JC: WNC teams at SWAC tourney
The Region XVIII Tournament baseball title has been an elusive achievement for some very successful Western Nevada College teams of late.
Last year, the Wildcats were poised to win the regional in front of their home fans, advancing into the finals without a defeat. But Salt Lake came through the loser’s bracket to beat the Wildcats back to back and abruptly end WNC’s season. The year before that, Western Nevada lost to College of Southern Nevada in the finals after winning two tough games in the losers’ bracket.
In order to claim its first region title in three years and third overall, WNC will need to do a better job of closing out games, particularly against Salt Lake. The Wildcats have allowed three leads to slip away against the Bruins, leading to three of their four defeats against the Scenic West Athletic Conference champions.
WNC (42-13 overall) will open the Region XVIII Tournament at 2:30 p.m. today in West Jordan, Utah. The Wildcats’ likely opponent will be College of Southern Idaho, a club they have beaten eight times in eight tries this season. That successful trend doesn’t make WNC coach D.J. Whittemore feel any better.
“More than ever in the postseason, the mantra of playing one game at a time becomes paramount,” Whittemore said. “It doesn’t matter who we play; they are going to be dangerous. We’re gonna do what we’ve been working hard to do: throw low strikes and make plays. Pitching and defense wins championships.”
If Salt Lake and WNC win their initial games, they will meet for a spot in the finals at 11 a.m. May 11. Qualifying for the championship game ensures that team of a spot in next week’s district tournament.
“We’re not worried about hosting a tournament, we’re not worried about winning the region tournament; the only thing we’re worried about is playing on Thursday,” Whittemore said.
Whittemore’s current club has compiled the fourth-most wins in program history, relying on a strong pitching staff featuring three starters with seven victories or more and a team earned-run average of 2.13. The Wildcats are also collectively hitting .305, with Mike Umscheid leading the way at .361.
“They take a lot of pride. You don’t win 42 games for nothing,” Whittemore said. “In a lot of ways, it was one of the finest regular seasons we’ve ever had. As I know, teams are ultimately judged by performance in the postseason. The jury is going to be out for 2012 for a little while longer.”
Umscheid and Cole Ferguson’s hot hitting last weekend at Salt Lake gives the Wildcat lineup extra firepower and won’t make Whittemore’s job of writing out a starting lineup any easier. Umscheid collected seven hits and four RBI in the four games against Salt Lake, and Ferguson delivered four hits and five RBI.
“We strive to have great depth,” Whittemore said. “It feels good to have a lot of guys confident. It gives us plenty of good options in terms of who’s starting, depending on which pitchers we’re gonna face. Each pitcher has strengths and weaknesses, and it’s fun to try to match up.”
WNC opens against Snow
Western Nevada College proved during the regular season, it could beat any softball team in the Scenic West Athletic Conference.
Now, the sixth-seeded Wildcats are out to earn some additional respect in the Region XVIII Tournament today through Saturday in Taylorville, Utah.
The Wildcats (21-39 overall) open the double-elimination tournament against Snow (32-18) today at 11 a.m.
WNC has more than doubled its win total from the program’s previous three years of existence. In the process, WNC surprised Salt Lake, the nation’s top-ranked team, 6-5 on Feb. 11. The Wildcats also knocked off second-seeded College of Southern Idaho 6-3 last weekend in a hotly contested series.
WNC defeated the other five teams in the SWAC at least once during the conference season.
“To tell you the truth, we’re really looking forward to coming out this weekend and showing these teams. I don’t think a lot of these teams have respect for us,” said WNC assistant coach Rosie Contri, who is running the team with Leah Wentworth not allowed to travel because of her pregnancy.
To earn some additional respect, the Wildcats must first get by Snow, which has won seven of eight games against WNC this season. Two of those games were decided by one run.
The Wildcats are led by three players who have been nominated for postseason honors: sophomores Melanie Pfeiffer and Taleas Marble, and freshman Jennifer Quam.
Marble has hit a team-high 16 home runs in 169 at-bats, as well as 11 doubles and three triples. She also led the Wildcats with a .391 average, 49 RBIs, .775 slugging average and 131 total bases.
Pfeiffer, a shortstop, provided the Wildcats with a steady middle infield presence and hit .301. She tied Marble for the team lead with three triples, scored 34 runs and knocked in 20.
Quam has developed into a dangerous leadoff threat for the Wildcats. In addition to leading the Wildcats with 67 hits, Quam has become one of the nation’s top base stealers, swiping 55 bases in 59 attempts. Her .345 batting average was second to Marble and 49 runs topped the Wildcats.