One of Coach D.J. Whittemore’s main goals each season is to find a home at the next level for each of his Western Nevada College sophomore baseball players.
Whittemore scratched three names off his relocation list on Wednesday when pitcher Christian Stolo, outfielder Conor Harber and middle infielder Jack Hall signed NCAA Division I letters of intent during a ceremony attended by many of their teammates on the Carson City campus.
“Two of the most important days of the year are graduation and national letter intent day,” Whittemore said. “Every time one of them signs, our job gets a little easier. All of the coaches call for the best available players.”
Stolo didn’t have to look far for his next baseball destination. Despite interest from defending NCAA champion UCLA, 2012 titlist Arizona and Atlantic Coast Conference power Virginia, the McQueen High School graduate decided to remain in Northern Nevada. The all-Region 18 pitcher became the eighth Wildcat to move from WNC to the University of Nevada, Reno.
“It means a lot, and it’s a dream come true to play for a Division I program that I grew up watching a lot,” Stolo said.
In addition, Harber, the first .400 hitter in program history, signed with one of the Pac-12’s elite, the Oregon Ducks, and infielder Hall became the first Wildcat to earn a scholarship to the University of San Francisco.
During his freshman season at WNC, Stolo was one of four Wildcats to earn Region 18 first-team honors. He posted an 8-3 record and a 1.98 earned run average, striking out 65 hitters in 77 1/3 innings. Among Wildcat starting pitchers, Stolo was the toughest to hit as opponents only generated a .176 batting average against him.
Stolo’s value to the Wildcats didn’t end with his once-a-week start on the mound. He became an everyday player in the outfield, hitting .315 — fifth best on the team. He collected seven doubles, two triples and a homer in 89 at-bats.
With Harber, there was little that he didn’t do for the Wildcats in 2013, finishing runner-up for Scenic West Athletic Conference player of the year honors. Harber became the fourth Wildcat to be named as a National Junior College Athletic Association All-American and set three WNC single-season records with 88 hits, a .411 batting average and 11 triples.
“Conor is the best athlete ever to play in our program,” said Whittemore, referring to the Astoria, Ore., native as a five-tool player. “He will be one of the top junior college athletes in the entire country this season.”
Harber is pleased that he will get to share the next step in his baseball career with family and friends.
“It means a lot to me that my family can come watch me play,” Harber said. “And it takes a lot of the stress away knowing that this is knocked off the list and I can mainly focus on school and playing baseball the rest of the way.”
The first-team All-Region 18 player stole 16 bases, scored 56 runs, totaled 29 extra-base hits, recorded four outfield assists and registered a team-low 0.96 earned run average in five pitching appearances.
“Conor’s love of the game and his work ethic, not to mention his talent, make him really fun to watch every day — whether it is practice or a game,” Whittemore said. “He broke three program records as a freshman and his desire to be the best all time make him a good bet to break a few more in his sophomore season.”
For Hall, Improvement and nearly flawless fielding helped him land a spot with the San Francisco Dons. He made just one error in 36 chances during his freshman season with the Wildcats.
“The biggest gift for me is to give this gift to my mom,” said Hall, noting the sacrifices that she made to allow him to pursue his baseball career.
Hall hit .214 with three doubles in 42 at-bats in 2013, and Whittemore expects those numbers to rise in his sophomore season.
“He has worked tirelessly on his swing and developed as an offensive weapon,” the coach said.