The Western Nevada Community College baseball team will be dealing with its own version of Great Expectations this year.
WNCC will have a tough act to follow in its second year after a surprisingly successful inaugural season in which it went 37-18 and won the Scenic West Athletic Conference Regular season title. With an experienced nucleus coming back, the weight of expectations the program will have to carry will be heavier than last year.
But the Wildcats still see themselves as underdogs. "We had some success last year," said first baseman Thomas Miller, who just like he was last year will be one of the leaders if not the leader of this year's team. We just have to play well and if we play well we'll win some ballgames.
"We need to just worry about ourselves, worrying about playing the best we can play. We've just got to work our butts off."
Miller, a Division I prospect and one of three WNCC players to receive preseason honors from Collegiate Baseball as one of the nation's top junior college players at his position, takes his position as leader seriously.
"I kind of take pride getting my team ready to go out and make sure we're ready to play," he said.
While Miller obviously knows the goal is unrealistic, he said, "We want to win every game we play. We play to win every single game. We want to play as close to our potential as we can play."
Just like last year, Justin Garcia, who has signed with UNLV and was also named as one of the nation's top right-handed pitchers by Collegiate Baseball, will be the opening game starter when WNCC opens its season at 3 p.m. Friday against Arizona's Cochise Community College at Henderson's Morse Field. The Widcats will then face Arizona's Yavapai Community College at 6 p.m. Friday at Morse Field.
On Saturday, WNCC will play Cochise at Green Valley High at 3 p.m. and then on Sunday will play Yavapai at 2 p.m. at Morse Field. WNCC has three other experienced starters who will see action this weekend.
Cole Rohrbough, who has signed with Arizona State and was named as one of the nation's top left-handed pitchers by Collegiate Baseball, will start game two. Stephen Sauer, who has also signed with Arizona State, will start game three and Josh Brink will start game four.
"I'll really be anxious," said Garcia about Friday. "I've got a lot more to prove this year.
"I think this year's team is a little more talented than last year's. If we can come together like last year's team we can do a lot of special things.
"The team has come really close together. Everybody feels pretty comfortable with each other."
Returning starting outfielder Pat Grennan, like Garcia, said the team's staying humble. "I still see ourselves as underdogs," he said. "We're still a second year school."
Grennan, like the rest of the team, is looking forward to a weekend in which WNCC will play the nation's No. 2 team (Yavapai) and one of Arizona's top three programs in recent years (Cochise).
"It's going to be a big test," Grennan said. "If we want to be ranked again, we've got to beat those guys."
Second-year WNCC coach D.J. Whittemore said keeping the team humble won't be a challenge.
"I don't think that's going to be a problem," Whittemore said. "They haven't done anything, yet."
Western Nevada Community College's baseball program hasn't even begun its second season, yet, but it continues to reach new heights.
In all, WNCC will play 14 games against ranked teams. The first weekend of February, WNCc will travel to meet two ranked teams in California, Orange Coast College (No. 7) and Santa Ana Community College (No. 3).
Also on the schedule is a doubleheader at New Mexico Community Collegte, ranked No. 11 in the nation.
While Dixie State has left the Scenic West to move up to Division II, the conference will still be tough. College of Southern Idaho could be considered the favorite since its ranked No. 17 in the nation. WNCC will have eight games against Southern Idaho.
"We're going to be challenged early and often," Whittemore said. "We'll have to play well to win every game but that's the way you want it."
"CSI is probably the favorite at least in the eyes of the polls," Whittemore also said about the Scenic West.
On paper, WNCC and Community College of Southern Nevada could have the conference's two best pitching staffs. "They might have the best staff in the league," said Whittemore about CCSN.
Whittemore also noted that CCSN has several outstanding hitters transferring in. In addition, Whittemore noted that Salt Lake Community College has its top two pitchers returning, both of whom beat the Wildcats in conference last year and that Southern Idaho has three pitchers who were drafted.
WNCC also has a relatively small roster with 25 healthy players. The Wildcats received a big blow when it lost Reno's Ryan Simpson, who injured his knee in an intrasquad scrimmage on Sunday. "It doesn't look good," said Whittemore about Simpson's status.
Whittemore said Simpson was slated to hit No. 4 in the lineup. "Losing him hurts," Whittemore said.
The loss of Simpson also leaves WNCC with just two catchers - returning starter Taylor Mieras and Chuck Howard.
"We have depth where we need it on the mound," said Whittemore, commenting on his 12-member pitching staff. Here's a look position-by-position at this year's team.
Catcher - "Probably as good of catch and throw guy in the league," said Whittemore about Howard.
Mieras strength is how he handles the pitchers. "He handles the staff so well," Whittemore said. "He's like a coach on the field."
First base - Along with Miller there's also Andrew Reid.
Second base - Kyle Bondurant, last year's starter, returns.
Shortstop - Freshman Kevin Schlange of Carson High will start. "He's proven to be a consistent performer for us," Whittemore said.
Third base - Freshman Logan Parsley of Carson will start and has made the transition from second base where he played for the most part at CHS.
While WNCC is an experienced team, it still relies on pitching, defense and timely hitting. So how far the Wildcats will go this year will depend on the development of two inexperienced players - Schlange at short and Parsley at third.
Whittemore said Parsley has made a solid transition to third. "He's good," Whittemore said. "He's a good baseball player.
"He's definitely going to be an early signee next year. I think he has a chance to be a Pac 10 player."
Returning veteran Chad Walling of Douglas High will be Parsley's primary backup at third. Walling should see his share of time as a utility player again this year as he can also play all the outfield positions and he'll be the primary backup to centerfielder Brad Carlsen of Spanish Springs. Walling could also see time at designated hitter and could even be used as an emergency pitcher early in the season.
In an effort to put Reid in the lineup more, WNCC will also move Miller to third to make room for Reid at first and move Parsley to second and Bondurant to short.
"It's taking sometime but I'm pretty used to it now," said Parsley about his move to third. "I think our team's awesome. We have great chemistry. Everybody gets along. We back up each other."
Left field - Along with Grennan there's Galena's Andrew Ferguson. "He's been one of our most consistent hitters," said Whittemore about Ferguson.
Center field - Carlsen, last year's starter in right, has made the move to center.
Right field - Anthony Garcia will start, but is being pushed by Cliff Shepard. "There's plenty of competition in right also," Whittemore said.
Designated hitter - Reid, Walling, Grennan, Ferguson, Garcia and Shepard could all see time as DH.
Pitchers - Along with its four returning starters, WNCC also returns its top reliever in McQueen's Dan Grubbs, who has signed with New Mexico.
"He'll finish some games for us," said Whittemore about using Grubbs as a closer. "We can't wait until the end of a game to use him. We've got to use him when we need him."
Reno's Chris Rickey and Wooster's Jeremy Joustra are two other candidates who could close. After Grubbs, Whittemore said his top three relievers are Josh Creveling, who could also see time as a DH, Jake Bottari and T.J. Wohlever. There's also freshman Ryan O'Dell.
"All 12 of our pitchers will see some extended action the first weekend," Whittemore said.
"We're going to lean on our pitching staff," Whittemore said. "We've got four great starters and a deep bullpen."
Whittemore said he has "three left-handers out of the bullpen we have confidence in (Wohlever, Rickey, Carson's Wes Osmer).
"He probably has been the most improved guy since the fall," said Whittemore about Osmer. Whittemore added Osmer has been throwing with more velocity.
WNCC's tentative lineup for the opener based on facing a right-hander will be: 1, Bondurant, 2B; 1, Carlsen, CF; 3, Parsley, 3B; 4, A. Garcia, RF; 5, Miller, 1B; 6, Reid, DH; 7, Grennan, LF; 8, Mieras, C; 9, Schlange, SS.
"I think offensively our club should be a little better than last year," Whittemore said. "A little more power. I think our lineup should be pretty good one through nine."