After dropping a school-record fourth straight Scenic West game, 3-2, in the opener of Friday's doubleheader against Salt Lake, Western Nevada needed a stopper in the nightcap.
Philip Belding answered the call.
The sophomore right-hander tossed a five-hit shutout and struck out six to lead the Wildcats to a 9-0 win in the nightcap and a split of the twin-bill at John L. Harvey Field. The game was stopped because of the run rule after seven innings.
WNC, which dropped six straight nonconference games in 2007 and seven straight nonconference games in 2011, improved to 2-4 in conference. Salt Lake is now 4-2. The teams collide today in a doubleheader today starting at 11 a.m.
Belding said he didn't feel any extra pressure to get his team back on the winning track.
"Our philosophy win or lose is to have the same mentality," Belding said. "Coach Whittemore said if you try harder in the second game, you should have been trying harder in the first game.
"My fastball was sinking a lot. I was trying to hit spots, keeping it low in the zone. They kept pounding it into the ground."
Belding's performance impressed coach D.J. Whittemore.
"I thought Phil had a good sinker," Whittemore said. "He pitched to the bottom of the zone and got a lot of groundballs. We needed him to be a stopper."
Nobody on the WNC knew that the four straight losses were a WNC-conference record. The Wildcats were certainly happy to get a win after losing four straight by five total runs.
"It's nice to put that streak behind us," said Connor Klein, who went 3-for-6 and drove in four runs in the doubleheader, two in each game. "We just need to play one game at a time."
The one thing that made Belding's job easier is run support, which is something that teammate Cody Hamlin didn't get in the first game. WNC pounded out 13 hits in the second game.
Belding was staked to a 1-0 lead in the second inning when Mike Umscheid doubled and scored on a single by Conor Harber.
Faulty fielding and clutch hitting blew the game open in the third. The Wildcats scored five times on six hits and three errors, and knocked starter Michael Springer out of the box.
A.J. Hernandez reached base when SLCC centerfielder Steven Adam dropped his fly ball after a lengthy run. Joey Crunkilton followed with a run-scoring double to make it 2-0. Crunkilton moved to third on a single by Cole Ferguson and scored on a passed ball to make it 3-0. Klein advanced Ferguson to third and Umscheid followed with a run-scoring line drive over the head of second baseman Robert Grilli for a 4-0 lead.
Singles by Harber and Alex Fife loaded the bases, and then Umscheid was caught between third and home, and was picked off. Tony Roque squeezed home Harber and reached first when reliever JC Campo couldn't field the ball. Fife scored when Campo's attempted pick-off at first was wild.
"We've been leaving a lot of runners on lately," Whittemore said. "It was nice to get some big hits and drive the runners in."
Fife added a run-scoring single in the fifth and Klein doubled in two runs in the sixth.
The closest Salt Lake came to scoring was in the top of the seventh, but Fife threw out Sam Goold trying to go from first to third on a single to left by Jordan Leinweber. Connor Williams followed with a single to send Leinweber to third. Zach Watts hit a comebacker for the final out of the game.
Hamlin's performance in the opener was every bit as good as Belding's effort. Hamlin allowed just four hits over seven innings.
"Hamlin was awesome," Whittemore said. "He was in complete control. He didn't walk a batter and two of those hits were bleeders. He was excellent."
The game was a scoreless deadlock until the fourth when J.C. Snyder and Palmer Page hit one-out singles. After Bo Fisher fanned, Goold hammered a homer to right for a 3-0 lead.
WNC added single runs in the fourth and sixth, both off the bat of Klein.
"He's working to make it happen," Whittemore said. "He's so strong willed. His work ethic is second to none. He's earned everything we've gotten."
"I'm seeing it well," said Klein, who entered the game with a .382 average. "It feels nice. It's nice to be playing (regularly)."
NOTES: Nine of the last 11 games have been decided by one run or less ... Whittemore said Christian Stolo and Luke Eubank will be the starters today, but he wasn't sure in what order ... Stolo no-hit Colorado Northwestern last weekend, striking out seven and walking one ... Crunkilton led WNC in the second game with three hits, while Umscheid, Fife and Ferguson added two each. Harber and Klein had two hits each in the opener.