For Western Nevada College’s baseball team and its fans, it didn’t seem like the Cochise fourth inning would ever end.
The inning started on Saturday afternoon, was interrupted by lightning and rain and then lasted an additional 28 minutes on Sunday afternoon in the Western District baseball tournament championship.
By the time the final out was recorded on a tag out by second baseman AJ Hernandez, 15 Apaches had batted and 10 runs had scored, erasing a one-run deficit as Cochise rolled to an 18-11 title-clinching victory over the Wildcats in Sterling, Colo.
“We walked seven or eight batters and had five errors,” said coach D.J. Whittemore. “We had been doing a good job of limiting the damage. We played our worst game of the season by a long shot.”
Cochise’s Tagg Duce hit a tie-breaking three-run triple in the game-changing fourth inning and added a pair of two-run homers as the Apaches (49-17) will head to the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series for the first time in nearly a quarter of a century.
The victory ends WNC’s season at 44-20.
“Cochise has a great team, and I’m sure they will represent the Western District very well in Grand Junction,” Whittemore said.
WNC led 3-2 when play resumed after the game was suspended by lightning on Saturday and then delayed an additional four hours on Sunday because of significant rainfall in the area.
Wildcats coach D.J. Whittemore elected to resume the game with Friday’s winning pitcher Christian Stolo on the mound. Stolo couldn’t find his command, though, walking two of the first three batters he faced to force in Zach Nance with the tying run. Duce then put the Apaches ahead 6-3 with his bases-clearing triple.
The Wildcats broke the Apaches’ string of 14 unanswered runs on a RBI single by Tony Roque in the sixth inning.
Cochise went back to work in the bottom of the sixth as Duce tagged a Brandon Show offering for a two-run homer to give his team a 16-4 lead.
But the Wildcats didn’t give up, scoring four runs in the seventh and three more in the eighth to close within 16-11.
Conor Harber’s two-run homer following Joseph’s Crunkilton’s double got the comeback going. A pinch-hit RBI single by Matt Becker and a throwing error by shortstop Austin Nelson allowed Becker to cross the plate, pulling WNC to within 16-8.
In the eighth, Harber again jump-started the rally, this time with a one-out double to left. Connor Klein plated Harber with a single to center field. After an Umscheid fly out, Cole Ferguson drilled a two-run homer to right-center field as the Wildcats closed to within 16-11.
Duce, however, gave the Apaches some additional breathing room in the bottom of the frame with a two-run homer off Phil Belding.
“This program has been blessed,” Whittemore said. “This team was right up there with the very best. This class will go down as some of the best grinders of all time. Those guys’ contributions won’t be forgotten. We have memories that will remain with us for a lifetime.
“I have a lot to be proud of thankful for.”