TAYLORSVILLE, Utah — The timing of the Region 18 softball tournament couldn’t be better for Western Nevada College. The Wildcats are playing their best softball of the season coming into this week’s double-elimination regional tournament.
WNC has won its past three series and 10 of its past 11 games going into is tournament opener against Colorado Northwestern today at 8:30 a.m..
“We are coming on really strong right now,” said WNC coach Leah Wentworth. “To see the improvement that we’ve made in the second half of the season has been really fun to watch. Every series we’ve come into we’ve improved on the last one.”
The surging Wildcats (24-26 overall and 19-20 in SWAC play) nearly caught Snow for third place in the Scenic West Athletic Conference standings, but enter the six-team tournament as the No. 4 seed.
From ace pitcher Kristina George (11-8 overall), to the offense and defense, the Wildcats have shown improvement as they try to give longstanding tournament favorites Salt Lake and College of Southern Idaho a run for their money.
“Even though the way the standings played out is pretty typical of what we’ve seen in the past, the conference as a whole has become much more competitive,” Wentworth said. “We’ve beaten every team going in, so we know what it takes to come out on top. It’s a matter of staying in the moment and playing hard to the end.”
Last weekend, the Wildcats roughed up the Coyotes in Henderson, winning 16-4, 15-1 and 15-0, completing each victory in five innings.
“It was one of our best outings to just go out there and beat them in five innings in all three games,” Wentworth said. “I’m looking forward to what’s next. We’re right where we want to be going into postseason play.”
The Wildcats swept all eight games against Colorado Northwestern during the regular season, but Wentworth is cautiously optimistic about their 8:30 a.m. matchup with the Spartans on Wednesday.
“We just need to make sure we go in there strong and forget about what has happened in the past,” Wentworth said. “Every team is coming in with a fresh start and a clean slate. Our biggest challenge facing Colorado Northwestern is not getting too comfortable. We had some really close games in our series, so we can’t go in there thinking we have it in the bag. We need to do what we have been doing the last few weeks.”
If the Wildcats win their tournament opener, they will meet top-seeded Salt Lake (41-7) at 1:30 p.m. today. If the Wildcats drop into the consolation bracket, they would play at 11 a.m. Thursday.
WNC gets first-round bye
HENDERSON — As one of the top two teams in the Scenic West Athletic Conference during the regular season, the Western Nevada College Wildcats earned a first-round bye in this week’s Region 18 baseball tournament.
That honor can have its pluses and minuses, according to WNC coach D.J. Whittemore.
“Having a bye saves a pitcher, which if you have to come through the losers’ bracket is a good thing,” Whittemore said. “But there is a huge negative: The other teams get out on the field and play a game before you ever get comfortable on the visiting field. They get a chance to get their hitters up to speed. They get a chance to get the nerves out.”
Even though WNC’s first-round opponent won’t be determined until Wednesday afternoon, the Wildcats know they will play at 3:30 p.m. Thursday at Morse Stadium in Henderson. WNC (38-17 overall) will play Salt Lake, College of Southern Idaho or Colorado Northwestern.
If the Wildcats happen to meet Salt Lake, some of the Wildcats will remember the Bruins beat WNC twice in last year’s regional tournament.
“When you are the two seed staring down the barrel of the No. 3 seed, which in this case and, in fact, in most cases has been Salt Lake, it’s a tough matchup,” Whittemore said. “They aren’t intimidated one bit.”
Salt Lake (27-25 overall) meets sixth-seeded Eastern Utah in the tournament opener on Wednesday. Whittemore anticipates the Bruins will save their ace for a possible second-round matchup with the Wildcats.
“They, of course, as usual will save their No. 1 pitcher for us, taking their chances that they can beat No. 6 CEU with their No. 2 pitcher,” Whittemore said. “This strategy has worked for them in the past. So, in reality, we get to face arguably the best pitcher in the league in Joe Barlow on Thursday after our guys have been idle for six days, while they get to play for the second day in a row on the same field. Not much of an advantage!”
Fans can follow the Wildcats’ pursuit of a Region 18 title by listening to Chris Graham’s Ustream broadcasts. Go to http://wildcats.wnc.edu and click on the listen live link. Another option is to follow the team via live stats at www.sidearmstats.com/csn/baseball.