Some people might want to start calling the Western Nevada College baseball team a World Series launch pad. In the past four seasons, the Wildcats have sent five student athletes to NCAA baseball’s showcase tournament in Omaha, Neb., a year after participating in the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series in Grand Junction, Colo.
North Carolina State relief pitcher Andrew Woeck and Oregon State reliever Brandon Jackson became the latest former Wildcats to pull off the feat.
On Sunday, Woeck was instrumental in helping the Wolfpack make the College World Series for the first time in 45 years with a 17-inning marathon victory against Rice. A day later, Jackson and the Beavers were dogpiling in Corvallis after Oregon State rallied from an opening loss to Kansas State in the Super Regionals to win the next two games, heading to Omaha for the first time since 2007.
They join current WNC pitching coach Josh Moody (Arizona State University, 2010); Baltimore Orioles minor-leaguer Jerome Pena (Texas Christian University, 2010) and now restaurant manager Kyle Starratt (TCU, 2010) as former Wildcats who have pulled off the back-to-back World Series appearances.
Woeck, who struck out four Rice hitters in less than two innings of relief work Sunday, said the jump from one World Series to the next is no mystery to him and others who have come through the WNC program.
“Once you get into great schools, it’s possible to get to the World Series,” Woeck said. He said WNC coach D.J. Whittemore has made such opportunities possible for anyone who plays for him.
“If you can play at WNC, you can play anywhere,” said Woeck, who won 15 of his 20 decisions during his two seasons at WNC and is 6-1 with a 3.09 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 46 2/3 innings for N.C. State this spring. “In my mind, I played here because of the competition we had last year. D.J. sets up a great schedule and great competition, and made it so the transition wasn’t that difficult for me.”
Jackson didn’t make an appearance in the Super Regionals, but the junior has a 4-1 record and 2.48 ERA for the Beavers. In his 2012 season for WNC, the right-hander was second to fifth-round draft selection Dylan Baker with a 10-1 record, and his 1.55 ERA also was the staff’s second-best.
Of note, Jackson’s Oregon State teammate, backup catcher Beau Day, was an assistant coach at WNC in 2012 after hitting .286 for the Wildcats in 2011. Day is hitting .313 in 32 plate appearances for the Beavers.
The Wildcats also had three former players participate in the 2010 College World Series, a year after they led WNC to third place in the JUCO World Series. Pena and Starratt were teammates on the first TCU Horned Frogs team to qualify for the CWS.
Pena said players who come through the WNC program are instilled with confidence to succeed elsewhere.
“D.J. does a great job of recruiting people. He finds the diamonds in the rough,” Pena said. “He finds guys who are willing to be coached, listen and trust in what he has to say. He makes you believe in yourself more than any other coach would.”
In 2009, Pena made the NJCAA World Series all-tournament team as the Wildcats won three games to finish third in Grand Junction, then went on to become only the third player ever to hit a homer from each side of the plate in Omaha.
“That was one of the greatest feelings of my life, if not the greatest,” Pena said. He is now playing for high-Single-A Frederick in the Baltimore Orioles’ organization, hitting seven homers and 12 doubles this season.
Starratt was on WNC’s well-armed pitching staff in 2008 and 2009, winning 14 games, with his lowest ERA (2.43) coming in 2008. The right-hander was on the traveling squad for TCU in 2010 and went 1-1 with a 4.85 ERA for the Horned Frogs in 2012.
Moody also was a member of the 2009 Wildcat NJCAA World Series team, capping a 6-0 season by beating Middle Georgia State College in Grand Junction. A year later, he had a 7-to-1 strikeout-to-walk ration and 0.66 ERA on an Arizona State University squad that won a Pac-10 title and advanced to Omaha.
This spring, he rejoined Whittemore at WNC and helped the Wildcats’ pitching staff win 44 games and pitch to a 2.64 ERA.
These success stories have put the WNC program on the cusp of another feat.
“Outside of Grand Junction, the best baseball tournament in the country is in Omaha,” Whittemore said. “Watching our alumni compete for an NCAA D-1 championship on ESPN is one of the great thrills for our coaching staff. One day soon, we hope to witness one of our former players win the national championship.”