While the Western Nevada Community College baseball team has been playing solid baseball all season, there was no denying something was missing.
The magic that was such a part of last season had yet to surface this year. Until Sunday.
Chuck Howard's RBI single in the bottom of the seventh inning scored Brad Carlsen with the winning run, giving WNCC a 3-2 win over College of Southern Idaho in the nightcap at Carson High's Ron McNutt Field. The win finished off a sweep of a doubleheader as the Wildcats also won the opener 2-1.
WNCC (10-11-1, 4-4) took three out of four in the series to move ahead of the Eagles (3-5) in the Scenic West Athletic Conference standings. Before Sunday the Wildcats were 0-11 in games where the opponent scored first.
The Wildcats were able to erase 1-0 deficits in both games on Sunday. "Now we're 2-11," WNCC coach D.J. Whittemore said.
WNCC was also 0-6 in one-run games heading into Sunday, but now is 2-6. "We might be turning a corner here," Whittemore said.
The Wildcats also received outstanding efforts on the mound from Josh Brink and Stephen Sauer on Sunday.
In the bottom of the seventh in the nightcap, Carlsen and Howard needed just two pitches for the winning rally.
Carlsen, a left-handed hitter, led off against Southern Idaho's left-handed ace reliever Jason Oatman, who had pitched four scoreless innings and was coming off a save in Saturday's 3-2 win for the Eagles.
But Carlsen doubled off the right field wall on the first pitch he saw from Oatman. "That was huge for him," Whittemore said. "He's been working so hard."
Whittemore decided to give Howard a chance to hit away instead of having him bunt to move Carlsen to third. The strategy paid off as Howard went with the first pitch he saw, a fastball away, and took it to right centerfield to score Carlsen.
"Howard's a great opposite field hitter," Whittemore said. "I've got a lot of confidence in Howard. Two pitches there in the seventh was all we needed."
Whittemore was also thankful that he didn't have to make a decision on if to have Howard bunt with one strike. "I hadn't made up my mind, yet," he said.
Saurer pitched out of trouble in the first when he induced an inning-ending double play with runners at first and third and one out. His only walk led the Eagles taking a 1-0 lead in the third.
In the bottom of the third, Thomas Miller walked and Anthony Garcia doubled to the centerfield wall. Andrew Ferguson followed with a single to score Miller and Garcia scored on Carlsen's fielder's choice to give WNCC a 2-1 lead.
Sauer's only hit batsman of the game led another run for the Eagles that tied the game 2-2 in the sixth. But Sauer went on to pitch a complete game for the win.
It was Sauer's second straight outstanding start as he was coming off an effort in which he allowed only one unearned run in a 3-2 loss to Community College of Southern Nevada. "I just built off of last week," he said.
"He hit his spots," said Howard, who caught Sauer behind the plate. "He got ahead of guys. He kept his composure."
After losing three of four last week at CCSN, the mood of the club was obviously different on Sunday.
"Winning's fun," Sauer said. "Coming back with three wins after losing three at CCSn and winnning two close games at home it puts us back in the race."
Kyle Bondurant had two hits and Ryan Simpson added a hit for WNCC.
In the opener, Brink struggled in the first and allowed a run after two walks, a double steal and a wild pitch. Brink ended up walking three in the inning, but wouldn't allow any more runs in his five innings of work. "The big thing was Brink battling in the first game," Whittemore said.
WNCC overcame an outstanding effort by James Wallace, who struck out 10 and allowed just two hits over six innings. The Wildcats broke through in the third when Bondurant and Logan Parsley walked and Garcia followed with a two-run double.
Whittemore said he expects to continue to count on Garcia's production. "He's going to be a big part of our offense," Whittemore said.
Jeremy Joustra pitched a scoreless sixth and got the first two outs in the seventh. But then he allowed a single and walked the next two batters to load the bases before giving way to Dan Grubbs, who needed just two pitches to induced a popup to pick up the save. Carlsen had WNCC's other hit.
It won't be any easier for WNCC this weekend when it hosts Salt Lake City Community College in another key SWAC series. The Wildcats will face two pitchers who beat them last year.
"We're excited winning a series against them," said Whittemore about the Eagles. "They've got as good of pitching as there is in the conference. It will be another big series next weekend."