When the Western Nevada College baseball team took three of four games at College of Southern Nevada to begin the Scenic West Athletic Conference season, it was emotionally a tremendous moment for the program.
But after the first half of the SWAC race those four games turned out to be, well, just four games.
The two teams will go at it again this weekend and the Wildcats find themselves looking up at the Coyotes in the SWAC standings. The two teams will play a four-game series with doubleheaders set for noon today and Saturday at John L. Harvey Field.
Since that opening series, CSN has gone 13-3 and is coming off a series in which it won three of four games against College of Southern Idaho.
So CSN now sits a game ahead of WNC in second place in the SWAC standings. Salt Lake Community College leads at 17-3, the Coyotes are 14-6 and the Wildcats (19-14) are 13-7. CSI is in fourth at 10-8.
No counting forfeits, the Wildcats took a slim lead against CSN, 11-10, in the overall series after winning those three of four games. "This is going to be fun," WNC coach D.J. Whittemore said. "It's like Douglas-Carson."
"I told (Carson coach Steve) Cook I was jealous of him," said Whittemore, commenting on last week's Douglas-Carson series. "Now it's my turn."
The importance of this series can't be denied. If either team can somehow take three-of-four, it's in the driver's seat to finish second in the SWAC and will keep its regular season title hopes alive.
A split would keep both teams' chances of finishing second alive and their slim hopes of winning the regular season title alive. The regular season champion will host the postseason tournament while the top two finishers will receive first round byes in the playoffs.
"I think everything will be heightened this week," Whittemore said earlier in the week. "My thinking process is the losing team of this series isn't going to win the regular season title. I don't know if the winning team's going to win it, but I know the loser won't."
About a split keeping either team's title hopes alive, Whittemore said, "You put yourself in a tough situation, but it's still doable."
Whittemore knows his team will be hard-pressed to take three of four from CSN this time.
"They're playing really well," Whittemore said. "Statistically they have the best offense in the league and they have the best pitching staff in the league."
For whatever reason, the Wildcats have had the number of one of the nation's top pitchers in CSN's Tyler Lavigne. WNC rallied against Lavign in last year's playoffs on their way to the JUCO World Series.
In the opener of this year's series, the Wildcats hit Lavign hard on the way to scoring four runs against him in a 6-1 win. But only one of those runs were earned.
But since that rough bullpen outing, Lavigne has been moved into the starting rotation and has been sensational. Overall this year, Lavigne is 4-0 with a 0.93 earned run average and has 57 strikeouts in 38 innings. It figures that Lavigne will be in the starting rotation this weekend.
Lavigne also had outstanding outings against the SWAC's other top two teams in Salt Lake and CSI.
"He's been real tough," Whittemore said. "He's dominated two of the top teams in the conference the last two weeks."
Whittemore said WNC's success against Lavigne can be chalked up to luck more than anything else and that the law of averages should eventually be on Lavigne's side.
"Earlier this year he just ran into some hot hitters," Whittemore said. "They were coming off a weekend without playing. I just think he wasn't as sharp as he could have been."
That shouldn't be the case this weekend, Whittemore said.
The Wildcats will also likely have to face Taylor Cole, who's 7-2 with a 1.59 earned run average. Cole, who led Bishop Gorman to the NIAA 4A State title last year, has shown this year why he was the highest Nevada player taken in last year's major league draft.
Cole shutdown WNC in a 8-2 win to salvage the final game of the series earlier this year.
But the Wildcats' pitching also looks to be peaking at the right time. Starters Kyle Starratt, Josh Moody, Kyle Farrell and Jose Barajas combined to walk just two batters in 24 innings in a four-game sweep at College of Eastern Utah.
"That's going to give you a chance to win every weekend," Whittemore said. "I think our pitchers are continuing to improve each week and this past week that was the best they were all year."
The only reason why Barajas started last week was because he wasn't needed in the first three games because Starratt, Moody and Farrell were so effective. Whittemore doesn't see that happening this week, saying he expects Barajas to be used in the first three games.
That means the likely rotation will be Starratt, Moody, Farrell and Jordan Blanchard, who has also been outstanding in recent weeks.
So Whittemore expects another typical WNC-CSN series where every game is close and runs will be at a premium.