Once again the Western Nevada Community College baseball team heads into its weekly version of the most important series of the season.
The Wildcats (21-16-1) head for the road for another key Scenic West Athletic Conference series when it plays at first place College of Southern Idaho. The two teams will play a four-game series with doubleheaders today and Friday. Both doublheaders will begin at 11 a.m.
WNCC sits in third in the SWAC at 15-9, two games behind 17-7 Southern Idaho. Community College of Southern Nevada is in second at 16-8.
The importance of the series can't be diminished as the format for the league's postseason has been changed. This year, two three-team double elimination playoffs will be held with the conference's top two regular season finishers as the hosts.
The top two teams would also receive a first round bye. As it stands now, the Wildcats would have to travel to CCSN and wouldn't receive a first round bye. The winners of each playoff would then meet the following weekend with the higher seed as host in a best two of three format for the right to move on in the postseason.
WNCC is coming off a series in which it split four games against CCSN at John L. Harvey Field.
"It doesn't get any easier this week that's for sure," WNCC coach D.J. Whittemore said.
In the first series between the two teams, WNCC won three of four. But since that series, Southern Idaho has gone 18-2, which includes a 16-game winning streak. "They've really improved since we've seen them last," Whittemore said.
Not surprisingly, Southern Idaho has an outstanding pitching staff, including two of the league's best, Jordan Latham and Adam Urnberg. Latham has an earned run average of about one and is among the conference's leaders in strikeouts.
"Latham's numbers are as good as anybody's in the conference," Whittemore said. "He doesn't give up a lot of hits."
This will be the fifth time that WNCC has faced Urnberg and the Wildcats have gone 1-3 against them so far.
Another outstanding pitcher is James Wallace, whose status is unknown. Wallace has been out with a sore arm.
But Southern Idaho hasn't missed a beat with James Oatman, a freshman left-hander, who picked up the save in Southern Idaho's only win against WNCC earlier in the year.
Oatman has moved into the starting rotation to replace Wallace and has 32 strikeouts to just four walks. "His numbers are excellent," Whittemore said. "He's pitching well for them."
The Wildcats will counter with their outstanding starting rotation of Cole Rohrbough, Justin Garcia, Stephen Sauer and Josh Brink.
Southern Idaho is also potent on offense with Nik Gumeson, who leads the conference in RBI (31) and is second in runs scored (28). Southern Idaho has the top three leaders in the conference in runs scored.
"They can really hit the fastball," Whittemore said. "They're aggressive hitters. You've really got to command the fastball to pitch effectively against those guys."
The Wildcats face a daunting task at Southern Idaho. Southern Idaho is 14-2 at home while WNCC is 6-8 on the road.
"We're trying to do something we've never done before," said Whittemore about winning series on the road against an upper echelon team. "The quality of the pitching, it makes it very difficult to win series on the road.
"I still feel like we're getting better. We're making strides in the right direction."