WNC’s Baker puts on hitting display
Western Nevada College
Freshman infielder Tyler Baker put together a doubleheader hitting performance Saturday that now tops the list in eight-year Western Nevada College coach D.J. Whittemore’s eyes.
Baker, who entered the Scenic West Athletic Conference baseball doubleheader with a .156 batting average, went 6 for 6, including two home runs and a triple, to help the Wildcats sweep the Colorado Northwestern Spartans, 16-3 and 13-3, in a pair of shortened five-inning games at John L. Harvey Field in Carson City.
On Sunday, WNC capped a four-game sweep with 5-4 and 5-1 victories.
“Holy cow. That was incredible,” Whittemore said. “I can’t remember anybody ever having two better games than that in one day in our program.”
The wins improved WNC to 6-6 in the SWAC and 18-10 overall.
Baker didn’t carry the type of power-hitting numbers into Saturday’s opener that would have put the fear into an opposing pitcher.
However, Baker defied his ninth-place lineup slot and 7-for-45 start to his season at the plate.
The 5-foot-9, 140-pounder belted home runs in his first two at-bats against the Spartans in a runaway opening win for the Wildcats, and if that wasn’t enough, his third hit in game two capped a seven-run rally to bring the mercy rule into play in the fifth inning.
“Just being aggressive at the plate, hunting my pitch,” said Baker, who raised his batting average nearly 100 points to .255. “I’m hitting early in the count, and I’m getting my pitch and hitting it.”
Baker’s two-run homer over the right-field fence in the first inning punctuated a seven-run uprising by the Wildcats. He led off the second inning with a homer, nearly in the same spot as the first one, to give WNC an 8-0 lead.
The two homers are one more than Baker hit during his entire high school career at Bishop Gorman in Henderson, Nev.
The left-handed hitting Baker showed signs of coming out of an early season hitting funk against Salt Lake last weekend. Baker doubled twice in the final game of the four-game series.
“It’s just the game of baseball. It’s a game of failure, so you have to get through it,” Baker said.
A season-best-tying seven-run first inning also included RBI doubles by Conor Harber and Alex Fife, and an RBI base hit by Donald Glover Jr.
After sending 11 batters to the plate in the first, the Wildcats sent 10 more to the plate during a five-run fourth. Freshman Christian Stolo of McQueen High School in Reno highlighted the inning with a grand slam in his first official at-bat of the season. He had a sacrifice fly and walk in his only other two trips inside the box.
“Our approach this week was to get our pitch, and I was waiting to get my pitch,” Stolo said. “I fouled off the 3-1 pitch down the right-field line, then he threw me an inside fastball, so I went with it.”
Stolo was startled to find first base occupied when he arrived at the bag for the start of his home-run trot.
“I was watching the ball, and I didn’t look back down, and Jack (Hall) was still standing on first, so I had to stop,” Stolo said.
Fortunately, Stolo didn’t overrun his teammate, and the four runs brought the 10-run mercy rule into play in the fifth inning.
Cody Hamlin threw three hitless innings to pick up his third victory in four decisions. Brock Pellow worked the final two innings for the Wildcats.
Glover Jr. and Baker each finished with three hits and combined to score five runs. Fife, Harber and Mike Umscheid chipped in two hits as the Wildcats totaled a season-high 18 hits.
In the second game, WNC pushed across a run in the first with two outs on a single to center by Umscheid. The hit scored Harber, who doubled to center with one out.
Phil Belding (4-0) struggled to find his groove against the Spartans, allowing four baserunners in the first two innings.
“They have Belding’s number a little bit. They beat him last year out of the bullpen,” Whittemore said. “I guess everybody has an off-day, and today was his first off-day of the season.”
Belding helped himself by picking off Gavin Brady at first base in the first, then got out of a bases-loaded, one-out jam unscathed in the second. A strikeout of Zach Stevenson on three pitches, followed by a comebacker by Jordan Hall that Belding tossed underhanded to Connor Klein at first ended the Spartans’ second-inning scoring threat.
Belding, however, wasn’t as fortunate in the third inning as the Spartans scored twice after loading the bases with no one out. Belding fanned Zach Stevenson for the second time with the bases loaded to prevent the Spartans from adding to their 2-1 lead.
The Wildcats bounced back in their half of third, scoring four runs to move back in front, 5-2. Baker continued his torrid day at the plate, knocking in Colby Rice with a triple to the gap in right-center field to tie the score at 2. Baker got caught in a rundown between third base and the plate on Matt Becker’s grounder to second base, but Becker was able to avoid the tag while diving across home pate for a 3-2 Wildcat lead.
RBI base hits by Harber and Klein raised WNC’s advantage to 5-2.
Spencer Greer relieved Belding to start the fifth inning. Belding allowed seven hits and one earned while striking out three and walking one.
Both teams scored a run in the fourth, and the Wildcats hit through their lineup for the fourth time in the two games to close out the Spartans in the fifth.
Becker delivered a two-run double to center and Ferguson slammed a bases-loaded double to left to plate three runs, putting WNC ahead 12-3. An error on shortstop Jake Morgan kept the rally going, moving Ferguson 90 feet away from victory. A walk filled the bags, setting the stage for hottest Wildcat, Baker. He didn’t disappoint, singling into right field to score Ferguson and providing the game-ending 10-run margin.
Harber finished a six-hit day by going 4 for 4 with three runs scored and an RBI. Baker was 3 for 3 with three runs scored and two RBI, while Rice was 2 for 2 with two runs scored and a stolen base.