A pair of fielding errors were too much for the Western Nevada College baseball team to overcome in a 6-4 loss to top-ranked Iowa Western at the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series on Monday.
A dropped pop fly led to three Iowa Western runs in the sixth inning, and a mishandled ground ball in the ninth preceded a two-out, tie-breaking two-run homer by Iseha Conklin as the Reivers eliminated the sixth-rated Wildcats 6-4 in Grand Junction, Colo.
The Wildcats finished their third appearance at the World Series with a 48-17 record, the second time in school history that WNC has won that many games. WNC, which has six all-time victories in the NJCAA World Series, finished eighth in the 10-team field.
"It was a well-played baseball game and a lot of fun to be a part of," said WNC Head Coach D.J. Whittemore. "These guys gave their heart and soul to each other, and it was a very rewarding season."
In the ninth inning, reliever Anthony Consiglio retired the first two Iowa Western hitters on ground balls to shortstop Chris Woolley, but pinch-hitter Tanner Krietemeir reached base when his ball hit up the middle deflected off Consiglio's glove, then off second baseman Zach Hendrix's mitt for an error. Reivers leadoff hitter Conklin, who was 0-4 to that point, then belted a homer to left to put Iowa Western ahead 6-4.
"We had an 0-2 count with nobody on," said Whittemore, pointing out how fast a game can change. "We had two chances to field it, and the next guy hits a home run."
Bobby Pappin gave WNC some life in the bottom of the ninth when he reached base on third baseman Damek Tomscha's fielding error. But closer Keaton Steele set down the next three Wildcats, including Taylor Smart looking at strike three, to nail down the elimination-game victory.
Another turning point came in the sixth inning with WNC leading 2-1. Iowa Western gambled with aggressive base running in an attempt to rally. On a two-out single to left by Brandon Tierney, Steven Leonard went against the norm and tried to advance to third. The throw from Mike Umscheid skipped past third baseman Smart. Tierney moved to second on the throw, and a tiring Derrick Pitts walked Steele to fill the bases.
Iowa Western would add another on a wild pitch. Iowa Western would score two on an error by Rayne Raven at first.
In the seventh, Raven drew a leadoff walk from Jake Thompson, ending the Iowa Western starter's afternoon. Pinch-hitter Cole Ferguson greeted reliever Kyle Gehrs by hammering a ball off a base umpire, putting runners on first and second. With Bobby Pappin attempting to bunt, Gehrs hit him with the first pitch to load the bases. Neil Lawhorn grounded into a double play to score Raven from third, and Woolley delivered a pivotal two-out base hit to right to score pinch-runner Philip Belding and knot the score at 4.
"Our guys did what they did all year, and that is play every pitch the same way when we're ahead, the same way when they were behind and the same way when the score was tied," Whittemore said.
Hendrix and Umscheid each collected two hits for the Wildcats, who produced seven overall against three Reivers pitchers.
It was the Wildcats' third straight game against teams ranked among the top 5 in the latest NJCAA poll. It also marked the third time in three World Series appearances that the Wildcats were eventually eliminated by the top-ranked club.
On Sunday, WNC eliminated Cisco 9-2.