February 12, 2013

Wildcats Take Three of Four Games From Pima

Comeback Victory One for the Record Book

Western Nevada College’s baseball team emerged on top in a weekend series over Pima Community College of Tucson, Ariz., and now looks toward the Southern California byways for four games in Riverside and Ventura.

The Wildcats locked up three of the four games they played in Henderson, leading off with the biggest single game comeback in WNC baseball history.

The eighth-ranked Wildcats rallied from eight runs behind to overtake Pima of Tucson, Ariz., 12-11, and win the opener of a four-game nonconference series. WNC (9-3) went on to claim two more games to capture the series against a club that has enjoyed the upper hand against the Wildcats in the past.

The margin of victory in each contest was three runs or less. WNC won 12-11, 6-3 and 7-5 before stumbling 7-5 Sunday in the series finale.

“It was a great weekend for us, another step in the right direction, learning from mistakes and evaluating personnel,” Head Coach DJ Whittemore said. “The guys are certainly playing hard. I’m proud of the effort to this point.”

In their down-but-not-out triumph to open the series, the Wildcats fell behind 10-2 after five innings. Undeterred, WNC scored three times in sixth, five runs in the eighth and two more in the ninth to win 12-11.

“That’s the largest comeback in program history,” “We came back from 5-0 in the first inning against Eastern Utah two years ago.

Still, said Whittemore, “It’s a double-edged sword. It means we didn’t play well in getting behind. Obviously, I’m happy we came back and found a way to win.”

With a cold front moving into the Las Vegas area on Friday, winds gusted more than 40 mph and temperatures dipped into the 40s. The conditions became tricky for two strong pitching staffs.

“With the weather conditions on Friday, we knew lots of runs could be scored,” said Pima Coach Jason Hisey. “No lead is safe in conditions like that. WNC is a good-hitting team.”

The conditions were familiar to any player who has come through Whittemore’s program. “Friday night was real cold … everything-you-got kind of weather,” he said. “Their guys were wearing beanies, gloves and winter jackets. It was in the 40s and windy, kind of like Carson City in April.”

The big blows for the Wildcats were by pinch-hitter Connor Klein and AJ Hernandez. Klein’s three-run blast in the eighth inning pulled the Wildcats within a run, and Hernandez launched a go-ahead two-run home run in the ninth. Hernandez also smacked a three-run homer earlier in the game to jump-start the comeback.

“We did not pitch well against Hernandez, and he hurt us twice,” Hisey said.
Christian Stolo (2-1) picked up the win in relief.

Sophomore left-hander Austin Richmond evened his record at 1-1 as WNC won the opening game Saturday, 6-3. Richmond threw six innings and allowed three runs.

“In a departure from the first eight games, defensively, we didn’t play well," Whittemore said. “Our pitching staff did an admirable job of pitching around (the mistakes). The offense did a great job of building leads, extending leads and chasing them down when the other team got out in front.”

Catcher Cole Ferguson kindled the Wildcat offense, knocking in three runs with two hits. Freshman Conor Harber, batting .500 in the Wildcats’ first eight games, stroked two doubles in a 7-5 win Saturday. Spencer Greer provided the Wildcats’ with their second win out of the bullpen in the series. Phil Belding started for WNC, exiting with a 4-2 lead and a couple of runners on base.

“He didn’t get the victory, but he pitched well enough to win,” Whittemore said.

Luke Eubank tossed identical nine-pitch ninth innings to retire Pima in order in each game, earning his four and fifth saves and leaving him only one off the program single-season record with more than 45 games remaining.

On Sunday, Eubank had a chance to record his fourth save of the series, but WNC was unable to hold on to 4-2 and 5-4 leads late in the game, in an eventual 7-5 defeat.

“We had a couple of walks, a hit batter, a couple of balls bounce through and we didn’t make two to three plays we expect to make,” Whittemore said. He was pleased, though, with the production out of Matt Becker from the leadoff spot, and the rally sparking pinch-hit double off the bat of Alex Fife.

“Pima had a good pitching staff, and they weren’t laying it in there,” Whittemore said. “I hope it’s about as good of a staff as we see this year.”

WNC travels to California to play Ventura College at 2 p.m. Wednesday, followed by a three-game series beginning Thursday at Riverside Community College.

“We’re anxious to test ourselves against Southern California, which has earned the reputation as having the best baseball players in the world,” Whittemore said.

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