Finding a way to win games that require a concerted comeback effort is one of many reasons why Western Nevada College coach D.J. Whittemore is on the cusp of his 400th victory with the Carson City baseball program.
The Wildcats nearly did just that on Saturday afternoon against Salt Lake Community College in the finale of a four-game series at John L. Harvey Field. After trailing 8-4 in the fifth inning, the Wildcats battled back to within one run by the final out in the ninth inning. However, with the bases loaded, Salt Lake relief pitcher Jared White retired David Modler on a groundout, preserving the Bruins’ 9-8 victory and preventing a four-game sweep by the Wildcats.
“We played every pitch; we have a bunch of grinders,” said Whittemore, whose first-place club dropped to 6-2 in the SWAC. “Salt Lake played better than us: swung the bats better, pitched better and made more plays. They deserved to win today.”
Jake Bennett, who was on deck when the final out was recorded, supplied four hits and ran his streak of reaching base to 24 games in the defeat.
“We have to learn how to win that final game of the series,” Bennett said. “The way I see it is that every pitch is important. From the first pitch of the game to the last out, we always give ourselves a shot. Some of the stuff that happened earlier in the game, with the error and the missed opportunities, you’re going to get overshadowed.”
Bennett stroked an RBI double in the Wildcats’ half of the eighth to pull WNC within 9-7. The Wildcats threatened to score more, but third baseman Michael Macove made a leaping grab of a Kody Reynolds’ liner that appeared headed to the left-field corner for a run-scoring hit.
An error, two walks and a single by D.J. Peters trimmed Salt Lake’s lead to one run in the ninth, but White was able to get Modler to send a one-hopper to first baseman Austin Ovard, who ended the game by touching first base.
“That’s what you work every day for, hard for,” Bennett said of a chance to win a game. “At that point, you just have fun and know that you have done everything you could. I told Modler that: ‘Go have fun. You’ve worked hard and you deserve the opportunity.’ “
An extended relief effort by sophomore Cody Kerns kept the Wildcats close and gave them a chance at rallying.
In his longest outing of the season, Kerns threw 5 1/3 innings of two-hit relief, striking out six.
“To go up and throw strikes, that’s all my focus is then and there,” Kerns said. “If I throw strikes, if they hit it, they hit it. I got people behind me.”
“Cody is a great teammate, a great competitor,” Whittemore said. “He gave us everything he had, and I was happy with what he gave us this weekend.”
Salt Lake’s first-pitch hitting approach in the first inning created some instant offense. But the Wildcats were up to the task of erasing their five-run deficit in the first. WNC, conversely, took a patient approach at the plate to score four times.
“We have conflicting styles of play, absolutely,” Whittemore said. “Salt Lake has a great system, a great program. Their results should show for what success they’ve had over the years.”
Bennett’s aggressive baserunning helped the Wildcats get a run back in the fifth. After hitting a single to center, Bennett stole second base and went to third on Reynolds’ deep fly to left. Lichty took care of sending Bennett home, supplying a base hit to center.
A leadoff single by Bennett in the seventh started another Wildcat comeback. Even though Bennett was thrown out trying to make it to third when Reynolds’ hard groundball went through Macove’s legs into left field, a two-out single by Peters made the score 8-6.
WNC’s No 5 hitter and home run lead Corey Pool was injured trying to reach across the baseline to retrieve a throw from in the first inning and was lifted for a pinch-hitter in the third. Pool said that the baserunner ran through his arm, hyperextending it backward.
Pool, however, said that he came out of the game because of a nagging hip injury from the fall. The sophomore first baseman said that he began feeling discomfort in his hip after Friday’s action. He expects to be ready for the opening game of the Colorado Northwestern series on Thursday.
First pitch is at 2 p.m.