Wildcats rally to win Western District debut
STERLING, Colo. — The situation looked discouraging for the Western Nevada College Wildcats in the second inning of their Western District baseball tournament opener in Sterling, Colo., on Thursday afternoon.
Lamar Community College was in command, 5-0, after knocking starting pitcher Brandon Show out of the game. WNC had committed two errors and the Lopes’ ace, Sam Wilson, was throwing the Wildcat hitters off stride.
But the 11th-ranked Wildcats kept their game approach, knowing that a baseball outcome isn’t settled in two innings. The momentum swung into the Wildcats’ favor when Wilson was forced off the mound with back spasms in the third inning. WNC capitalized with a two-run rally in the third and five-run uprising in the fifth en route to a 9-5 come-from-behind victory.
“We were the benefactors of good fortune,” said WNC coach D.J. Whittemore. “Their starting pitcher left with a back injury — we wish him the best. Hats off to our hitters for grinding out the game with hard work. They played every pitch.”
“They got out to a hot start, but that didn’t bother us too much,” said WNC sophomore catcher Cole Ferguson. “We kept our same approach, and we knew we had the ability to come back.”
The defending Western District champion Wildcats (42-18) advanced to meet either Cochise, Ariz., or host Northeastern, Colo., in an 11 a.m. winners’ bracket matchup today.
Many Wildcat regulars contributed to their eighth straight victory, but it was Spencer Greer’s unanticipated long relief performance that made a significant difference. Greer (5-1) threw 7-1/3 scoreless innings in relief of starter Brandon Show. Greer had thrown just 33.1 innings entering the game. He allowed two hits and a walk in his stint.
“Spencer Greer had a once in a season effort,” Whittemore said. “He earned the win in every way.”
“He was unbelievable,” teammate Ferguson said. “He came out and stunned a lot of us. He had something to prove. He was pounding a lot of strikes, and they just couldn’t hit off of him.”
The Wildcats chased left-handed reliever Matt Forsyth in the fifth inning as Matt Becker and Christian Stolo reached base with back-to-back base hits. Conor Harber greeted 6-foot-6 right-hander Mark Hendrick with a base hit to left, scoring Stolo to pull the Wildcats to 5-3.
Conner Klein executed a sacrifice bunt, setting up Ferguson with Becker on third and Harber on second base. Ferguson plated both runners with a base hit to center field to tie the score at 5.
“I was just trying to find something that I could hit up the middle, just stay inside the baseball,” Ferguson said.
The Wildcats weren’t content with a tie score. Tony Roque took a full-count pitch into center field to plate Joseph Crunkilton and move the Wildcats ahead, 6-5. Roque advanced to second base on the throw home from the outfield. Mike Umscheid followed with a base hit to left to knock in Roque, extending the lead to 7-5.
WNC added an insurance run in the sixth when Becker tripled and scored on a Harber sacrifice fly. The Wildcats pushed their final run across the plate in the eighth.
WNC deviated from its regular pitching rotation for the opener of the district tournament, starting sophomore Show. Cody Hamlin has been Whittemore’s first-game choice throughout the season, but Hamlin was coming off a 120-pitch effort in his last start.
Roque singled off Wilson to start the third inning. Umscheid’s sacrifice bunt sent Roque to second. AJ Hernandez followed with a bunt single, advancing Roque to third.
But Wilson was unable to continue after striking out Stolo for the second out. Left-hander Forsyth was summoned to the mound, and Becker worked a 3-0 count against the reliever before lacing a 3-2 pitch into right field to score Roque with WNC’s first run. Harber kept the rally going with a single to center, scoring Hernandez and drawing WNC to within 5-2.
Ferguson just missed a home run to start the Wildcat fourth. Crunkilton and Roque reached base with consecutive free passes to put some pressure on Forsyth. But Forsyth got the next two Wildcats on comebackers to the mound to keep the score at 5-2.
WNC has won 18 of its past 20 games. If the Wildcats win today’s game it will advance to Saturday’s final. A loss on Friday will force WNC to play a same-day elimination game at 2 p.m.
“All of us are on our games right now, and we’re all confident and believe that we can beat anybody,” Ferguson said.