Coming off a dominating performance at last week’s Scenic West Athletic Conference, the Western Nevada Wildcats open District play on Thursday against Lamar College in Sterling, Colo.
First pitch is set for 11 a.m. The other first-round match-up pits Northeastern Colorado against Cochise at 2:30 p.m.
Western Nevada has won 19 of its last 21 games and is 41-18 entering the event. Cody Hamlin is WNC’s scheduled starter, but he’s coming off a 120-pitch outing last week in Henderson, and coach D.J. Whittemore hopes he’ll be ready. Hamlin compiled an 9-2 record with a 1.56 ERA.
In Lamar, the Wildcats face one of the most productive teams around. Lamar has averaged more than 40 wins a season over the last 10 years.
“I saw them play last year (in Salt Lake), so we know about the guys coming back, and they have a veteran squad,” Whittemore said. “They have the best player in the country (Sam Wilson). He’s first on the team in triples and homers (7 and 6), second on the team in RBIs, leads the team in runs, hits, wins (on the mound, 11) and strikeouts (105 in 84.2 innings).
“Every team coming in is hot. The thing is when you start the tournament everybody is 0-0. The team that keeps doing what it has been doing is going to have the best chance to advance,” Whittemore said.
The Wildcats enter the game with nine players hitting .280 or better. All-Scenic West outfielder Conor Harber leads the way at .385 with a homer, 33 RBIs and 16 stolen bases in 20 attempts. Christian Stolo, the only Northern Nevada player on the roster is hitting .369 and doing a nice job at the top of the order. He has 12 RBIs and six stolen bases on 11 attempts. He has a .494 on-base percentage. Connor Klein, a second-team SWAC selection, is hitting .343 with three homers and 28 RBI. Outfielders Matt Becker (18 stolen bases) and Joseph Crunkilton, who was a second-team all-SWAC pick, are hitting .325 and .310, respectively. Crunkilton is tied for third on the team with 28 RBIs, and he is coming off a nice performance at the conference tournament. Alex Fife, a reserve outfielder, is hitting .293, Donald Glover Jr. is at .290, catcher Cole Ferguson, a second-team performer, is at .287 and third baseman Mike Umscheid is at .282 with 20 RBIs.
If Hamlin is unable to go, Whittemore could turn to Stolo (7-2, 1.63) or Phil Belding (8-1, 2.22). The WNC pitching staff has a 2.49 ERA entering the tournament.
“If we have to make a change, we’ll make a change,” Whittemore said.
For Lamar, besides Wilson (11-2, 1.17 ERA and .438 average), Brett Bernal hits .348, Connor Crane is at .368, Josh Day is at .367, Thomslee Mares is at .336, Shane Fessel is at .308, Heath Davis is at .317 and Nate Ross is at .371.
The winner of the double-elimination region tournament advances to the World Series in Grand Junction, Colo.