Serving as a host for the Region 18 baseball tournament doesnâ€™t automatically translate into many championships over the past half-decade.
In the past three regional tournaments, not one of the hosts won the tournament featuring Scenic West Athletic Conference teams. The last team to take advantage of its home-field advantage was College of Southern Nevada in 2010.
Regular-season SWAC champion Salt Lake hosts four conference foes when the regional tournament began on Wednesday in Salt Lake City. But as Western Nevada College coach D.J. Whittemore observed throughout the conference season, there is little separation between the clubs, setting up an intriguing four-day, double-elimination tournament.
â€œThis conference tournament is more wide open than any year Iâ€™ve coached in this league,â€ said Whittemore, in his ninth season at WNC.
The second-seeded Wildcats open tournament play at 2:30 p.m. Thursday against in-state rival College of Southern Nevada, which lost to the Wildcats six times in eight games this season.
However, as Whittemore will attest, there arenâ€™t any free passes in this yearâ€™s tournament. Even last-place Colorado Northwestern Community College has knocked off the Wildcats twice this season. CNCC and College of Southern Idaho kicked off the tournament on Wednesday afternoon, with the winner meeting Salt Lake at 11 a.m. Thursday.
As the defending Region 18 champion, many of the Wildcats know what it takes to win a title. The Wildcats can draw on that experience this week as they try to duplicate their dominant tournament performance from a year ago.
â€œNobody remembers teams except the ones who play great at end of the year,â€ Whittemore said. â€œOnly one team has beaten us twice in a row and we havenâ€™t lost twice in a day. Weâ€™re not an easy team to beat; then again, weâ€™re not much better than everyone else. I certainly donâ€™t think anybody is scared of us.â€
The Wildcats are led by sophomore outfielder Alex Fifeâ€™s .336 batting average and pitchers Spencer Greer (6-4 record, 1.84 earned runs average), Conor Harber (7-0, 1.84), Christian Stolo (5-3, 3.05), Rayne Raven (7-3, 3.31) and Max Karnos (5-2, 3.76).
WNC, 36-16 overall, is ranked 25th in the National Junior College Athletic Association poll released on April 29.
Fans have several options for following the Wildcats during the tournament. WNC play-by-play announcer Chris Graham will broadcast Wildcat games online through Ustream at www.ustream.tv/channel/western-nevada-baseball.
In addition, Salt Lake will provide live coverage for each game on its website at slccbruins.com. Fans can choose between the live stats and video streaming tabs.