For the second straight season, Western Nevada College appeared on the verge of starting the Scenic West Athletic Conference baseball season 1-3, matching last seasonâ€™s 1-3 result against Salt Lake Community College at John L. Harvey Field.
After winning Sundayâ€™s opener 9-4, with a five-run ninth inning, Salt Lake rallied from a two-run deficit to tie the score in the nightcap. But WNCâ€™s Conor Harber knocked in the go-ahead run with a two-out hit in the sixth inning and reliever Thomas Kerr closed out the 5-4 victory, giving the Wildcats a series split.
â€œ(An) extremely hard-fought series. Nearly every inning and every pitch felt like the games were riding on the outcome,â€ said WNC coach D.J. Whittemore. â€œSalt Lakeâ€™s team is excellent in every phase of the game. Just like they have been each of the last three years, they will be a formidable foe throughout the regular season and in the conference tournament.â€
It was WNCâ€™s fourth one-run victory in seven decisions. The Wildcats are 2-2 in the SWAC and 13-7 overall. Salt Lake is 2-2 and 10-8.
â€œOur players showed great competitive spirit in continuing to fight,â€ Whittemore said. â€œWinning the fourth game of the series will prove to be a major difference-maker in the conference race.
â€œOur players are doing everything we ask of them and have great chemistry amongst themselves.â€
Harber, a sophomore, had three of the Wildcatsâ€™ seven hits, drove home two runs and scored once. His decisive hit came after Kody Reynolds led off the sixth with a single, advanced to second on a Tony Roque sacrifice bunt and moved to third on a wild pitch.
â€œHarber continues to be clutch and the toughest out in the conference,â€ Whittemore said.
The Wildcats built a 4-2 lead, but Salt Lake scored single runs against reliever Connor Zwetsch in the fourth and fifth innings to pull even.
After getting the first two outs in the seventh inning, Kerr gave up a double to Caleb Summerhays, putting the potential tying run in scoring position. Kerr, however, ended the game by getting Derrick Whitney to look at a third strike.
â€œKerr was outstanding and has made the biggest moves of the spring in terms of the depth chart,â€ Whittemore said.
Kerr (2-1) pitched for the second straight game and earned the win, working two innings and giving up two hits.
Sophomore Christian Stolo started and gave up four hits and two runs in three innings. He struck out four and walked one.
The series finale was played in a misty rain after games were moved back a day to avoid a storm system in the Carson City area on Friday.
In the opener, Salt Lake erupted for five ninth-inning runs against Rayne Raven to beat the Wildcats for the second straight time. RBI singles by Robert Grilli and Zach Watts and sacrifice flies by Summerhays and Zach Willis pushed the Bruins comfortably ahead.
Harber started on the hill for the Wildcats and gave up two earned runs on six hits in six innings. He struck out six but walked five hitters. He left with the score tied at 4.
Kerr threw 1 2/3 innings of one-hit relief before Raven finished up the eighth and pitched the length of the ninth inning.
The Wildcats had three batters with multiple hits: Jake Bennett was 2 for 5 with a run scored; Alex Fife was 2 for 4 and Raven was 2 for 4 with a run scored. Spenser Dorsey and Joey Crunkilton each knocked in a run.
Bennett crossed the plate with the tying run in the sixth. After rapping a single, he advanced to second and third bases on wild pitches and scored on an infielder error on a ball Harber put in play.
The Wildcats continue SWAC play with doubleheaders scheduled Friday and Saturday against Colorado Northwestern (0-4 in the SWAC) in Rangely, Colo.
â€œWe are excited to get back to work and continue the season-long grind of getting better faster,â€ Whittemore said. â€œWe feel as though our best baseball is still in front of us.â€