Wildcats open Scenic West season in Colorado … weather permitting
The Scenic West baseball season gets under way this weekend, but it’s anybody’s guess as to whether Western Nevada (11-5) will get its scheduled games in against Colorado Northwestern.
WNC coach D.J. Whittemore did say that the games have been pushed to Saturday and Sunday to give Colorado Northwestern’s field a chance to dry out and get worked on. Saturday is supposed to be partly cloudy and Sunday is supposed to be clear in Rangely, Colo.
The coach said that WNC, which has an artificial surface field, offered to switch dates three times and host this weekend’s series.
“We were rebuked each time,” said Whittemore. “We’ll go there. If we can play we’ll play. If we can’t, we’ll come back home.”
The problem is that with the schedule so impacted, it’s virtually impossible to make up games because the schools are so far apart from each other. Whittemore also said the conference doesn’t like to hold teams over for Monday games because the student-athletes would be missing more class time.
Whittemore won’t say it, but he has to be thinking it. WNC has dominated this series, and you don’t want to lose any games to weather against a team you have dominated.
Since 2006, the school’s first year of existence, WNC has compiled a 45-2 record against Colorado Northwestern, 24-0 in Carson City and 21-2 in Colorado. In the 23 SWC games played in Colorado, WNC has outscored Colorado Northwestern 183-39. Both WNC losses in the series have been by one run, 4-3 in 2007 and 2-1 in 2008.
Whittemore has been pleased with his team during preseason play. The Wildcats have won 11 of 16 against some very stiff competition despite a lot of injuries and a couple of eight-game suspensions (Zach Hendrix and Neil Lawhorn) for violating team rules.
And, entering this weekend’s series, the Wildcats only have 11 healthy position players. Third baseman Alex Schmidt (.286, HR, 9 RBI) will miss the next four weeks with a foot injury. Infielder-outfielder Chris Woolley broke a hamut bone back in January, but the doctors misdiagnosed the injury, and Woolley is out for a minimum of five weeks.
Pitching has been the team’s strong suit thus far. The staff has a 1.98 ERA and is holding opponents to a .196 average, including four games played with metal bats. The staff has yielded just one homer.
Dylan Baker (3-0, 0.68 ERA) is scheduled to start the opener with Tyler Spencer (3-1, 1.53) scheduled to start the second game. The other two starters have not been chosen.
“They have been commanding the bottom of the strike zone, and our depth is excellent,” said Whittemore of his talented staff. “The internal competition is outstanding, and the leadership of the pitching staff is one of the strengths of the team.”
Whittemore can also turn to Andrew Woeck (2-1, 2 saves 0.48 ERA), Anthony Consiglio (0-0, 3.52) and Austin Richmond (0-1, 3.00).
One thing Whittemore wants to see improved is his infield defense. The team has made 27 errors, 21 of those coming from the infielders. Second baseman A.J. Hernandez, who leads the team with a .414 batting average, and shortstop Taylor Smart have six errors each.
Whittemore said he’s not sure who will start at the corners with Schmidt sidelined. He could go with Rayne Raven (.211. 9 RBI) or Mike Umscheid (.293, 5 RBI), who usually plays first. If Umscheid moves to third, Derrick Pitts (.209, 10 RBI) would likely start at first. Hendrix, if he has finished his suspension, could play either second or third. He was hitting .316 before being sidelined.
Smart, a returning starter, is off to a slow start offensively. He’s hitting .125 and has struck out 15 times in 56 at-bats.
“Yeah it is disappointing,” Whittemore said. “He’s an outstanding player, and by the end of the year he’s going to prove that.
“A.J. has played real well in the absence of Hendrix, who is still the starter at second base.”
Donald Glover will play center and right, respectively. The left field spot will hinge on what Whittemore does in the infield. Ness is hitting .339 with two homers and 13 RBI.
“He (Ness) is a huge reason why we’re at where we’re at,” Whittemore said. “His play has been amazing.”
Whittemore said that he has confidence that any of his reserves could be used in the outfield.
Lawhorn, who hit .333 in seven games, is expected to start behind the plate.