Wildcats ready for first-place Salt Lake | NevadaAppeal.com

Wildcats ready for first-place Salt Lake

Wildcats ready for first-place Salt Lake

By Charles Whisnand

Nevada Appeal Sports Editor

It’s now time for the Western Nevada College baseball team to be realistic as far as where it will finish in the Scenic West Athletic Conference standings.

Where WNC finishes in the SWAC standings will depend heavily on this weekend’s series against conference leader Salt Lake Community College at John L. Harvey Field. The two teams play doubleheaders today and Saturday. Both doubleheaders begin at noon.

With 12 games left, Salt Lake (23-5) holds a five-game lead over WNC (24-17 overall) and College of Southern Nevada, both of whom are tied for second at 18-10. So it figures if WNC has any realistic shot at winning the regular season title and hosting the conference playoffs, it would have to sweep Salt Lake.

While WNC coach D.J. Whittemore isn’t counting his team out, he’s realistic. “I’ve got reservations to Salt Lake – but have no deposit,” Whittemore said.

The race for second is just as vital and the Wildcats own the tiebreaker against the Coyotes having won six of eight games between the two teams. The top two teams in the regular season receive a first round bye in the playoffs.

Meanwhile the third place finisher would have a tough matchup to open the playoffs. It would have to face either Riley Gordon, one of the conference’s top pitchers, from College of Eastern Utah, or face Colorado Northwestern Community College, which also has a tough pitching staff. Last weekend, CSN escaped with two one-run wins and also lost once at CNCC.

“Everybody’s capable of beating you,” Whittemore said. “You want to have the highest seed you can. You want to save as many pitchers as you can as long as you can.”

For now, Whittemore’s main concern is today’s opener. “Our focus and my focus is on winning the first game,” he said.

On the SWAC race, Whittemore also said, “I think we’ll evaluate where we stand at the end of the weekend,” he said.

The Bruins, which won three of four against WNC earlier in the year at Salt Lake, have three pitchers (Adam Gunn, 8-0, 1.50 earned run average overall), Chad Ellis (7-1, 2-11) and Payton Rentmeister (5-1, 3.09), who haven’t lost in conference.

If that isn’t enough, Salt Lake also has two of the conference’s top relief pitchers in Preston Grimes (4-1, 0.68) and David McKnight (eight saves, 0.92). McKnight hasn’t allowed a run in 11 conference appearances.

Salt Lake is led offensively by Ryan Bernal (.357) and Brandon Keller (.354). The Bruins led the conference in runs scored, walks, stolen bases and play as good of defense as any team in the SWAC.

“They’re a complete team,” Whittemore said. “This is going to be a tough matchup for us. There’s no mystery why they’re five games ahead of everyone. They’ve clearly outplayed everybody.”

Six Salt Lake hitters are in the SWAC’s top 10 in walks. So obviously WNC’s pitchers will need to throw strikes this weekend.

“When a team has great speed like they do you can’t afford to give them extra baserunners,” Whittemore said.

The Wildcats should again go with the same rotation of Kyle Starratt, Josh Moody and Kyle Farrell with the expectation that Jordan Blanchard will have to start the fourth game. In the unlikely event that Jose Barajas is not needed in the first three games, then it’s likely Barajas will start the final game and be relieved by Blanchard.

Note: Logan Parsley was bothered by a bad back last weekend against College of Southern Idaho and saw limited action, receiving only one at bat in the four-game series. Whittemore said Parsley will be at full strength this weekend. “He’s ready to go,” Whittemore said.