Pitching Shines but Runs Too Scarce
Teaching a young team how to close out close games has troubled Coach D.J. Whittemore and his Western Nevada College baseball team ever since Scenic West Athletic Conference play began in late February. That trend continued over the weekend in Twin Falls, Idaho, as the Wildcats lost three games, including two by the closest of margins, to the College of Southern Idaho Golden Eagles.
Whittemore has said that at this stage of the season, moral victories are meaningless and his team needs to learn how to win. Seven of the Wildcats’ 11 conference defeats have come by a run. “We have a bad taste in our mouth and are all eager to get out and prove that we belong with the elite teams in the conference,” he said.
The series defeat dropped the Wildcats into a third-place tie with CSI at 9-11 in the SWAC standings through the first-half rotation of conference play.
The Wildcats received three stellar starting pitching efforts in the four-game series but had only one victory to show for it - Cody Hamlin’s two-hit masterpiece in the opener at Skip Walker Field. Phil Belding permitted only two hits in game two and Christian Stolo surrendered just one hit in game three, but the Wildcats lost both decisions.
“Our starting pitching gave us a chance to win even though we didn’t have a lot of run support,” the coach said. “Our defense was good to great all weekend, especially AJ Hernandez at second base,” who rapped RBI singles in the fifth in seventh innings to give the Wildcats’ offense a jolt.
Hamlin allowed just two hits and no walks in going the seven-inning distance as the Wildcats defeated CSI 3-1 on Friday. CSI scored once in the first inning without a hit, but Hamlin tossed goose eggs the rest of the way.
CSI pitcher Ryan Johnson took a no-hitter into the fifth inning, but Alex Fife broke it up with a double. Prior to WNC’S first hit, Connor Klein walked and was balked to second base. Klein scored on Hernandez’s game-tying single. Fife also tried to score on the hit but was thrown out on the first baseman’s relay home. Hernandez scored the go-ahead run on Johnson’s error.
In the seventh inning, Tyler Baker stole second base and advanced to third on Fife’s flyout to right and scored on Hernandez’s base hit.
In the second game on Friday, Jordan Godman’s 11th-inning single off reliever Evan Parker with the bases loaded and nobody out lifted CSI to a 3-2 victory.
WNC outhit CSI 9-7 but left 12 runners on base.
The loss negated a solid start by Belding, who allowed two hits, three walks and two earned runs through 6 1/3 innings. Luke Eubank tossed 1 2/3 innings of scoreless relief, and Brandon Show returned from an elbow injury suffered earlier in the season, to throw a scoreless inning. Show hadn’t pitched since February 23 against CSI in Henderson.
Connor Harber was 2 for 6 at the plate for WNC, while seven other Wildcats collected one hit. Stolo and Fife contributed doubles for the Wildcats.
Fife doubled in the ninth with one out, sending pinch-runner Baker home, where he was thrown out on a relay from the shortstop. However, Harber’s two-out single scored Fife to force extra innings.
WNC was one strike from victory and a no-hitter in game three on Saturday but wound up with neither. With two outs in the seventh inning, CSI got a three-run triple off the bat of Bobby Wright to tie the score at 3. It was the Golden Eagle’s first hit off Stolo, who worked 6 2/3 innings and fanned five.
In the eighth, WNC retook the lead 5-3 on Tony Roque’s two-run double, but the Wildcats couldn’t hold the lead in the bottom of the inning. RBI singles by Carter Yagi and Isaac Anderson and a Eubank wild pitch doomed the Wildcats, 6-5.
Roque topped WNC by going 2 for 3 with three RBI, while Fife walked three times and scored three runs.
"CSI is as gritty a team as you will see in college baseball,” Whittemore said. "They just never quit. Kept coming at us and kept coming until finally they got the big hit to win the game and win the series. I give their players credit for doing something that we have always tried to do - play every pitch.”
In the series finale, the Golden Eagles removed most of the suspense by scoring all eight of their runs in the fourth inning en route to an 8-4 victory.
In the pivotal fourth, CSI capitalized on six hits, including a two-run homer by R.J. Bush and two-run singles by Anderson and Tanner Morache, against three WNC pitchers to bust the score open.
WNC scored twice in the seventh inning to pull within four runs but stranded two base runners to end the game. After the Golden Eagles recorded the first two outs of the seventh, WNC loaded the bases, setting up Matt Becker for a two-run single. Mike Umscheid’s fielder’s choice ended the threat. Harber was 2 for 4 with two runs scored, as WNC delivered six hits against two CSI hurlers.
“Coach Walker's team was better prepared and more hungry to play than was ours and I take full responsibility for that,” Coach Whittemore said. “We were not mentally prepared to handle the rigors of playing in the Scenic West Conference.”
Whittiemore said that in order to win on a consistent basis, his team has to increase the quality of its at bats, tack runs on every inning, and better handle the pressure of pitching with the game on the line.
“Bottom line is our preparation needs to improve. Our mental and physical toughness needs to improve and our chemistry needs to get better in a hurry,” Whittemore said. “The good news for us is that we get tested by two-time defending SWAC champions SLCC this weekend and that should provide all the motivation we need to bring the best out in our team.”
The Wildcats, 24-15 overall, begin the second half of their SWAC season at second-place Salt Lake on Friday and Saturday in West Jordan, Utah. Both doubleheaders start at noon.
WNC has never finished below .500 in SWAC play or worse than third place in the final conference standings.
SWAC Baseball Standings
Through Sunday, March 31
Team W L
College of Southern Nevada 16 4
Salt Lake 14 6
College of Southern Idaho 9 11
Western Nevada College 9 11
Colorado Northwestern 2 18
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