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WNC to face SWAC power Salt Lake

When the Western Nevada College baseball team took a look at the brutal beginning to its Scenic West Athletic Conference schedule, it might have thought that this weekend would have been the least difficult of the first three weeks.

But after trips to SWAC powers College of Southern Nevada and College of Southern Idaho, it’s now clear the Wildcats are still facing their toughest road trip in conference play so far.

WNC travels to Salt Lake Community College this weekend for what is already a key four-game series. The two teams will play doubleheaders today and Saturday, with today’s doubleheader beginning at noon and Saturday’s beginning at 11 a.m.

Salt Lake (8-0 in league,15-5 overall) is off to a flying start, sweeping CSI and College of Eastern Utah at home. WNC (4-4, 10-11) held its own against CSI and CSN and stands third in the conference behind Salt Lake and CSN (5-3).

And Salt Lake has certainly benefited from playing at home. The Bruins still have to go on the road to CSN, CSI and WNC and will have another series at home against CSN. But the Wildcats still don’t want to fall too far behind Salt Lake in the standings.

“They’ve got some good starting pitching and some good relief pitching,” WNC coach D.J. Whittemore said. “They’re pitching pretty well, that’s for sure. And they’ve been at home. That certainly makes things a little easier.”

A look at the statistics shows Salt Lake has been the SWAC’s most complete team so far. It has four players hitting .348 or better (Ryan Bernal .418, Brandon Keller .375, Josh Chevalier .357 and Sean Moysh .348).

Salt Lake also has two outstanding starting pitchers in Chad Ellis (4-1, 1.45 earned run average) and Adam Gunn (3-0, 1.48). As good as the starting pitching has been, the relief pitching has been better. Preston Grimes (3-0) hasn’t allowed a run in 141Ú3 innings and David McKnight (1.80) has two saves.

But Whittemore said he’s looking forward to the challenge. “It’s fun because you always want the chance to pay the first-place team,” he said.

The Wildcats are coming off a series in which they lost three of four to CSI. “We’ve got to do a better job of throwing strikes, playing defense,” Whittemore said. “We’re just letting the other team score too many runs.”

And Whittemore said his team can no longer use its youth as an excuse.

“Our guys will show up this week with their hard hats and lunch pails,” he said. “There’s no more saying we’re a young team. It’s time to go out and do it.”

WNC will likely be without two key players in Logan Parsley and ace reliever Jose Barajas. Parsley sprained his ankle last weekend against CSI.

“I would say [Parsley is] doubtful for this weekend,” Whittemore said.

Whittemore said he believes Parsley will return for the home opening series next weekend against Colorado Northwestern Community College.

While Barajas is eligible, WNC coaches felt he wasn’t doing well enough academically and decided to suspend him indefinitely. Whittemore said there’s a slight chance that Barajas could pitch this weekend, but it wasn’t likely.

“He’s making some progress academically,” Whittemore said.

If Barajas isn’t pitching this weekend, it’s likely he won’t pitch next weekend since WNC is on spring break next week. The soonest he could pitch would be the home series at the end of the month against Eastern Utah.

The absence of Parsley and Barajas could continue to allow other players to rise to the occasion. If Parsley doesn’t play, Cliff Shepard will start in center field and Travis Feiner will start at second base.

“They’ll both play full time,” Whittemore said. “Which is good for those guys to get going because they’re good players. It’s hard to play when you’re playing part time.”

The absence of Barajas also gave Jordan Blanchard a chance to shine. Blanchard gave up his redshirt to strike out nine over 52Ú3 innings last week against CSI.

“He’s moved up the depth chart in the bullpen,” Whittemore said. “He’ll get another chance this weekend to prove what he’s made of.”

The absence of Barajas could also mean an increased role in the bullpen for Andrew Reid. Again, in no particular order, Kyle Starratt, Josh Moody and Kyle Farrell will start the first three games of the series. The likely starter for game four will be Matt Klein or Javy Perez.