It wasnâ€™t the desired result Western Nevada College was looking for prior to a four-game Scenic West Athletic Conference baseball series showdown with Salt Lake, but the Wildcats did something no other team has done this season: win in Salt Lake City.
The Wildcats gained a series split by outlasting the Bruins 7-5 in the final game Saturday.
“We knew that going into the series to give ourselves a realistic chance of earning the right to host the Region XVIII tournament, we needed to win at least 3 of 4,” WNC coach D.J. Whittemore. “SLCC has done everything they needed to do all year through the first 20 conference games.”
Needing a doubleheader sweep to creep within a game of first-place Salt Lake, WNC wasnâ€™t counting on a shaky defense hurting its cause.
The Wildcats committed three errors and allowed four unearned runs in a 6-3 defeat in the opening game of Saturdayâ€™s twin bill.
The teams wonâ€™t meet again during the regular season. WNC is second in the SWAC at 12-8, while Salt Lake continues to top the standings at 15-5.
“They are difficult team to shut down because they have quality hitters up and down the lineup and they can beat you in many different ways. Their coaching staff has done a nice job putting together a great roster and the players are buying in and playing with lots of confidence,” Whittemore said. “We have a healthy respect for their team and their program. However, we feel we can play with anybody in the country any given day. Our players work ethic allows us to feel as though we deserve to win every time we step on the field, regardless of our opponent.”
Christian Stolo slugged a pair of doubles, Brandon Lapointe smacked his first collegiate home run and Conor Harber pitched through two rough innings to earn his fifth victory without a loss. Harber gave up four runs, three of them earned, in 5 1/3 innings. He fanned six and walked three.
One of Harberâ€™s walks came at an inopportune time, leading off the last of the seventh. But after a fielderâ€™s choice, Harber struck out Taylor Snyder and Zach Watts to end the game.
Stolo went 2 for 4 with two runs scored and a RBI. Austin Andrews had two RBI and Harber was 2 for 4.
WNC built a 6-1 bulge, then withstood a midgame Bruin rally.
Stolo doubled in Kody Reynolds to deliver the gameâ€™s first run in the second inning. A throwing error by right-hander pitcher Chris Bradford allowed Stolo to score WNCâ€™s second run. Connor Klein made it 3-0 when he crossed the plate on Andrewsâ€™ groundout.
Salt Lake got a run back in its half of the second inning on Garrett Bushmanâ€™s RBI double.
But WNC continued to build its lead in the third. Jake Bennettâ€™s double drove in Alex Fife and a wild pitch by Bradford pushed the Wildcatsâ€™ edge to 5-1.
In the fourth inning, Lapointeâ€™s home run provided WNC with a 6-1 lead, but the Wildcats left the bases loaded.
Averting a big inning, the Bruins began to rally. Watts homered during a two-run fourth, trimming WNCâ€™s lead to 6-3.
Stoloâ€™s second double set up another Wildcat scoring chance in the fifth. Kleinâ€™s sacrifice bunt moved Stolo to third base, and he came home on Andrewsâ€™ sacrifice fly.
Salt Lake put two more runs on the scoreboard in its half of the fifth. A sacrifice fly by Derrick Whitney and a solo homer by Snyder brought Salt Lake within 7-5.
In the opener, WNC committed three errors in the first two innings, contributing to three Salt Lake runs.
Colton Barkdull reached on an infielder error in the first inning and scored on a single by Nick Urban.
Wildcat starting pitcher Max Karnos prevented more damage in the first inning with a pair of strikeouts. He finished with a season-high eight punchouts before departing in the fourth inning.
Tony Roque roped a two-run double in the second inning, putting the Wildcats ahead 2-1. WNC made the Bruins pay for issuing walks to Sam Hall and Connor Klein.
However, the 25th-ranked Bruins opened the second inning with consecutive hits and capitalized on the opportunity. Snyder doubled and Watts singled, putting runners on first and third with no one out. WNCâ€™s second error by an infielder allowed Snyder to score the tying run.
As he did in the first inning, Karnos battled back and struck out the next three hitters, but Hallâ€™s error on a punchout of Barkdull permitted Watts to score the Bruinsâ€™ third unearned run.
Harber continued his productive series against Bruin pitching, starting the third with a triple. Fife hit a sacrifice fly to plate Harber, tying the score at 3. Harber also lined a single and stole two bases in the first inning.
The Bruins chased Karnos in the fourth inning. Robert Grilli singled and scored on a Barkdull triple, giving the Bruins a 4-3 lead.
“Max did everything he could do to keep us in the game, but the defense behind him was just so poor and they had so many weakly hit infield singles that he was ultimately unable to overcome the bad luck,” Whittemore said. “To his credit, he kept his composure and continued to make quality pitches his whole outing.”
Whittemore went to the bullpen, bringing in Connor Zwetsch. Urbanâ€™s sacrifice bunt brought home Barkdull, increasing the Bruins lead to 5-3.
Salt Lake extended its lead to 6-3 in the fifth. Willis scored on a passed ball, the Bruinsâ€™ fourth unearned run.
The Wildcats put together a seventh-inning threat. Klein slugged a double off reliever Jarren Adam, but Adam retired the next three Wildcats to end the game.
WNC returns to John L. Harvey Field on Friday for the start of a four-game series against Colorado Northwestern.
“We need to get better in nearly every phase of the game in order to compete with Salt Lake at the end or CSN or CSI or CNCC for that matter,” Whittemore said. “We are nowhere near a championship-caliber team right now. We need to catch better, run the bases better, play better defense, score more runs (and) execute situationally. We are currently working to improve in every area so that we can make a huge jump from being consistently good to consistently great.”