May 19, 2013

Wildcats Unable to Overcome Cochise's 10-Run Fourth-Inning Rally

WNC Finishes Runner-up to Apaches in District Tournament

WNC second baseman AJ Hernandez tags out Cochises Jason Parks.
WNC second baseman AJ Hernandez tags out Cochise's Jason Parks.

For Western Nevada College’s baseball team and its fans, it didn’t seem like the Cochise fourth inning would ever end.

The inning started on Saturday afternoon, was interrupted by lightning and rain and then lasted an additional 28 minutes on Sunday afternoon in the Western District baseball tournament championship.

By the time the final out was recorded on a tag out by second baseman AJ Hernandez, 15 Apaches had batted and 10 runs had scored, erasing a one-run deficit as Cochise rolled to an 18-11 title-clinching victory over the Wildcats in Sterling, Colo.

“We walked seven or eight batters and had five errors. We had been doing a good job of limiting the damage. We played our worst game of the season by a long shot," said WNC coach D.J. Whittemore.

Cochise’s Tagg Duce hit a tie-breaking three-run triple in the game-changing fourth inning and added a pair of two-run homers as the Apaches (49-17) will head to the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century.

The victory ends WNC’s season at 44-20 but not before the Wildcats won their first Region 18 title since 2009 and came within a victory of returning to the NJCAA World Series.

“We won 20 of 24 down the stretch, so there’s really not a lot to complain about," Whittemore said. “Cochise has a great team, and I’m sure they will represent the Western District very well in Grand Junction.”

WNC led 3-2 when play resumed after the game was suspended by lightning on Saturday and then delayed an additional four hours on Sunday because of significant rainfall in the area.

Whittemore elected to resume the game with Friday’s winning pitcher Christian Stolo on the mound. Stolo couldn’t find his command, though, walking two of the first three batters he faced to force in Zach Nance with the tying run. Duce then put the Apaches ahead 6-3 with his bases-clearing triple.

Frank Salas added an RBI two-bagger, and after an error by third baseman Mike Umscheid, Stolo balked in Salas to make the score 8-3.

Stolo’s third walk of the inning was his last batter as Whittemore brought in Spencer Greer, who tossed 7 2/3 innings of scoreless relief against Lamar, Colo., on Thursday.

“We had a number of guys throwing on short rest," Whittemore said. "Stolo has been dynamite for us all season. He went out there and did his best. Today, it wasn’t good enough.”

But Greer fared only slightly better than Stolo as an RBI fielder’s choice by Nance and an run-scoring base hit by Stephan Desgagne gave Cochise a 10-3 lead. Before the Cochise half inning of damage was done, Nate Hall delivered a two-run double to left, increasing the Apache lead to 12-3.

Austin Nelson provided a two-run double in the fifth to extended the Apaches’ advantage to 14-3.

The Wildcats broke the Apaches’ string of 14 unanswered runs on a RBI single by Tony Roque in the sixth inning.

Cochise went back to work in the bottom of the sixth as Duce tagged a Brandon Show offering for a two-run homer to give his team a 16-4 lead.

But the Wildcats didn’t give up, scoring four runs in the seventh and three more in the eighth to close within 16-11.

Conor Harber’s two-run homer following Joseph’s Crunkilton’s double got the comeback going. A pinch-hit RBI single by Matt Becker and a throwing error by shortstop Austin Nelson allowed Becker to cross the plate, pulling WNC to within 16-8.

After a 1-2-3 Cochise seventh, including two strikeouts by reliever Brock Pellow, the Wildcats continued to chip away at their huge deficit in the eighth. Harber again jump-started the rally, this time with a one-out double to left. Connor Klein plated Harber with a single to center field. After an Umscheid fly out, Cole Ferguson drilled a two-run homer to right-center field as the Wildcats closed to within 16-11.

Duce, however, gave the Apaches some additional breathing room in the bottom of the frame with a two-run homer off Phil Belding.

Xavier Altamirano, who surrendered all eight of WNC’s runs on Sunday, completed Cochise’s victory by retiring the Wildcats in order in the ninth.

On Saturday, prior to the weather turning sour in the second title game, Roque put WNC ahead with a three-run double in the second inning. Before Roque’s bases-clearing hit, Klein connected for the first hit off Cochise starting pitcher Kevin Durantes. Durantes then had trouble finding the plate, walking Donald Glover Jr. and Hernandez to set up Roque for three RBI.

Cochise, however, battled back to score twice in the third inning on only one hit. WNC pitcher Tyler Bennett also struggled with his command, waking two batters in the inning.

Durantes prevented the Wildcats from recouping a run in the fourth after Umscheid doubled to start the inning. Umscheid still was standing on second base when the rally ended three batters later.

The Apaches put the first two hitters on base in the bottom of the inning before lightning was spotted in the area, suspending the action for the remainder of the day.

Harber, a freshman from Astoria, Ore., added three hits to his team-leading 14-hit tournament. He knocked in nine runs, four coming on a pair of two-run homers. Roque knocked in four runs on two hits in the final game.

WNC was looking for its second straight Western District title and its fourth trip to the NJCAA World Series. Unlike the Region 18 tournament, where WNC only used three pitchers to win the title, the Wildcats utilized their entire pitching staff, save Harber, in the four-day district tournament.

“I have a lot to be proud of and thankful for," Whittemore said. "This program has been blessed. This team was right up there with the very best. This class will go down as some of the best grinders of all time. Those guys’ contributions won’t be forgotten. We have memories that will remain with us for a lifetime."

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Photos (Click to Enlarge)
Cole Ferguson and the Wildcats comeback falls short. Conor Harber and Joseph Crunkilton celebrate a Harber homer. Joseph Crunkilton smacks a pitch.
Cole Ferguson and the Wildcats' comeback falls short.Conor Harber and Joseph Crunkilton celebrate a Harber homer.Joseph Crunkilton smacks a pitch.
Tyler Bennett grooves a pitch.    
Tyler Bennett grooves a pitch.    
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