WNC's boys of winter set for season

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal

Cathleen Allison/Nevada Appeal

In such a short time, the Western Nevada College baseball program has set a lofty standard to meet.

The Wildcats won the Scenic West Athletic Conference regular season title in its first season and advanced to the JUCO World Series last year. There's no denying that with only six returning players and 20 new players on its 26-man roster, uncertainty surrounds this year's squad as the program heads into its third season.

But Wildcat coach D.J. Whittemore said the standards of the program remain unchanged.

"Nobody's expecations are higher than your own," said Whittemore, commenting that the new players coming into the program have their own high standards. "Our goals really stay the same which is to get better faster than anyone else."

"It's just a fact," Whittemore also said about the team's inexperience. "There's no other way around it. That means we've got to creat a brand new identity."

The Wildcats have received a No. 5 preseason ranking from Collegiate Baseball, but the ranking is clearly based on last year's achievement. The top five teams in Collegiate Baseball's preseason poll were picked in order based on the finish of the top five teams in last year's World Series and that obvioulsy wasn't a coincidence. "I don't feel like they did a lot of homework," Whittemore said.

Plus this year's schedule is brutal with the first 28 games on the road. WNC opens the season this weekend with a four-game series against South Mountain Community College of Phoenix in Las Vegas. The Wildcats will play at 4 p.m. Friday at Centennial High and then will play at noon and 3 p.m. Saturday and 11 a.m. Sunday at Sierra Vista High.

Also included in the schedule is a trip to Arizona State's Packard Stadium to play Chandler Gilbert Community College. And the first 12 Scenic West games are all on the road against the conference's other top three teams, College of Southern Nevada, College of Southern Idaho and Salt Lake Community College.

"It's definitely set up for us to struggle," said Whittemore about the schedule. But Whittemore noted that last year's team had the most losses of any club at the World Series.

He also said his teams have always enjoyed going on the road. "The toughest part about the travel is going to be our schoolwork," Whittemore said.

Whittemore said Southern Nevada - with eight Division I signees and three players who have been picked in the first 10 rounds of the Major League draft - will be the team to beat in the Scenic West. This year regional playoff will be held at the regular season champion.

"I don't think that it's too soon for everybody to be booking plane tickets for the regional in Vegas," Whittemore said.

The winner of the regional will advance to the district playoff for the right to play in the JUCO World Series. The top two finishers in the Scenic West in the regular season will receive first round byes in the regional. So Whittemore obviously said the goal is to still win the regular season title or at least to finish in the top two.

A huge concern will be WNC's thin pitching staff. The Wildcats have only nine full-time pitchers. Andrew Reid will be expected to pitch as well and there are several other position players WNC could use on the mound.

Whittemore, though, is actually looking forward to the challenge of having such a thin staff.

"Our starting pitching will be asked to pitch deeper in games than they have in the past," Whittemore said. "It's kind of fun to know that we need every guy. It will be fun."

Two returning players from last year - catcher Chuck Howard and WNC's lone returning pitcher, Josh Creveling - are still confident despite the lack of depth in pitching.

Creveling said despite the lack of experience, he believes this team has come together quicker than last year's squad. "We've definitely got a lot of talent on this team," he said.

Howard said this year's team should be better offensively and he added he had confidence in the pitching staff as well.

"We have a real good contact hitting team this year," Howard said. "That's the biggest difference."

"I know they're going to give me their best," Howard also said about the pitchers. "There's no doubt in my mind that they can get the job done."

This weekend, WNC's offense should be challenge as South Mountain's pitching staff features three Division I signees and two others who have pitched for Division I schools.

Whittemore said he also believed this team should be better offensive, just as good or even better defensively than teams in the past and a better baserunning team as well. "I think this team's going to score more runs," he said.

But the question will be will this year's team have the intangibles that the first two clubs had. "Only time will tell how this team matches up," Whittemore said.

Here's a look at WNC's roster:

Jerome Pena: He will start in right field and will be the team's leadoff hitter. Pena can also play in left field and in the infield. "I'm real excited about his skill set," Whittemore said.

Logan Parsley: The Carson High graduate, a sophomore, has signed with the University of Nevada. He will start at second base and can also play center field. He will hit in the No. 2 spot and could move up to leadoff if Pena is used in the No. 3 spot.

Lance Ray: He will hit third and be the designated hitter. He can also play first and left and right field. "As good of hitter that has put on our uniform," Whittemore said.

Andrew Reid: He will hit fourth and start at first. Last year for WNC, he hit .400 in Scenic West play. Reid should also see plenty of time on the mound. He could even become the No. 2 starter or the closer.

"We've got a lot of confidence in him," Whittemore said. "I think Reid's hoping to prove he's a Division I baseball player."

Brian Barnett: The McQueen standout, a freshman, will start in left field and can also play third base. "He's swinging the bat as well or better than anybody," Whittemore said.

Chuck Howard: He will be the starting catcher. "Howard's a capable player offensively and defensively," Whittemore said. "I think he's a Division I caliber player."

Cliff Shepard: Shepard hit over .300 last year for WNC in conference play. He will start in center field and can play all the outfield positions.

Kyle Gutchewsky: He will start at shortstop. A solid defender with a strong, accurate arm. "He's a darn good hitter, too," Whittemore said.

Davis Banks: The Reno High product will start at third base. "Davis is really an outstanding defender," Whittemore said.

Travis Feiner: He will receive his share of playing time in the infield. Along with Pena, Feiner could see time on the mound as well.

Logan Odom: He can play in the outfield and should see plenty of time as the designated hitter. While he has a tender arm now, by the end of the year Odom could also see time on the mound.

Kevin Schlange: The Carson High product, who started much of last season for WNC, will add depth at second, third and short.

"He has made some huge strides offensively," Whittemore said. "He might be the most improved player we've had from year one to year two. That's a tribute to his work ethic and his intelligence."

Darren Bruhns: He will see his share of time behind the plate as the backup catcher. Bruhns was a first-team all-state performer in Oregon. He won back-to-back state titles in high school and another state crown in American Legion.

Marshall Kennebrew: He's a candidate to be the right-handed designated hitter against left-handed pitching and will pinch hit against left-handed pitching. He can also play in the outfield. "He's probably the most improved player from the fall to the spring," Whittemore said.

Mike Long: He could fill the role that Chad Walling filled last year. He'll likely be a late inning defensive replacement in the outfield along with being a pinch runner and left-handed hitting pinch hitter. He's WNC's most versatile bench player.

Brett Moravec: He will be another utility player who can play in the infield and outfield and could even see time on the mound as well.

Victor Nunez: He will add depth at catcher.

Kyle Starratt: WNC's No. 1 starter, he's scheduled to be the opening day starter on Friday.

"Obvious comparisons have been drawn with him and Justin Garcia," said Whittemore about the former WNC pitcher now in the Tampa Bay Devil Rays organization. "I think Kyle's stuff is better than Justin's at a similar point in his career."

Kyle Farrell: The No. 2 starter who's also scheduled to be the No. 2 starter this weekend. "Farrell's got the best stuff on the team," Whittemore said.

Josh Moody: Due to arm problems, he was shut down in the fall, but he's ready to take over as the No. 3 starter this season and this weekend.

Matt Klein: If he doesn't see time on the mound on Friday or Saturday he could be used as the No. 4 starter on Sunday and is a candidate to be the No. 4 starter this season.

Jose Barajas: He will be one of the pitchers that WNC goes to when the Wildcats have a lead.

Josh Creveling: Another pitcher who will come in for WNC to protect a lead.

Javier Perez: He has improved his velocity the most of any pitcher on the staff. He won three games in five days in the Nevada State American Legion Tournament.

Jordan Blanchard: The former walk-on has earned a scholarship. Whittemore said he has two outstanding off-speed pitches.

James Crockett: "He's got a great breaking ball," Whittemore said. "When he's in the zone he's tough to hit."

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