Western Nevada College put the pedal to the metal in its opener of the Western District baseball tournament on Thursday in Trinidad, Colo.
The Wildcats launched two homers and totaled 14 hits in a 9-5 victory against tournament host Trinidad State in Central Park.
Bradley Lewis and Abe Yagi smashed two-run homers to spark unranked WNC in its first game of the season using metal bats.
“It’s a big advantage; it just shoots off the bat,” Yagi said.
Yagi finished with three hits and three RBI, D.J. Peters lined three hits and knocked in two runs and Lewis totaled three hits and three RBI after the Wildcats spent their first 58 games hitting with wooden bats.
“It’s a lot lighter, my hands are quicker with it and when I barrel it up, I feel good with it,” Peters said. “I thought as team switches from wood to metal, it would be totally different but after (14) hits and nine runs, I don’t have a problem with it.”
The Wildcats (42-17) advanced to meet Yavapai in the winners’ bracket at 3 p.m. today. Yavapai outslugged Miles, 13-5, in its eight-inning opening game.
WNC coach D.J. Whittemore adjusted his pitching rotation, assigning sophomore Jordan Dreibelbis with the opening start, and the right-hander responded with five strong innings. Dreibelbis picked up his first postseason victory for the Wildcats, giving up seven hits and three earned runs to the National Junior College Athletic Association’s 15th-ranked team.
“‘Dreib’ was really the freshest guy,” Whittemore said. “Sometimes this time of year you pitch the guy who is fresh. We have confidence in everybody to do the job.”
Two-out hitting has been a consistent part of WNC’s offensive attack during the regular season. That attribute continued for the Wildcats on Thursday. Yagi’s two-out base hit in the first inning put WNC in front, 2-0, and Lewis’ two-out homer in the fourth gave WNC a 4-0 lead.
“Everybody has a good (two-out) approach,” Yagi said. “Coach ‘Demo’ (Aaron Demosthenes) says to stay short, foul off some balls if you have to, then put the bat on the ball and score some runs.”
Sophomore right-hander Josh Mill threw three scoreless innings before the glare of an early evening sun aided the Trojans in their two-run, ninth-inning rally. After creeping to within four runs, the Trojans sent their No. 4 and No. 5 hitters to the plate against WNC closer Ty Fox. Fox fanned Bronson Butcher, then Dan Jurney grounded out to second baseman David Modler to end the game.
“Ty made a lot of good pitches,” Whittemore said. “Not to take any credit away from the pitchers, but catcher Sam Salyers deserves a lot of credit for calling a great game with aluminum bats and altitude, and holding the other team to five runs.”
The Wildcats opened the scoring in the first inning as lightning danced in the mountains beyond right field. Modler reached on second baseman Keven Rodriguez’s fielding error and advanced to second on a wild pitch by Cam Baird. In a favorable count, Peters crushed a Baird fastball into the left-fielder corner to score Modler. Tim Lichty nearly made it 3-0, but left fielder Alec Petterson robbed him of an extra-base hit with a catch against the fence. Yagi’s run-scoring single up the middle put WNC ahead 2-0.
In the fourth, Lewis took a 1-2 Baird offering over the 368 sign in left field to score Yagi for a 4-0 WNC lead.
The Trojans rallied against Dreibelbis in the fourth inning. After three scoreless frames, Dreibelbis surrendered four straight singles — three of them to left field. Alec Dominguez’s single plated two runs and Cruz Nevarez’s sacrifice fly pulled the Trojans to within 4-3.
WNC chased Baird in the fifth with three more hits and two runs. Sam Salyers set the rally in motion with a well-placed bunt single down the third-base line.
“That was awesome,” Whittemore said. “He got to first and I told him he was just like Jake Taylor in the movie ‘Major League.’ We have a lot of guys who really want to win.”
Modler’s base hit moved Salyers to second, and both runners advanced 90 feet on a wild pitch by Baird. Chad Bell capitalized on a 2-0 count, lining a pitch to right to score Salyers on a sacrifice fly, giving WNC a 5-3 lead. Peters followed with a RBI base hit to right, increasing the Wildcats’ edge to 6-3. That ended Baird’s outing as the Trojan starter permitted seven hits and five earned runs.
In the eighth inning, the Wildcats tacked on another run without hitting the ball out of the infield. Daniel Nist walked and took second on Lewis’ infield single. Casey Cornwell sacrificed both runners to second and third. With two strikes on him, Salyers put the ball in play against reliever Donavin Buck, and catcher Butcher couldn’t handle a high throw from third baseman Herman Alvarado, allowing Nist to cross the plate with WNC’s seventh run. “We did a really good job of keeping pressure on them and probably left a few runs out there,” Whittemore said. “We just didn’t get the hit to break their back.”
In the ninth against Trinidad State position player Jurney, the Wildcats added two more runs on Yagi’s two-run shot to left field.
“We knew he was going to throw lots of strikes because he had to throw strikes,” Yagi said. “I was looking for a good pitch and it was a 2-1 changeup.”