For a student athlete who has routinely associated with winners during his amateur baseball career, itâ€™s no surprise that Western Nevada College pitcher Max Karnos has decided to make Sacramento State his next destination after the 2015 season with WNC.
Karnos, a 6-foot-4 right-hander from Anchorage, Alaska, signed a letter of intent with the Hornets this week.
â€œI just felt like it was the right school,â€ Karnos said. â€œI really like the coaches, I like the team, and they have a good winning tradition.â€
Last spring, Sacramento State celebrated its first outright Western Athletic Conference regular-season baseball title and tournament championship, as well as the programâ€™s first NCAA Division I Tournament experience. Fifth-year
Hornets coach Reggie Christiansen, the 2012 and 2014 WAC Coach of the Year, believes the program is getting more than a potential starting pitcher.
â€œWe believe he will have an opportunity to be a weekend starter for us next year. We were very impressed with his stuff this fall along with his makeup and character,â€ Christiansen said. â€œ(WNC) coach (D.J.) Whittemore has a great reputation for developing players, and we are excited to land our first Western Nevada player.â€
Oral Roberts, San Francisco, Central Florida and the University of Nevada, Reno also expressed interest in Karnos, according to the Wildcat sophomore.
After claiming his second Alaska state championship as a senior at South Anchorage High School in 2013, Karnos ventured into the continental U.S. to pitch for WNC, one of the most consistent and successful programs in the National Junior College Athletic Association.
â€œI know this school is really good at taking guys to the next level, and I had a little attention with Division I schools out of high school,â€ Karnos said. â€œI was pretty confident that â€˜Whittâ€™ would get me to the place that I wanted to be.â€
Karnosâ€™ ability to regularly throw strikes created an opportunity for him to break into an experienced starting rotation as a freshman and, in the process, helped the Wildcats repeat as Region 18 champions and Western District Tournament qualifiers for the third straight season.
â€œMax had a tremendous season last year for us, and we feel as though his scholarship with Sac State is a great reward for his freshman campaign,â€ Whittemore said. â€œOur entire program is proud of Max and believe that through his hard work and selflessness, he has fulfilled one of his childhood dreams of becoming a NCAA D1 pitcher.â€
Karnos didnâ€™t require much of an adjustment period at WNC because he realized before his college debut that he needed to perform at a higher level.
â€œSkillwise, the hitters were way better than I ever faced, so I just needed to make better pitches and I needed to develop better offspeed pitches if I was going to be successful,â€ he said. â€œCoach (Josh) Moody and Coach Whitt helped me develop offspeed pitches and become more of a pitcher than a thrower.â€
From veteran and talented starting Wildcat pitchers such as Conor Harber (University of Oregon), Christian Stolo (University of Nevada, Reno) and Spencer Greer (University of Texas-Pan American), Karnos learned the Wildcat way how to succeed.
â€œThey definitely showed me how we do it here at Western Nevada and showed me the way to lead the pitching staff this year,â€ Karnos said. â€œThey really did everything that Whitt said, and thatâ€™s really all you have to do to be successful.â€
Success came to Karnos early last season. He fired seven strong innings against Riverside, Calif., during an early season road trip to Southern California. Later, he threw a complete game four-hitter as WNC downed Salt Lake 7-1 in its Scenic West Athletic Conference opener.
â€œIt had a lot to do with trusting my defense and throwing a lot of strikes,â€ Karnos said. â€œAs long as I threw strikes, it was easier for me to go deeper into games.â€
That durability enabled Karnos to top the Wildcat pitching charts with three complete games and 78 1/3 total innings. His 61 strikeouts trailed only Harber (82) and Stolo (69).
Later in the season, Karnos was at the center of the Wildcatsâ€™ dog pile after he recorded the final out of the Region 18 title game against Salt Lake.
His value to the team only figures to expand in 2015 since Karnos is the only returner from last yearâ€™s starting rotation.
â€œMax is a very consistent person. He is a consistent pitcher. He is a tireless worker and makes adjustments very easily,â€ Whittemore said. â€œWe are looking forward to him improving his sophomore season into one of the dominant starters in the league.â€
After posting a 5-2 record and 3.91 earned run average a year ago, Karnos welcomes shouldering the responsibility of leading a pitching staff that includes 12 freshmen.
â€œI really learned a lot last year, and it will help me show all of these guys how we do it at Western Nevada. They are a really, really talented freshman class, so I donâ€™t think it will be hard for them to get used to it,â€ Karnos said.
Like he did prior to his freshman season, Karnos will use the most successful Alaskan to ever pitch for WNC as motivation. Dylan Baker put together the most dominant pitching season in Wildcat history in 2012, winning all 13 of his decisions, striking out 126 hitters and registering a 1.91 ERA. Baker went on to become a fifth-round draft choice of the Cleveland Indians.
â€œHe kind of put Alaska on the map and helped us out,â€ Karnos said. â€œComing into last year, I had the goal that I wanted to put up better numbers than he did, and thatâ€™s my goal for this year, too.â€
With one of the biggest decisions of his life behind him, Karnos is looking forward to his final season with the Wildcats.
â€œA lot of pressure is off me. I can just pitch and play like I always play,â€ he said.