An unfavorable late-afternoon forecast must have been the reason why the Western Nevada College Wildcats and Utah State University Eastern Golden Eagles completed their nine-inning nonconference baseball game in less than two hours on Thursday afternoon.
“That was probably the fastest nine-inning game I’ve ever been a part of,” said WNC freshman outfielder Bradley Lewis after the Wildcats’ 3-0 victory at John L. Harvey Field. “We just wanted to play our game, win and get out before it rained.”
The game started an hour earlier than planned due to a threat of late-afternoon thundershowers in the Carson City area.
By flip-flopping its starting pitchers and relievers, WNC is turning the unique strategy into a winning streak. Pitchers Josh Mill, Max Karnos and Connor Zwetsch combined on a five-hit shutout as the Wildcats won their fifth straight game and raised their overall record to 29-20.
“Everything is working right now,” Karnos said. “Our pitchers are throwing strikes, our hitters are hitting the ball hard and we’re making plays. Hopefully we can keep this going into the playoffs and then we’ll have a chance of winning some games.”
Mill, a freshman reliever, made his third start for the Wildcats and blanked the Golden Eagles for the first four innings. Karnos, a starting pitcher for most of the season, entered in the fifth inning and needed only 26 pitches to navigate his way through four innings of work and earn his fifth victory in nine decisions. Zwetsch wiggled his way out of a bases-loaded jam in the ninth inning to earn his team-leading seventh save.
“It felt good commanding my fastball, and I focused on getting ahead of the hitters, doing my job the best I could,” Mill said. “We all have our roles; we get switched out every now and then. I would see myself as a bullpen guy still and I’m comfortable of a role anywhere I can fit in.”
“Mill threw more fastballs and threw more strikes today, but the biggest difference was we made every play,” WNC Coach D.J. Whittemore said.
WNC scored twice in the second on the strength of some extra-base hitting. D.J. Peters started the inning with a double to left field and scored on a triple to center by Kody Reynolds. The Wildcats made it 2-0 on a one-out sacrifice bunt by Blake Morin. Lewis hit a two-out triple but was stranded on third.
In the fifth, Jake Bennett produced WNC’s third run, knocking in Morin, who reached on a two-base throwing error.
Karnos entered in the fifth inning and barely worked up a sweat in a quick outing that preserved his arm. He needed only four pitches to retire the Golden Eagles in order in the fifth and seven more in a 1-2-3 sixth inning.
But the seventh started ominously for Karnos and the Wildcats as the first two Eastern Utah players reached base. Karnos, however, took some steam out of the rally by narrowly throwing out Greg Money at third base on a sacrifice bunt attempt.
“I heard third from the dugout, so I turned and chucked it, and I knew I was going to need to rush it,” Karnos said. “It was a game-changer.”
Eastern Utah freshman pitcher Dakota Carlson, who defeated WNC earlier in the season, quieted the Wildcat bats over the final three innings.