Western Sweeps Salt Lake
It could be the turning point that the Western Nevada College baseball team has been working toward.
After suffering seven one-run defeats in 11 of their Scenic West Athletic Conference losses, the Wildcats accomplished something last weekend that only one other WNC team has done in the history of the program: sweep the Salt Lake Community College Bruins on the road.
WNC bounced back from three straight losses to College of Southern Idaho by besting the Bruins 5-3 and 11-1 on Friday and 9-3 and 4-3 on Saturday.
“It shows a lot of maturity,” said WNC baseball Coach D.J. Whittemore. “It was in response to great leadership by our sophomores (AJ) Hernandez, (Mike) Umscheid and (Donald) Glover Jr. They kept their heads down and kept working. They know baseball is a humbling and difficult game.”
The Wildcats remained in a third-place tie with College of Southern Idaho at 13-11, but now only trail second-place Salt Lake (14-10) by one game and conference-leading College of Southern Nevada (16-4) by five games.
“That’s probably more to think about than we can handle right now,” Whittemore said. “We’re just trying to play good consistently. We’re trying to win the next game.”
The final game in West Jordan, Utah, provided the Wildcats with only their third one-run victory in the SWAC and gave them momentum going into their remaining 12 games of the conference season.
“That’s a sign we are learning and we’re getting better,” Whittemore said. “Rather than panic, we just continued to play the next pitch. We have a very young team. Some lessons that we have been learning this year have been the hard way.”
The Wildcats trailed 3-2 heading into their final at-bat, but a leadoff single by Colby Rice, followed by one-out walks to Glover Jr. and Tyler Bennett filled the bases. Salt Lake’s Skylar Janisse hit Christian Stolo with a pitch after being summoned from the bullpen, enabling Umscheid, who reached on a fielder’s choice, to score the tying run. A walk to Alex Fife sent Glover Jr. home with the go-ahead run.
Salt Lake threatened in the bottom of the seventh inning against converted closer Brandon Show. After Show struck out the first two batters, Robert Grilli reached on an infield error and advanced to third on Palmer Page’s double. However, third baseman Umscheid snared a soft liner off the bat of JC Snyder to secure the series sweep and give the Wildcats the regular-season series edge over the Bruins 5-4.
“Brandon believes in himself, and we believe in him. We had the right guy on the mound there,” said Whittemore, noting that Show has two saves and a victory in his past three appearances after recovering from an elbow injury. “He’s not afraid to challenge hitters.”
It was the Wildcats’ first road sweep of the Bruins since 2009 after going a combined 4-8 in their past three regular-season trips to Salt Lake.
Stolo and Conor Harber carried the WNC offense with two hits apiece. Stolo knocked in two runs and leads the Wildcats with a .385 batting average.
“What is separating him right now is his quality of at-bats. He’s selectively aggressive. He just won’t chase outside the strike zone, and he’s able to hit the ball to all fields,” Whittemore said.
“We have a very deep and talented outfield and have been playing six different guys. Everyone, including himself, has a lot of confidence when we see him at the plate.”
Stolo also tossed five innings, leaving with the score tied at 2. He fanned five and allowed four hits and one earned run. Three of the four outs Show recorded were by strikeout as he picked up his third win in four decisions.
In the series opener, Stolo spanked a pair of triples and scored two runs to put WNC on top 2-0 through three innings. But the Bruins rallied to take a 3-2 lead through five.
Not to be denied, WNC scored three times in the sixth inning to retake the lead, 5-3. Hernandez’s one-out ground-rule double scored Harber to tie the score at 3 and was followed by a two-run, go-ahead base hit by Umscheid. Show relieved starter Cody Hamlin in the seventh and retired the Bruins 1-2-3, including two batters by strikeout.
Hamlin scattered eight hits and surrendered one earned run in six innings. He improved his record to a team-leading 6-1.
Harber and Stolo combined for four of the Wildcats’ seven hits.
WNC left little doubt in game two of the series, using a seven-run fourth inning to blow out the Bruins, 11-1, in a five-inning mercy rule victory.
Luke Eubank (2-3), making his first start since injuring his pitching hand in the College of Southern Nevada series, threw a one-hit complete game. He fanned three and walked three.
Salt Lake’s only hit came on Steven Adam’s single with nobody out in the first inning. The Bruins’ first two hitters reached base, but Eubank got out of the jam unscathed and didn’t find trouble again until the Bruins scored an unearned run in the fourth.
WNC used three doubles, including two-run two-baggers by Glover Jr. and Cole Ferguson, to score seven times in the fourth inning. Spenser Dorsey also doubled in a run before WNC’s damage was done in the fourth.
Ferguson and Harber ignited the offense, each delivering two hits. Ferguson was 2 for 3 with a run scored and three RBI. Harber was 2 for 3 with three runs scored.
Hernandez’s team-high third homer of the season and six strong innings by sophomore pitcher Phil Belding lifted the Wildcats to a 9-3 victory in Saturday’s opening game.
After striking out in his first at-bat, Hernandez doubled in a run as the Wildcats scored three times in the third inning and connected for a solo homer in the fifth after the Bruins had closed to within 4-3.
“That was a big swing. It kept momentum on our side,” Whittemore said. “What has really impressed me about AJ the last couple of weeks is his effort and professionalism in his work habits.”
The Wildcats put the game out of the reach in the sixth, using bunt singles by Matt Becker and Stolo before Harber knocked in two runs with a base hit. Connor Klein added a two-RBI single to cap the four-run rally, putting WNC ahead 9-3.
Belding earned his fifth victory by working six innings. He allowed six hits and three earned runs before giving the ball to Spencer Greer, who pitched a scoreless seventh.
WNC, 28-15 overall, travels to Rangely, Colo, for a four-game series with Colorado Northwestern on Friday and Saturday.
“Even good teams can be great over a short period of time. What we want to become is a great team over a long period of time,” Whittemore said.
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