After sweeping them in Friday, the Western Nevada Community College Wildcats found a way to keep the College of Eastern Utah's bats silent for a third consecutive time in the first game of their doubleheader on Saturday, but the Golden Eagles returned the favor in the nightcap to claim their first-ever win against WNCC.
The Wildcats won the opener, 8-0, but dropped the second game, 4-3, at John L. Harvey Field.
With the College of Southern Idaho sweeping the Community College of Southern Nevada to move into first place on Saturday, the Wildcats, now 17-7 in Scenic West Athletic Conference (SWAC) play and 19-14-1 overall, remain in third, two games out of first and one game behind second-place CCSN.
WNCC will meet the Coyotes in an all-Nevada matchup, hosting a pair of doubleheaders beginning on Friday.
Wildcats starter Stephen Sauer (4-2) and Chris Rickey teamed up to pitch a three-hit shutout of the Golden Eagles and got support from a well-balanced offense - seven batters combined for 10 hits - to take game one.
The 20-year-old Sauer went five innings, giving up three hits while striking out six, and Rickey pitched two hitless innings (he walked one) in relief as the Wildcats kept the shackles on the CEU batters (WNCC allowed only one run per game in the teams' first three games).
"In the first game I thought we played as close to as well as we have all year," said WNCC coach D.J. Whittemore. "We eliminated defensive errors and had only three strikeouts offensively. I was pleased with our effort."
Whittemore lavished a lot of his praise on the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Sauer, a sophomore from Shadow Ridge High School in Las Vegas, who has signed with Arizona State.
"I can't say enough about Sauer's outing," Whittemore said. "He was really sharp today. He was throwing three pitches for strikes today. He was getting ahead in his pitches."
Whittemore said Sauer has continued to progress and impress this season, after dividing last season between starting and coming out of the bullpen.
"Sauer really was a consummate team player last year," Whittemore said. "He pitched out of the bullpen even though he felt he could be a starter. He was unselfish. This year he came in with the clear intention of being a starter.
"The maturation process takes time. He's been patient, diligent and responsive to coaching. He has a lot of heart and has earned a scholarship at ASU and is a pro prospect as well."
Sauer wasn't as happy with his performance as Whittemore.
"It wasn't my best (game)," Sauer said. "I had my fastball and slider and a couple of changeups. It wasn't an unbelievable day for me. It was a good day. One of those hits was good. The other two were weak."
Sauer said the key for the Wildcats was to put up runs first - which they did in the first game.
"Our scouting report said they were ultra-aggressive hitters," Sauer said of the Golden Eagles. "If you are a sinker baller, sink it right away and get groundouts. I think I had one flyball today. My sinker was sinking."
After watching the Wildcats get ahead in the count in both games on Friday, the Golden Eagles swung early against Sauer and got two of their hits on first pitches.
But that wasn't nearly enough, especially after the Wildcats put up five runs in the fourth inning after getting two in the second.
Catcher Chuck Howard drove in Pat Grennan with a single to extend the lead to 3-0. Second baseman Logan Parsley (2-for-3, 1 RBI) later knocked in Howard with a sacrifice fly before center fielder Brad Carlsen (2-for-3, 3 RBI) cleared the bases with a double to give WNCC a 7-0 lead.
Third baseman Thomas Miller added an RBI-double in the eighth. Carlsen scored on a throwing error to first on an Andrew Reid at-bat and Cliff Shepard not only gave the Wildcats a 2-0 lead on an RBI-single in the second, but had a spectacular diving, rolling catch in right field in the fifth inning, robbing CEU's Josh Ford of a hit.
"It's sweet - awesome- when guys pick you up like that," Sauer said of Shepard's catch. "When they sell out (defensively), it's a great feeling."
CEU starter Cole Evans (1-4) took the loss for the Golden Eagles, giving up seven hits and seven runs (four earned) in four innings. Garrett Rose went three innings, allowing three hits and one run, in relief of Evans.
CEU committed four errors in the first game after a five-error performance in Friday's opener.
Even though it would add three more errors in Saturday's nightcap, CEU got a dominating performance from 6-foot-5, 230-pound Jake Bankowski (1-2), who was making his initial transition to starter from closer.
Bankowski pitched six-plus innings, spreading out three runs (one earned) and six hits, while striking out two. Seth Spainhower, who made his initial transition to closer from starter, notched his first save in one inning of work.
Eastern Utah turned the tables on WNCC, jumping on top, 3-0, in the third and adding another run in the fourth.
Center fielder Josh Barber and right fielder Bret Boyd sandwiched RBI-singles around a Colby Read fielder's choice, which knocked in Marcus Hanley to give Bankowski nearly all the run support he would need.
Tyler Nelson added an RBI-single to make it 4-0 an inning later.
Reminiscent of last year's team, which went 37-18 and won the SWAC regular-season title in its inaugural season, the Wildcats nearly pulled victory out of the jaws of defeat.
A Grennan fielder's choice scored Chad Walling to cut the Golden Eagles' lead to 4-1 in the fifth and after designated hitter Reid's double scored Howard (2-for-3), the Wildcats trailed 4-2 and Spainhower entered the game in the seventh.
Shepard reached on a walk and second baseman Kyle Bondurant advanced Reid and Shepard with a sacrifice bunt.
Grennan hit a sacrifice fly to score Reid and advance Shepard to third, but the Wildcats' magic ended when Parsley popped out to second.
"It's nice to salvage a win," said CEU assistant coach Frank Ori. Ori was substituting for head coach Scott Madsen, who was ejected in the sixth inning of Friday's second game against WNCC and was serving a suspension. "We battled throughout. It was fun, though. It's going to be a lot of fun when they come to our place (in the season's final series). They have a great team. They're well-coached and ready to play. We're happy to get out of here with a win. It's our first win ever against Western Nevada. We're happy about that."
Dan Grubbs (0-2) took the loss for WNCC, relieving starter Josh Brink after 2 2/3 innings. Grubbs allowed one run and two hits in 1 1/3 innings of work. Brink surrendered three runs and five hits.
Sophomore transfer Jeremy Joustra allowed two hits in three scoreless innings of play.
Whittemore said this year's squad still has some issues to address if it is to rival last year's magical team.
"As far as comebacks, our miracle team had great chemistry," Whittemore said. "They felt like they were part of a family and played well for each other. They had a never-say-die attitude.
"The chemistry and never-say-die attitude has been a little slow in coming around this year. We're climbing that hill and getting nearer to the top. Things have come easier this year. We haven't had to work as hard to develop a grind-it-out approach and play every game like it's our last."
Whittemore expects a tough series from CCSN.
"They are a lot like we are in terms of great starting pitching," Whittemore said of the Coyotes, to whom WNCC lost three of four games this season, but outscored 6-5. "The toughest thing is to score runs. Runs will likely be at a minimum. It will come down to execution. We have to do everything right and play a perfect game."