Western Nevada College baseball fans can continue to cheer on key players from this year’s Wildcats team as they play at the next level, as several key members of the 2015 squad are stepping into NCAA Division I programs on the West Coast.
Corey Pool, the Wildcats’ first baseman, has signed with the University of Nevada, which won the Mountain West regular-season title and won 41 games. He’ll join former WNC teammate Christian Stolo, who was Nevada’s ace pitcher this year.
Outfielder Jake Bennett, the SWAC Player of the Year, and pitcher Connor Zwetsch are headed to Eugene to play for the Oregon Ducks, and Sacramento State, the Western Athletic Conference champion, has signed shortstop Kody Reynolds. Pitcher Max Karnos had already signed with the Hornets this past November. All five players will have two years of eligibility left.
For Pool, the opportunity to stay in the area and play for Nevada was important.
“They are a great program and one of the top in the nation, they do things right, they focus on the little things and they execute plays and situations exceptionally better than a lot of schools,” Pool said.
Pool said the Pack plans to consider him for a corner infield position, as well as a designated hitter role.
“In talking with coach (Jay) Johnson, he sees me as one of the power hitters on the team.”
In 2015, Pool hit .297 and drove in 32 runs for the Wildcats. Just as important as his decisive blows at the plate were Pool’s consistent fielding at first base, where he committed just seven errors.
“Corey had a tremendous season, which is evidenced by the fact the league’s coaches voted him first-team all-region,” Whittemore said. “Corey has been through the ringer at WNC — fighting for a roster spot, fighting for a uniform, fighting for a starting job, and what a great testament to his work ethic to see his career finish on an incredible high note.”
In Zwetsch and Bennett, the Oregon Ducks are receiving two Wildcats who were raised in Oregon. They will join former Wildcat Conor Harber on the team.
Bennett grew up a die-hard Oregon State Beavers fan, but now has an opportunity to further his baseball career with their rival.
“It’s definitely a huge benefit to play in the state I grew up in,” said Bennett, who hit .398 with 86 hits, 49 runs and 17 stolen bases. “It feels great.”
“Jake had the finest all-around season of any position player we have had at WNC. From his leadership in practice, to his work habits, to his performance — the whole thing was just incredible,” Whittemore said. “He was hitting over .400 going into the final game of the season ... and to even flirt with that in a wood bat league against this type of pitching is just mind-blowing. To his credit, 200 at-bats later, we have never seen someone stay ‘hot’ the whole season. He will be impossible to replace but never forgotten.”
Zwetsch closed out a team-best seven saves. In a team-high 23 appearances, the sophomore had a 2.79 ERA and 45 strikeouts in 38 2/3 innings.
“Connor is just scratching the surface of his immense talent. The University of Oregon is getting an outstanding pitcher,” Whittemore said. “If Connor wasn’t so committed to attending Oregon in the fall, he would have had an excellent shot to sign a contract with a major league team in June.”
Reynolds, who played at McQueen High School in Reno before joining WNC, said he also had interest from Central Florida and Long Beach State, but Sacramento State felt like the best fit.
“On my visit to Sacramento State, I was treated right and the coaches made me feel at home,” Reynolds said. “I’m excited to play there next year.”
Reynolds delighted Wildcat fans with his ability to deliver with teammates on base. The converted shortstop knocked in a SWAC-best 49 runs, and his 28 extra-base hits also led the conference.
“In getting better from last year to this year, I learned quite a bit from the coaches and definitely, a lot of hard work came together,” Reynolds said.
“I can probably cut to the chase and say he was our team MVP and not much else needs to be said,” said WNC coach D.J. Whittemore.
“Sac State is getting a great teammate and a proven hitter. Kody is getting a chance to play in one of the premier up-and-coming programs on the West Coast.”
Karnos, who, anchored the Wildcats pitching staff, was named the Wildcat of the Year by the coaching staff.
“Our entire team is indebted to Max for his leadership,” Whittemore said. “Without him, the season is even hard to imagine.”
Karnos made 15 quality appearances in 15 outings, according to Whittemore, finishing with a 6-5 record, 1.84 ERA, 76 strikeouts and .190 average for opposing hitters. The latter two figures led the Wildcats.
“He probably had the most consistent year of any pitcher in our program history,” Whittemore said. “Max was dialed in and at or near his best for 15 consecutive starts. That is a remarkable accomplishment and attributable to his preparation.”