Wildcats play in opening of J.C. World Series today
The Western Nevada Community College baseball team has been working two years for this moment.
WNCC takes center stage today when it plays Delgado Community College of New Orleans in the first round of the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series in Grand Junction, Colo. The Wildcats and Delgado are in effect the featured game of the day as they will be playing at 7:30 local time.
In other opening games today in the 10-team tournament, Florida’s Chipola College will play Iowa Western Community College at 8 a.m.; Alabama’s Shelton State Community College will play South Carolina’s Spartanburg Methodist College at 11 a.m. and Georgia’s Young Harris will play the nation’s No. 1 team, New Mexico Junior College, at 2 p.m.
In the other opener on Sunday, Cowley County Community College of Kansas will play San Jacinto College of Texas at 7:30 p.m. But there will also already be losers bracket games on Sunday even before those two teams play.
WNCC has received a brutal draw, and if they lose today, they would have to come back and play at 1 p.m. Sunday just for the right to stay in the double-elimination tournament. The Wildcats will have to win at least four games to make it to the Final Four and six games to win the tournament.
“All I know is we’ve got a bad draw,” WNCC coach D.J. Whittemore said.
But Whittemore isn’t complaining. And today when Cole Rohrbough takes the mound for WNCC there will be 9,000-12,000 fans in the stadium. There will be 160,000-180,000 people expected to attend the tournament this week.
Whittemore said he’s talked to a photographer who’s covered the JUCO World Series, the NCAA Division I College World Series and the Major League World Series. Whittemore said the photographer told him the JUCO World Series “far exceeds” the College World Series and the Major League World Series.
“The Junior College World Series far exceeds anything in baseball,” Whittemore said. “There’s little kids asking for autographs on every corner.”
WNCC has played 41 road games this season, including 21 of the last 25.
Whittemore said his team played its tough schedule “to win big games on the road against the best teams in the country at the end of the year.”
And the quality of competition that WNCC will face in Grand Junction shouldn’t really be any better than the teams it has played all season. “The difference is these teams know how to win,” said Whittemore about the other nine clubs making it to Grand Junction. “I’m confident our schedule prepared us as best as it possibly can.”
As far as the keys to winning, the formula won’t change: To throw strikes, catch the ball and put the ball in play.
“We really put a premium on throwing low strikes,” Whittemore said. “We put a premium on staying out of the big inning.
“Offensively,µ the premium’s strictly getting your pitch to hit and to put the ball in play with two strikes.”
WNCC’s chances should hinge on its ability to put the ball in play with two strikes and its ability to come through with the clutch hit with two outs. The Wildcats struggled in both those areas early in the season and it was costly in the Scenic West Athletic Conference opening series at Community College of Southern Nevada. The Wildcats were plagued by strikeouts and a lack of timely hitting in a series in which they lost three of four.
But the Wildcats have been much better in both areas at the end of the season. “When you get the two-out hit, you look like a great team and when you don’t, you’re an average team,” Whittemore said.
While Rohrbough will start today, Justin Garcia will start the second game. Both have already reached a career high in innings pitched this season (Rohrbough, 91.2, Garcia 94.1)
If everything goes well, WNCC would obviously love to be able to come back and start Rohrbough and Garcia later in the week. Just like the District Championships in which WNCC earned the right to play in the World Series, if the Wildcats are fortunate enough to win their first two games in Grand Junction, Whittemore expects he’ll have to use Stephen Sauer out of the bullpen.
In the best-case scenario if Sauer sees only limited or even no action, he would start game three.
Eleven of the 12 pitchers will be available out of the bullpen in the first two games. The only pitchers who won’t be available will be Rohrbough and Garcia because they’re starting.
Other candidates to start a third game are Jake Bottari, Josh Brink, T.J. Wohlever and starting first baseman Andrew Reid.
Wohlever was one of the key players in last week’s District Championships. “He was as good as anybody we threw out there last week,” Whittemore said.
Dan Grubbs and Jeremy Joustra will likely be among the first pitchers out of the bullpen in the first two games. While Whittemore said it’s not likely that Joustra would start a third game, he could eventually start later in the tournament. “I think he could handle that,” Whittemore said.
As far as Delgado, it’s a remarkable story in itself. The program was under water – literally – after Hurricane Katrina. But the program has risen to make it to the World Series in less than two years.
WNCC will likely face either Greg Chiles (7-3, 2.26 earned run average) or Brian Legnon (6-4, 3.36). Both pitchers should be relatively fresh as Chiles has thrown just 67.2 innings and Legnon has thrown 77.2.
Lee Haydel leads the team offensively with a .421 average, three home runs, 12 doubles and 40 RBI. There’s also Matt Gaudet (.352, 48RBI) and Craig Westcott (team-high eight homers, 46RBI, .333). Haydel was drafted by the Milwaukee Brewers in 2006 and Gaudet was drafted by Tampa Bay in 2005 and has signed to play at LSU next season.
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