Entering the 2016 baseball season, Western Nevada College knew the strength of its club was starting pitching. Opponents are discovering that on their own. Cochise College, the 13th-ranked team by the National Junior College Athletic Association, certainly won’t dispute that claim.
Sophomore left-hander Chase Kaplan provided WNC with its fourth straight solid start as the Wildcats completed a series sweep of the Apaches of Douglas, Ariz., 9-6, on Saturday at Morse Stadium in Henderson.
Kaplan (2-0) worked six innings, surrendering just one hit while striking out seven and walking two. Kaplan also provided a save in Game 1 of the series.
“He did a great job of getting after them with his fastball; nobody could square it up against him,” said WNC coach D.J. Whittemore.
Preceding Kaplan in the series, WNC pitchers Jordan Ragan, Matt Young and Josh Mill frustrated the Apache hitters with their command of the strike zone.
“You can’t beat a good team without good starting pitching,” Whittemore said. “Those guys responded.”
The Wildcats scored first, cashing in a one-out walk to Bradley Lewis in the second inning. Lewis stole second base, went to third on a Justin Mannens groundout and came home on Blake Morin’s infield single.
With two outs in the bottom of the third, the Apaches tied the score on a single to right by Jakub Ondracek.
The score didn’t remain deadlocked for long as the Wildcats capitalized in the fourth after leaving five runners on base through the first three innings. Mannens lashed a one-out double to left. An infield single by Morin moved Mannens to third. After trying to put down a safety squeeze bunt, Chandler Barkdull delivered a sacrifice fly to score Mannens, snapping the tie. Morin, who stole second base and went to third on Barkdull’s fly ball, came home on a wild pitch by Tommy Martinez.
Kaplan worked out of a mini-jam in the sixth as Ondracek reached third base with one out. A strikeout and a fly out ended that threat.
The Wildcats weren’t content with their two-run advantage. David Molder led off the seventh with an opposite-field double. Reliever Adam Delacruz uncorked a pair of wild pitches to score Modler for a 4-1 WNC lead.
After Kaplan departed following his sixth inning of work, the Apaches didn’t wait to pounce on reliever Ty Fox. Richard Zapata stroked a single and Overlund laced a double to put two runners in scoring position. A wild pitch scored Zapata, but Fox, on the verge of walking his second straight batter, battled back to induce a double play, diffusing the rally. Overlund, however, scored on the twin killing to slice WNC’s lead to 4-3.
In the eighth, Modler delivered an insurance run with a two-out single to right field, and WNC broke it open with four runs in the ninth. Eric Flores widened the gap to 7-3 with a two-run single and a wild pitch sent Lewis home with the Wildcats’ eighth run. Barkdull’s single to right brought home Mannens with WNC’s final run.
“Offensively, we did a good job of tacking on runs, running the bases and scoring runs without hits, just playing team offense,” Whittemore said.
The insurance runs came in handy as the Apaches rallied for three runs against Fox in the ninth.
WNC totaled 12 hits. Modler, DJ Peters, Mannens and Morin each provided two hits. Lewis scored three times and Mannens crossed the plate twice. Barkdull continued to raise his on-base average, going 1 for 2 with three walks; he also knocked in two runs.
“With returning players in the middle of the order, having some guys set the table is crucial. Chandler is as good as anybody we have in doing that,” Whittemore said. “I felt the lineup was very balanced - nine guys who were providing tough at-bats. I don’t think that their pitchers got to take any breaks, and that just wears you out.”
The Wildcats (5-3) are scheduled to play their home opener at 2 p.m. Friday against Arizona Western. Four games are scheduled between the teams at John L. Harvey Field.