Clinging to a one-run lead with the bases loaded and no one out on Sunday afternoon, the Western Nevada College baseball team had one goal – avoid a sweep on their opening weekend.
Freshman pitcher Dylan Francis complied, retiring the next three South Mountain College hitters to preserve the Wildcatsâ€™ 7-6 victory in Phoenix, and a 1-2 weekend.
â€œMaking the pitches he made with the bases loaded was really remarkable. He deserves a ton of credit and praise for his effort,â€ said WNC coach D.J. Whittemore.
The second half of the game-saving battery was freshman catcher Brandon Lapointe, who entered the game late.
â€œHe really did a great job as well, studying the hitters when he was on the bench, and when he got in the game, he made the most of his time,â€ Whittemore said.
Wild pitching contributed, in part, to the Wildcatsâ€™ shaky season start as they fell to South Mountain, 8-5, on Friday and 6-3 on Saturday. WNC pitchers walked or hit 27 batters in the three-game series, and combined with their receivers for 12 wild pitches or passed balls.
â€œYou just canâ€™t win consistently when you play like that,â€ Whittemore said. â€œWe have to get better real quick or itâ€™s going to be a long year.â€
Before the Cougarsâ€™ late bid, the Wildcats built a 7-3 lead behind the hitting of Austin Andrews, Kody Reynolds, Connor Klein and Joey Crunkilton. Andrews knocked in three runs with a double and single. Reynolds was 2 for 4 with three runs scored, Klein went 2 for 5 with two runs scored and Crunkilton was 2 for 4 with a run scored.
â€œIâ€™m real happy with our playersâ€™ preparation and approach to the game,â€ Whittemore said. â€œWe had a great attitude at the ballyard all three days and competed every pitch real well.
â€œThere is some really good leadership on the team. There is great chemistry, and itâ€™s a fun dugout to be in.â€
Klein, Reynolds, Christian Stolo and Sam Hall each had an RBI.
Until the Cougars reached Francis for four infield hits in the final inning, the Wildcatsâ€™ previous three hurlers gave up just three hits. Conor Harber made his season debut, giving up one hit, one run and five walks in three innings. Rayne Raven followed with two innings of work, allowing one hit, one run and three walks. Connor Zwetsch completed three innings, permitting one hit, one earned run and two walks while fanning three.
Season-opening victories are the usually the norm for the WNC baseball team. But that wasnâ€™t the case on Friday as the Wildcats launched their 2014 season against South Mountain.
Passed balls, base running errors and ineffective pitching added up to an 8-5 Wildcat defeat to the Cougars. It marked only the third time in the programâ€™s nine seasons that the Wildcats lost their season opener.
WNC outhit the Cougars 13-9 but couldnâ€™t dig out from a 5-1 deficit after three innings.
â€œThe whole lineup was really good all weekend, especially for early in the year,â€ Whittemore said.
Raven and Crunkilton led the Wildcats with three hits apiece, while Connor Klein and Reynolds collected two hits. Freshman outfielder Corey Pool belted the Wildcatsâ€™ first homer of the season in his very first at-bat as a Wildcat.
â€œIt was a titanic blast, one of the best-hit balls Iâ€™ve ever seen from anybody,â€ Whittemore said. â€œWhen it left the park, it was still going up. He hit it as well as anybody can hit a ball.â€
Sophomore Spencer Greer started on the mound for the Wildcats, giving up five runs in three innings. He struck out four.
Hall was thrown out at the plate in the fourth inning on Alex Fifeâ€™s base hit, but the Wildcats got a couple of runs back in the fifth. A swinging bunt by Klein scored Reynolds with the bases loaded and nobody out, then Crunkiltonâ€™s groundout scored Austin Andrews to make the score 5-3.
South Mountain regained a four-run lead against WNCâ€™s bullpen before the Wildcats scored single runs in the seventh and eighth innings to make it close.
On Saturday, the Cougars made it two straight against the Wildcats, holding off the visitors, 6-3.
WNC starting pitcher Stolo allowed two runs through four innings before giving up a pair of RBI doubles in his fifth and final inning of work.
Crunkiltonâ€™s RBI double scored Jake Bennett to slice the Cougarsâ€™ lead to 5-2 in the eighth.
After the Cougars scored a run in the eighth to go ahead 6-2, the Wildcats made a dramatic bid at a win in the ninth. Walks to Klein and Lapointe started the rally. After a strikeout, Hall was hit by a pitch to fill the bases. Andrewsâ€™ fielderâ€™s choice knocked in Klein, making the score 6-3. A walk to Jake Bennett loaded the bases, but Ravenâ€™s force out ended the game.
Cougar lefty Clay Miller limited the Wildcats to one hit through five innings to earn the win.
WNC finished with four hits and left eight runners on base.â€¨â€¨
The Wildcats (1-2) will continue its season-opening road trip, beginning a two-game series against Pima on Tuesday in Tucson, Ariz.
â€œWeâ€™ll keep playing and keep learning,â€ Whittemore said. â€œItâ€™s more fun to learn when we win, but you do learn a lot from losing, too.â€