Baseball Team is 6-2 on Season
Over the years, the Western Nevada College baseball team has enjoyed success against regional junior college baseball power Central Arizona. That trend continued last weekend as the Wildcats split a four-game series against the Vaqueros, who are ranked No. 1 by Perfect Game and No. 2 by the National Junior College Athletic Association.
The Wildcats won the opening and final games of the series, 4-2 and 6-3.
Central Arizona took the middle games in Coolidge, Ariz., 3-1 and 4-1. Last year, WNC won four of the five games played against the Vaqueros.
“Going into the series, my expectation was just to play hard,” said WNC Coach D.J. Whittemore. “They have a lot of good players, are really well-coached and play really hard.” Still, “We think we can win every game that we play. I’m impressed with the way our guys competed.”
Central Arizona’s roster is accentuated with a number of players who transfer in from NCAA Division I programs, including Vanderbilt, Oregon, Oregon State, Wichita State and Arkansas, according to Whittemore.
Like they did in a season-opening series sweep of South Mountain (Ariz.) the previous weekend, the Wildcats counted on a variety of pitchers to slow down their opponent.
“When we’re getting into the fourth game of the series in the back end of our bullpen and still pitching that well, (that) is a pretty good accomplishment,” Whittemore said. “The real story is we’re getting a lot of good play out of a lot of different players. Right now, we’re playing like a team.”
Western Nevada opened the series Friday with a 4-2 win at Packard Stadium on the Arizona State University campus in Tempe. Sophomore Brandon Show and two relief pitchers kept the Vaqueros’ bats quiet. Show earned his second win of the season by allowing just two earned runs in five innings. The bullpen made a two-run lead stand up as lefty Brock Pellow worked one-third of an inning and freshman right-hander Luke Eubank threw 3 2/3 scoreless innings for the save.
“Brandon was dynamite, the best I’ve seen him yet,” Whittemore said. “He had knee-high fastball command.”
Freshman Conor Harber powered the offense by hitting 3 for 3, including two triples, and three RBI. Harber’s RBI single tied the score 1-1 in the second inning, and his triple knocked in two runs during WNC’s pivotal three-run fourth.
Donald Glover Jr. narrowly missed a homer, doubling off the top of the fence.
WNC scored four runs, three earned, in four innings, even though Central Arizona ace pitcher Ricky Jacquez struck out eight.
The Vaqueros bounced back to win the next two games of the series as the Wildcats struggled to drive in runs. In the 3-1 defeat on Saturday, WNC was unable to take advantage of seven hits and five walks against three Vaqueros’ hurlers, leaving 10 runners on base.
Central Arizona, however, had trouble scoring as well. Pinch-hitter Josh Lee snapped a 1-1 tie with a two-run double to center in the seventh. The hit on a 10-pitch at-bat followed a walk to Cody Farrell and comebacker by Jordan Dunatov that bounced off the chest of reliever Austin Richmond, whose throw to first was ruled not in time.
“(Phil) Belding had another really good start and gave us a chance to win,” Whittemore said.
In the opening game of a doubleheader on Sunday, Niccioli Blank and Jared Koenig combined to three-hit the Wildcats while fanning seven collectively en route to a 4-1 win. Central Arizona scored all of its runs in the first inning but finished with only five hits.
WNC bounced back to take the series finale 6-3. Once again, the recipe for the Wildcats’ success was solid starting pitching and an effective bullpen.
Freshman right-hander Cody Hamlin allowed just one unearned run in five innings to pick up the victory. Spencer Greer, a 6-foot-5 freshman right-hander, threw 3 2/3 innings of relief before Eubank got the last out with the potential tying run at the plate.
Whittemore credited sophomore catcher Cole Ferguson for his young pitching staff’s fantastic start. “I feel Cole Ferguson’s leadership behind the plate is the reason we’re off to the start we’re off to,” Whittemore said. “He’s largely responsible for bringing this young staff along and give those kids credit for having a great offseason and making a lot of improvements they needed to make.”
Mike Umscheid, AJ Hernandez and Connor Klein fueled the offense in the series-ending win. They each had two hits, including a double.
The Wildcats (6-2) continue their preconference schedule against Pima Community College of Tucson, Ariz., on Friday in Henderson. The teams will play four games at the College of Southern Nevada.
“All the optimism we have is tempered by arch-nemesis Pima this weekend,” said Whittemore. “They pitch, scrap and are very well-coached,” and his club is just 5-9 overall against them.
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