Baker, Lawhorn lead WNC sweep
There was a bevy of big league scouts at Saturday’s WNC-College of Southern Idaho game, and they were all there to see Dylan Baker.
The WNC ace didn’t disappoint, throwing a complete-game two-hitter and striking out nine in the Wildcats’ 2-1 win in the opening game of the Scenic West Conference doubleheader at John L. Harvey Field.
The Wildcats completed the doubleheader and series sweep in the second game with a 6-4 win on Neil Lawhorn’s two-run walk-off homer in the bottom of the seventh. Both games were decided in the seventh inning.
The sweep gave WNC a 14-2 record in conference play and 25-7 overall. It sets up a home showdown next weekend against second-place Salt Lake Community College.
Baker touched 96 on the radar gun once, and his fastball was in the 90s the entire game. He has improved his velocity by at least 5 mph since arriving on the WNC campus this fall. Already he is projected to go in the top five rounds of the amateur draft, according to two or three scouts who regularly attend WNC home games.
Baker, who entered the game with a 0.32 ERA, seems unfazed by the radar guns that follow him wherever he goes, and it’s been a regular event since the season started. And he didn’t seem bothered by the wind, which was blowing between 30 and 40 mph.
“I knew there would be a lot of scouts there (at that first game),” Baker said. “I don’t think about it much.
“It didn’t bother me a whole lot except a few times during my delivery it would blow so hard it would throw me off direction. I didn’t have a good breaking ball today. When it got to 2-2 or 3-2 I just hit the spot.”
Baker said he gained 15 to 20 pounds since he came to WNC, and that plus better fundamentals/mechanics has enabled him to increase his velocity.
“It was masterful,” WNC coach D.J. Whittemore said between games. “He makes you look good as a coach. He and coach (Jeremy) Beard work so well together. I was going to let him go (the whole way). He dominated.”
Despite Baker’s dominaton, WNC needed to pull it out in the bottom of the seventh, as back-to-back errors by A.J. Hernandez and Baker led the way to an unearned and a 1-1 tie going into the bottom of the seventh.
“A.J. was trying to guard against a double or he easily would have made the play,” Whittemore. “I’m OK with that. Dylan has a 95 mph arm, and it’s hard to guide the ball (to first sometimes).”
In the seventh, Bobby Pappin walked against CSI’s Cody White and stole second. He moved to third on a wild pitch and then scored the winning run on Dustin Doucette’s second wild pitch of the inning.
Dillon Ness drove in WNC’s first run with a sacrifice fly in the fifth off Kyle Olason, the second CSI pitcher. It snapped a scoreless.
The Wildcats had to work just as hard for their win in the second game.
CSI went ahead 2-1 in the third against WNC starter Phil Belding thanks to a single by Chase Harris, a double by Colby Croft and a single by Ben Douglas. Austin Richmond came on and retired the side without further damage.
WNC tied the game with an unearned run in the botom of the inning.
The Golden Eagles took a 4-2 lead thanks to a double by Croft, singles by Carter Yagi and Ben Douglas, a walk and wild pickoff throws by Richmond and Brandon Jackson, the third and final WNC pitcher. Both errant throws came with runners on first and third.
“The pitchers work on the runnng game with th catchers,” Whittemore said. “We have to do a better job. You need a chest-high throw over the bag.
The Wildcats fought back, scoring one in the fourth on a bases-loaded walk to Zach Hendrix, and then tying the game on Chris Woolley’s sacrifce fly to left-centerfield that scored Taylor Smart, who led off the inning with a double.
Jackson, who picked up the win with 3 1/3 innings of two-hit relief, worked out of a jam in the top of the seventh when Croft rolled into a fielder’s choice.
“Jackson was outstanding,” Whittemore said. “That’s the kind of performance you expect from a sophomore.”
Eric Holdren, who got the final two outs in the sixth, retired the first batter in the seventh before running into trouble.
Pappin singled between first and second, and then Lawhorn, who celebrated his birthday on Saturday, sent everybody home happy with his game-winning shot over the left-centerfield fence, snapping the 4-all tie. It was his first college homer and first game-winning hit of his WNC career.
“It was a fastball up and in,” Lawhorn said after being mobbed by happy teammates. “They had been going away (earlier in the series), and my eyes lit up when I saw it coming up and in. I’m at a loss for words. I didn’t know it was gone (right away), but knew I’d hit it well.”