WNC hopes third time is a charm at JUCO World Series
Western Nevada College is hoping the third time is a charm.
The Wildcats, fresh off two big wins over host Salt Lake Community College, are making their third trip in seven years to the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series in Grand Junction, Colo.
This time the Wildcats want to hoist a national championship trophy.
WNC (47-15 overall) will open the 10-team double-elimination tournament on May 26 at 2 p.m. against Polk State College of Winter Haven, Fla., (45-10) at Sam Suplizio Field.
The fifth-ranked Eagles are making their first trip to the JUCO World Series after claiming the Gulf Region 8 district championship.
“We look forward to challenging ourselves this week against the best teams in the country,” said WNC head coach DJ Whittemore in a press release. “To open with the Florida state champion and their No. 1 pitcher who looks to be one of the best in the entire country, is exhilarating.
“This year’s journey has been made very special by all the disappointment and heartache we have had to endure along the way, but it makes it so sweet to have overcome and persevered.”
WNC can now focus on playing in its first national tournament game since 2009. Then, the Wildcats finished a school-best third by winning three of five contests, and both of WNC’s losses were at the hands of Howard College, the eventual winner with a 63-1 season record.
If WNC wins on Saturday it would play at 1 p.m. on Monday. A loss on Saturday would put the Wildcats into an elimination game on Sunday at 1 p.m.
Whittemore, who already had the team in Salt Lake on Tuesday, said that his team is in very good health.
“There is nobody that isn’t going to play,” Whittemore said. “(Bobby) Pappin has had a sore back, but he’s ben grinding through it. The bad back is only affecting his scholarship offers.”
Whittemore admitted that he has some information on Polk State.
“Of course you want to know something about them going in,” he said. “You call around to coaches who have played them or seen them play. Sometimes coaches will give you information and sometimes they won’t. If they won’t, you move on to the next coach.
“We know a little about them. Arguably I don’t know anybody that doesn’t think that Dylan (Baker) is the best prospect (12-0, 1.86). A lot of people feel their guy (Alec Asher) is the best JC prospect in the country.”
Asher is 12-1 with a 1.38 ERA. Of the 10 pitchers listed on the stat sheet, nine of them have ERAs under 3.00, including six under 2.00. Brian Johnson (7-3) has an ERA of 1.54, while Chase Sparkman is 7-0 with an ERA of 2.12. Alex Norris is 6-2 with a 1.82 ERA.
While many figure to see a Baker-Asher match-up, Whittemore isn’t tipping his hand. Baker was used out of the bullpen in the last two wins over Salt Lake after starting the entire year.
Brandon Jackson compiled a 10-1 record with a 1.62 ERA, while Woeck was 8-2 with a 1.68 ERA. Derrick Pitts was 4-1 with a 2.61 ERA.
“We’re going to start the best pitcher, and then we’ll go to our second-bet pitcher,” Whittemore said. “We’re just focuing on that first game. Andrew (Woeck) has thrown real well. He’s capable of throwing the first game.”
Whoever Whittemore throws will face a capable Polk lineup led by Michael Danner, who drove in 66 runs and hit .332. Brett Jones drove in 29 runs and hit .317. Kyle Chastain (.294), Erik Hindmom (296) and Colt Hankamer (.291) are flirting with .300.
WNC has seven players – Zach Hendrix (.353), Mike Umscheid (.340), A.J. Hernandez (.333), Dillon Ness (.325), Chris Woolley (.314), Rayne Raven (.313) and Alex Schmidt (.303) – over .300. Cole Ferguson (.296), Pappin (.295) and Pitts (.294) finihed a couple of hits shy.
For the second straight week, the Wildcats and their opponents will be using aluminum bats. Whittemore admitted there is an adjustment period.
“We didn’t come close to hitting a home run last week, and the week before we hit four or five,” he said. “There is more emphasis to put the ball in play with two strikes. It’s a different game. With aluminum bats, you’re trying to trick hitters more; throwing more curveballs.”