Wildcats’ dramatic comeback ends in defeat
Baseball can deliver its share of emotional highs and lows, and Western Nevada College experienced both on Sunday at John L. Harvey Field in Carson City.
A go-ahead three-run homer off the bat of Bradley Lewis in the eighth inning provided the ecstasy. However, Austin Maltby’s game-tying homer and an eventual 9-8 loss to Arizona Western in 10 innings administered the Wildcats with the game’s misery.
“I don’t remember too many like that,” said WNC coach D.J. Whittemore. “Baseball is a great game. If you are a fan, you have to stay until the last out, and if you are on the field, you have to compete to the last out.”
Stranding 10 baserunners through the first seven innings, WNC went into the bottom of the eighth on the short end of a 7-2 score. But the Wildcats still retained the mindset that they could rally.
“We don’t give up, no matter how much we’re down,” Lewis said. “We kept pushing, kept grinding to get the next guy up to the plate.”
The Wildcats’ biggest scoring opportunity came in the eighth when a fielding error with two outs allowed a runner to score and extended the inning. It proved costly as Wildcat cleanup hitter Tim Lichty broke out of a mini-slump with a two-run infield single. The infield hit knuckled over reliever Brody Kato, just in front of second base, allowing Daniel Nist and even the speedy Justin Mannens to score from second base, cutting the Matadors’ lead to 7-5.
That hustle allowed Lewis to put a charge into a Kato curveball into right-center field, clearing the fence for a three-run homer. It was a dramatic hit for sophomore and Lewis’ first home run in a Wildcat uniform.
“Tim beat out the ball, which was huge to give us another two runs. I came up and just tried to stay relaxed and get a base hit, and it paid off,” Lewis said. “I saw the ball coming in all the way, got a good piece of it and it felt good off the bat.
“We just played every pitch, every inning and kept getting hits and runners on, and eventually it turned into a big inning like that.”
The Matadors retook the lead in the 10th, capitalizing on Landon Riker’s double off WNC closer Ty Fox to start the inning. Carlos Higuera’s sacrifice bunt moved Riker to third, and Riker came home on a passed ball.
WNC threatened in the bottom of the 10th as Chandler Barkdull led off with a walk and went to second on Mannens’ sacrifice bunt. But after an intentional walk to DJ Peters, Kato retired Lichty and Lewis to end the game.
“We made a bunch of good pitches, made a number of nice plays and had a bunch of great at-bats to keep giving us chances,” Whittemore said.
Neither team mounted much offense through the first half of the game. Opposing starting pitchers Jayden Murray and Jordan Ragan surrendered three combined singles through four innings.
The Matadors ended the scoreless battle in the fifth, capitalizing on two walks and an error to score four times. Maltby’s two-run double to right-center field and Roderick Bynum’s RBI base hit to right highlighted the rally.
The Wildcats missed an opportunity for a big inning of their in the fifth after loading the bases with no one out. But the Matadors were able to force out two Wildcats at the plate to limit the home team to a RBI single by Mannens.
Kyle Thompson relieved Ragan to start the sixth. Ragan gave up four hits and one earned run. He struck six and walked four.
Arizona Western widened its lead to 5-1 in the sixth on Bynum’s RBI single and an errant pickoff attempt by Thompson.
Meanwhile, Murray left with a 4-1 lead after the fifth inning. His pitching line included five hits allowed, one earned run, five strikeouts and three walks.
WNC touched up reliever Adan Vega for three hits and a walk in the seventh but came away with just one run. Peters was thrown out at the plate by left fielder Riker on a RBI single by Lewis. Casey Cornwell tried to reload the bases with a bunt down the third-base line, but Vega threw him out on a close play at first, halting the rally with WNC trailing 6-2.
In the eighth, Judah Zickafoose lifted a homer just inside the right-field foul pole, restoring a five-run lead for the Matadors.
Lewis knocked in four runs for the second straight day, finishing three for four and scoring a run.
“Man, that was as good of a two-game stretch that I’ve ever seen anybody have,” Whittemore said. “He didn’t miss very much for two straight games. He was just on fire.”
David Modler belted a pair of doubles, and Nist came off the bench to reach base three times and score twice. Barkdull delivered two more singles, giving him six for the series.
“I’ve been struggling a little bit, but coming in off the bench, I was trying to do what I could to make adjustments to help the team, and I got some pitches to hit,” Nist said.
The two teams split their four-game series, leaving WNC with a 7-5 record. WNC has a bye week before hosting Mount Hood Community College of Gresham, Ore., for doubleheaders on Feb. 26 and 27.
“We’ve had some good competition, so this is perfect to get us ready for (conference play),” Lewis said.