WNCC ready for No. 1 New Mexico
GRAND JUNCTION, Colo. – The Western Nevada Community College baseball team is becoming caught up in the fact that it’s a second-year program playing the nation’s No. 1 ranked team in the JUCO World Series.
So when the Wildcats take the field today to play New Mexico Community College in a winner’s bracket game, they’re going to try to treat it just as another contest, if that’s possible.
“We can’t afford to be in awe,” WNCC coach D.J. Whittemore said. “We stay focused on the next game.”
Just because WNCC has been able to make it to the World Series in its second year doesn’t mean the Wildcats are taking it for granted.
“It might be 30 years before we get back,” Whittemore said. “You want to make the most of the opportunities when you’re given them.”
And the Wildcats are trying to stay in the winner’s bracket. The ultimate goal is to win today, Tuesday and Wednesday to advance to Friday’s Final Four without having to play on Thursday. “We want to stay that way as long as we can,” said Whittemore about staying in the winner’s bracket.
Whittemore knows that’s going to be tough against New Mexico. “We just have so much respect for New Mexico and how they conduct themselves,” Whittemore said.
The two teams met early in the season and played on even terms. New Mexico beat WNCC 2-1 and then the two teams played to a 5-5 tie after the Wildcats had a 5-2 lead.
Whittemore expects Matt Speake, who was the winning pitcher against WNCC in the 2-1 victory, to pitch today. Speake is 10-2 with a 3.36 earned run average, with 75 strikeouts in 72.1 innings. Justin Garcia, who’s 10-5 with a 2.60 E.R.A. in 94.1 innings, will go for the Wildcats.
Against WNCC, Speak held the Wildcats scoreless over six innings, striking out six, walking four and allowing four hits. “He kept the ball down against us,” Whittemore said. “He was dominant.”
Whittemore said Speake has an outstanding slider and a fastball in the 86-90 mile an hour range.
WNCC’s pitchers held New Mexico in check for the most part as well, but Whittemore noted much has changed since then. “That was a different time of the year,” Whittemore said. “When the weather heats up, the bats get going at the end of the year.”
Whittemore noted it was 38 degrees in February in New Mexico while the temperatures have been in the 80-degree range in Grand Junction. New Mexico took full advantage of the warm weather, pounding out 19 hits in a 14-12 win over Young Harris of Georgia on Saturday. WNCC advanced to today’s game with a 2-0 win over Delgado Community College of New Orleans, which was eliminated from the tournament on Sunday in a 12-9 loss to Young Harris.
While Whittemore said he’s not overly concerned about New Mexico’s offense, he admitted, “It’s not easy to sleep at night,” thinking about it.
One look at New Mexico’s statistics is imposing. Coming into the World Series, all 16 of New Mexico’s regular position players were hitting .326 or better. Fifteen of those players had at least 43 at bats. Eight of the players have an average of .400 or better and two were hitting .500 or better – Adalberto Santos (.520, 9 homers, 58 RBI, .861 slugging percentage) and Michael Diaz (.500).
There’s also Kevin Atkinson (.493, 7 homers, 69 RBI) and Brian Cavazos-Galvez (.477, 9 homers, 79 RBI). New Mexico has now outscored its opponents 619-225 on the season.
Kyle Bondurant, though, has confidence in Garcia and the rest of the pitching staff. “If we can get four or five runs from our side, that’s been enough for the majority of the year,” Bondurant said.
Bondurant also said WNCC’s players are focused on winning a national title. “That was our goal from day one of last year,” he said. “We wanted to go in and play for a national championship.” Bondurant said for this year’s team it’s “national championship or bust. I think we’ll just go out and play like its just another game.”
Andrew Reid echoed Bondurant’s thoughts. “We’re just going to come out and play good D, throw a lot of strikes, swing the bats well and get a lot of pitches to hit,” Reid said.
Notes: New Mexico has a definite Latin flavor to its team with seven players from Puerto Rico.
• Contact Charles Whisnand at firstname.lastname@example.org or 881-1214.