Phil Bickford and his history of being a top-10 selection in the 2013 Major League Baseball amateur draft didn’t intimidate Western Nevada College hitters on Saturday.
In fact, the Wildcats touched up the right-hander for two hits and a run before fans had completely settled into their seats at John L. Harvey Field. The Wildcats produced at least one baserunner against Bickford through the first four innings, as well as five hits and three runs.
Despite falling behind 3-1, College of Southern Nevada rallied for an 11-6 victory to move into a first-place tie with the Wildcats in the Scenic West Athletic Conference.
“Honestly, they showed up today,” Bickford said of the Wildcats. “They were hitting the ball well. I wasn’t making the pitches I usually make. I was missing my spots and I was leaving the ball over the plate. They hit the mistakes.
“I will definitely be excited to see them again.”
The Wildcats waited an extra day to take their cuts against Bickford, who was originally scheduled to throw on Friday.
“Everyone was pumped up and everyone was ready to go. We weren’t late; we were on time,” WNC’s Kody Reynolds said of the Wildcats’ timing of Bickford’s fastball, which topped out at 94 mph.
Although Bickford was able to locate his arsenal of pitches where he wanted them, the Wildcats were up to the task of putting them in play.
In the first inning, Reynolds followed a base hit by Jake Bennett with a RBI triple to the gap in right-center field. The Wildcats, however, stranded Reynolds on third base as Bickford fanned Tim Lichty and D.J. Peters.
“I’ve been looking forward to it all year. Any time you get to face one of the top draft picks in the country, it’s a top moment. The more the challenge, the better,” Reynolds said.
Reynolds did some more damage against Bickford in the third. David Modler started the inning with a double into the corner in right field.
After Bennett strategically moved Modler to third base by grounding out to the right side, Reynolds smashed a Bickford offering against the fence into left field to score Modler for a 2-1 WNC lead.
“I was just looking for something over the plate that I could hit. I know he’s around the zone,” Reynolds said.
Eight of the Wildcats’ 11 hits came off Bickford, who lasted 5 2/3 innings.
WNC upped its lead to 3-1 with an unearned run in the fourth. A two-base throwing error by shortstop Cain Brady on Austin Andrews’ groundball set up Brandon Lapointe for a run-scoring double to left field. It was the Wildcat catcher’s second hit off Bickford.
But the Coyotes quickly retrieved the run when Jesse Keiser blasted a solo homer off Kerr in the fifth, cutting WNC’s lead to 3-2. A Kerr walk to Mason Hayes brought a signal to the bullpen for Cody Kerns, who was the hard-luck loser in the first game of a doubleheader on Friday. He gave up a single and walk to load the bases with two outs. After falling behind Jose Verdugo 2-0, Kerns battled back to get ahead in the count before CSN’s No. 7 hitter chopped one over Kerns’ head for a game-tying infield single. Whittemore than chose to bring in closer Connor Zwetsch to put out the rally, and the sophomore right-hander obliged by coaxing a groundout off the bat of Reece Lucero to keep the score tied at 3.
Zwetsch, however, struggled to control his breaking pitch in the sixth. Two hit batsmen, a double by Tyler Brown and a walk to Keiser put CSN ahead for the first time, 4-3.
The final hit batsmen ended Zwetsch’s relief role, bringing left-hander Jon Guzman to the mound. Guzman walked in another run before the Wildcats turned a double play. However Matt Waldren socked his second double, a two-run shot to left, to put CSN in front 7-3. The Coyotes weren’t satisfied with their lead as Alec Taft hit a run-scoring single and Reece Lucero added an RBI triple as CSN expanded its lead to 9-3. Brown completed the seven-run uprising with an RBI single to center — his second hit of the inning.
“That one inning was really cool. It allows you to kind of take a breath when you go out there,” Bickford said.
The Wildcats chased Bickford in the bottom of the inning.
Peters took an 0-2 pitch over the right-field fence, pulling WNC to within 10-4.
Bickford (5-1) gave up eight hits and three earned runs in 5 2/3 innings. He struck out seven and walked one.
Solo home runs by Bennett and Peters brought the Wildcats within 11-6 in the seventh.