Kaplan pitches seven shutout innings in WNC’s win vs. CNCC
Baseball fans saw something out of the ordinary on Saturday at John L. Harvey Field.
Clinging to a two-run lead in the eighth inning, Western Nevada College coach D.J. Whittemore calculatingly shifted his relief pitchers from the mound to left field and first base to preserve a 3-0 victory over Colorado Northwestern Community College in the final game of a Scenic West Athletic Conference baseball series.
“We pride ourselves on having athletic pitchers and having baseball players with more than one specific skill,” said Whittemore, who made similar switches with his pitching staff during the 2008 season.
The flexible bullpen complemented an outstanding starting pitching performance by Chase Kaplan as WNC improved its first-place SWAC record to 9-3. Kaplan, a freshman left-hander, tossed seven scoreless innings, allowing just two hits.
“Kaplan was ahead in the count and changed speeds,” Whittemore said.
Cody Kerns relieved Kaplan to start the eighth inning, triggering a series of moves by Whittemore. After Kerns faced two hitters, Whittemore shifted Kerns to left field and brought in left-hander Jon Guzman to pitch to left-handed hitter Zach Hoffman, who fouled out to third for the second out of the inning. With right-handed hitter Greg Reynolds coming to the plate, Whittemore moved first baseman Corey Pool to left field and Guzman to first, allowing Kerns to return to the mound. The moves worked out perfectly as Greg Reynolds grounded out to Kody Reynolds for the third out.
“It goes to show you that he’s thinking; he’s right there with us trying to win the ball game a much as we are,” Kaplan said.
In the ninth, Kerns remained in the game in left field while Pool moved back to first base as closer Connor Zwetsch came on to pitch. The sophomore retired all three Spartans, including one on strikes, to pick up his fifth save of the season.
Kaplan (2-2) finished with six strikeouts and two walks. His ability to throw a fastball, change-up and curveball for strikes left most of the Spartans struggling at the plate. He recorded three 1-2-3 innings and never dealt with more than one baserunner during an inning. But he did begin to tire in the seventh inning when two Spartans worked him to full counts.
“I was getting in my own head toward the seventh inning just on things to work on, and I wasn’t throwing my game. I could feel myself running out of gas, so it was good that we brought a fresh guy in,” Kaplan said.
Kaplan rebounded from a rough outing against Salt Lake on March 7 when the Bruins chased him in the fourth inning.
“It’s a great feeling to have that bounce-back game,” Kaplan said. “Last game, I couldn’t rely on all of my pitches and they just got their hits and were the better team that day. It was nice to come out and be the better pitcher against this team.”
Kaplan and Spartan lefty Christopher Ramirez matched goose eggs through the first four innings, consistently retiring the hitters on off-speed pitches.
Kaplan allowed a one-out double to Greg Reynolds in the first inning. But a pair of groundouts kept the Spartans off the scoreboard.
The Wildcats best chance to score early against Ramirez also came in the opening inning. Jake Bennett lined a hit that ricocheted off Ramirez into center field. Kody Reynolds followed with a two-bagger near the left-field line. However, the Wildcats were stranded in scoring position when D.J. Peters lined out to right-center field.
The Wildcats finally broke through with a run against Ramirez in the fifth. Tim Lichty led off with a base hit to right field, a pitch after just missing a home run to right. The Wildcats tried to sacrifice Lichty to second but popped up the bunt attempt. After Blake Morin fouled out to third, Brogan Secrist delivered a run-scoring triple into the right-field corner.
Secrist was making his second start in the leadoff spot and produced two hits and the first run of the game.
“I was a little surprised, but I was ready,” said Secrist, whose tie-breaking hit came on a fastball away. “I was just trying to get on base like I have been doing, trying to get good pitches to hit and drive them in. I was just trying to get something out over the plate that I could drive and I was able to do it.”
Lichty, who dropped from cleanup to seventh in the batting order, crushed a solo homer over the right-field fence in the seventh, doubling the Wildcats’ lead to 2-0.
“That just means I’m hitting the ball, squaring it up, which is all I want right now,” said Lichty, who hit his second homer of the season. “Regardless if it goes out right now, whether it be line drives or whatever, if I’m squaring it up, it’s eventually going to go.”
Bennett extended his streak of reaching base to 35 games, dating back to last season. The sophomore outfielder has also hit safely in 25 of 28 WNC games this season. He finished 2 for 4 with a stolen base and a run scored.
After a tough 6-1 eight-inning loss to Colorado Northwestern on Friday, the Wildcats (18-10) have regained some confidence going into a nonconference series with Mount Hood, Ore., that begins at noon Friday at John L. Harvey Field.
“It was nice ending the series with a win,” Lichty said. “We played a great game, so it gave us all a lot of confidence for the next week to come. We had opportunities, though, I think where we could have scored more runs, but we were hitting shots and they were making good plays. That’s just baseball.”