather River College in Quincy, Calif., and winning a state championship at Reno's Wooster High in 2002.
"I was fortunate to surround myself with some great people and great coaches," Whittemore said. "Anytime something special like that happens, a lot of things have to come together right. I was fortunate to have the cohesiveness and chemistry on our team in that first season and also fortunate to have an incredible surface to practice and play on every day."
Five pitchers from his first team went on to pitch professionally, beginning a trend of the program cultivating and developing top-notch hurlers.
"That was an incredible group and set a really great tone … expectations have always been high," Whittemore said.
By his second season, Whittemore's team went all the way to the JUCO World Series and placed fifth. In 2009, he piloted the Wildcats to a school-record 48 wins and the school's second appearance in the JUCO World Series. That team lost twice to eventual national champion Howard College and finished third.
The program's success rate has continued to rise during the past two seasons with WNC winning 93 games. Baker said Whittemore's thoroughness and preparedness put the team in position to win every time out.
"He's all about the scouting report," Baker said. "He keeps us in everything to make sure we're focused."
In all, Whittemore's teams have won three Scenic West Athletic Conference titles, three district titles and three Region 18 championships. In addition, 79 players have furthered their baseball careers in professional ball or with four-year colleges.
Walker said he looks forward to each meeting with the Wildcats with Whittemore in the opposing dugout.
"You know it's just going to be baseball when we play them," Walker said. "There's not going to be a lot of hooting and hollering. I look forward to the next battle."
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