Wildcats capture Region 18 title
HENDERSON — There are few teams that can compete with one that allows just a single run in three tournament games.
Western Nevada College pitchers completed a dominant Region 18 baseball tournament performance with a 6-0 championship victory against College of Southern Nevada on Saturday in Henderson.
“Our guys were ready to play,” said WNC coach D.J. Whittemore. “They earned it. They grinded it out all year, and they kept believing in one another and themselves.”
Western Nevada right-hander Philip Belding tossed a four-hit gem to provide WNC with its third straight complete-game pitching effort.
The Wildcats’ first region championship since 2009 allows them a chance to repeat their 2012 Western District title. The defending Western District champions (41-18) will play in a four-team double-elimination tournament hosted by Region 9 winner Lamar, Colo., or Northeastern, Colo., starting Thursday.
Belding’s complete-game performance included 130 pitches and eight strikeouts without a walk.
In their three tournament games, WNC starting pitchers Belding, Cody Hamlin and Christian Stolo allowed 15 hits and one earned run, struck out 23 and walked three in 26 innings.
“Those guys deserve all of the credit in the world,” Whittemore said. “They were throwing it over the plate. Each one handled the pressure. It was really impressive.”
Bobby Shiroky broke up Belding’s no-hitter with a leadoff single in the sixth inning as the Wildcat sophomore hurler kept the Coyotes guessing all afternoon.
The Wildcats broke on top in the first inning and never looked back.
Despite the first two hitters being retired by AJ Daley, the Wildcats created a first-inning rally. Conor Harber used his speed to get into scoring position with a base hit and a swipe of second base. After a walk to Conner Klein, WNC RBI leader Cole Ferguson laced a single to score Harber.
Ferguson surprisingly stole second base — the catcher’s fifth steal of the season — to put Wildcats on second and third bases, but Daley got Mike Umscheid on a groundout to limit the damage.
Belding fell behind the first Coyote hitter 2-0 but was dialed in after that. He retired the Coyotes 1-2-3 in the first two innings.
However, with two outs in the third, the Coyotes’ Billy Santiwan reached on first baseman Klein’s error. But Ferguson picked up his teammate by throwing out Santiwan trying to steal second base.
CSN’s defense came apart in the bottom of the third as two errors and hit batsman produced the Wildcats’ second run. On Klein’s sacrifice bunt, Coyote second baseman Evan Van Hoosier couldn’t handle the throw to first. The mistake allowed Joseph Crunkilton to score and runners Harber and Klein to take an extra base. Ferguson followed with an RBI single to make the score 3-0.
In the fourth inning, Stolo’s single down the right-field line plated Matt Becker to move WNC ahead 4-0.
WNC executed a squeeze bunt and came through with a two-out hit to move in front 6-0 in the sixth inning. Crunkilton squeezed in Becker with a bunt along the first base line for the Wildcats’ fifth run. Harber delivered his second hit of the afternoon, a run-scoring single to give WNC a six-run advantage.
The regular-season Scenic West Athletic Conference champs rallied after Belding came within a strike of a two-hitter. Van Hoosier and Morgan Stotts hit back-to-back base hits in the ninth inning before Belding finished off the shutout and region title on Chad Whiteaker’s roller to shortstop Tony Roque.
“It was really an impressive team effort. All of the credit goes to them and all of their work,” Whittemore said. “I’m very proud of them.”
WNC had four players with multiple hits: Ferguson led the way by going 3 for 4 with two RBI, Harber was 2 for 4 with two runs scored and RBI, Stolo was 2 for 5 with a run scored and RBI and Becker was 2 for 3 with two runs scored.