May 26, 2012

Ness Homers, But 'Cats Miss Early Chances

WNC Drops JUCO World Series Opener

Wildcats shortstop Chris Woolley makes a sure-handed grab. Photos provided by Charles Pearson
Wildcats shortstop Chris Woolley makes a sure-handed grab. Photos provided by Charles Pearson

One thing that D.J. Whittemore could depend on during Western Nevada College's 2012 baseball season was his team's competitiveness and ability to keep games close.

That didn't happen Saturday as third-ranked Polk State College of Winter Haven, Fla., defeated the sixth-rated Wildcats 10-1 in seven innings at the National Junior College Athletic Association World Series in Grand Junction, Colo.

It was WNC's most one-sided defeat since an 11-1 loss to Pima Community College on Feb. 5, 2011. Until Saturday, the Wildcats hadn't lost a game by more than three runs.

Western Nevada (47-16), however, remains alive in the double-elimination tournament. The Wildcats will play Cisco, Texas, at 1 p.m. Sunday. Jefferson, Mo., rallied past Cisco 11-3 in Saturday's final game.

"They have a very good team and did an outstanding job of putting the ball in play with two strikes," said Whittemore, WNC's seventh-year head coach.

The Wildcats missed an opportunity to jump on the Eagles' all-everything starting pitcher Alec Asher in the first inning. WNC loaded the bases with one out, but a double play ended the opportunity.

"We stranded five base runners in the first three innings, and that came back and was pretty costly," Whittemore said.

After giving up a home run to Dillon Ness and an ensuing base hit to Alex Schmidt in the second inning, Asher silenced the Wildcat hitters and pitchers. The 6-foot-4 Asher pitched a complete-game five-hitter and knocked in four runs with a pair of doubles. Asher only had one RBI to his credit going into Saturday.

Asher (13-1), who was drafted by the San Francisco Giants in the 23rd of the 2010 Amateur Baseball Draft, struck out five Wildcats and walked three.

After throwing 153 pitches in his previous start, a complete-game win over Central Arizona at the Western District tournament, Wildcats pitcher Andrew Woeck wasn't able to make it out of the third inning. He gave up five hits and four earned runs while fanning one.

"Woeck left a few pitches up and didn't have his sharp slider," Whittemore said. "Honestly, credit deserves to go to the other team. They are a very good team."

Western Nevada missed an opportunity to go ahead early, loading the bases in the first inning after leadoff hitter Chris Woolley struck out. But after Mike Umscheid walked, Derrick Pitts singled and Zach Hendrix walked, Bobby Pappin worked a 3-0 count against Asher. But Asher came back with two strikes, then induced Pappin to hit into a double play to end the threat.

The Eagles went ahead 1-0 in the bottom of the first, manufacturing a run on just one hit. Leadoff hitter Conor Szczerba singled into the left-field corner, but Pitts quickly retrieved the ball to hold him to one base. However, a passed ball and sacrifice bunt moved Szczerba to third base, and he came home on Michael Danner's groundout to first baseman Schmidt.

Ness homered to lead off the second, tying the score at 1. It was his fifth homer and 50th RBI of the season.

"He left one up for me, and I put a pretty good swing on it," Ness said.

But the Eagles regained the lead in the bottom half of the inning, scoring three runs on four hits. Asher's RBI double over Pitts' head in left center scored Matthew Singletary. It was Asher's second RBI of the season.

Polk State scored twice more in the second inning without hitting a ball out of the infield. A diving Woeck stabbed a liner up the middle, but his throw home to Neil Lawhorn wasn't in time to get Holden Reeves. Szczerba's ground ball to the right side of the infield allowed Asher to score from third, putting the Eagles ahead 4-1.

The Eagles struck for two more runs in the third on Reeves' two-out, two-run double off the left-field wall. Andrew Consiglio relieved Woeck with a 1-1 count on Asher and recorded a strikeout to end the third.

After a shaky start, Asher settled in to hold the Wildcats' offense in check. He retired 15 of 17 hitters after surrendering a single to Schmidt in the second inning.

"He was very good, consistently throwing 90-94 mph, and we hit a lot of balls hard," Whittemore said. "It was an outstanding effort by all of the guys on the team, but we just didn't make many plays."

In the seventh, WNC put more than one runner on base for the first time since the opening inning. With one out, pinch-hitter Cole Ferguson's fly ball to right center was blown toward the infield for a base hit. With two outs, Woolley singled to left, moving Ferguson to second base. But Asher retired Umscheid on a groundout to first base to end the game.

The game was played in a steady 35 mph wind, with gusts up to 60 mph, causing some balls hit to the outfield to be blown into the infield.

Even though WNC played in its share of windy games throughout the season, Whittemore said it was the windiest game he's experienced. Ness said the field's new press box blocked some of the wind for infielders but made it difficult for any ball hit into the outfield.

"It was tricky with the wind blowing really hard," Ness said. "It really killed some balls; it really was something else. The closest wind to it was in our home series against Salt Lake when the snow was blowing horizontal."

WNC, which is making its third appearance in the JUCO World Series in seven years, finished with five hits.

Hendrix and Umscheid reached base twice. Szczerba, Singletary, Reeves and Asher collected two hits apiece for the Eagles.

The Wildcats have demonstrated the mental toughness to bounce back from tough defeats throughout the season.

"We don't have to win five in a row tomorrow; we just to win one game tomorrow," Whittemore said.
Added Ness, "We're still in a good spot. We just need to win one game each day, and you couldn't ask for anything more than that."

Saturday's games

Polk State, Fla., 10, Western Nevada 1
Neosho, Kan., 11, Spartansburg, S.C. 3
San Jacinto, Texas, 5, Iowa Western 2
Jefferson, Mo., 11, Cisco, Texas, 3

Sunday's games

Iowa Western vs. Spartansburg, 9 a.m.
Western Nevada vs. Cisco-Jefferson loser, 1 p.m.
Shelton State, Ala., vs. Gordon, Ga., 6:30 p.m.


Photo Gallery
Photos (Click to Enlarge)
Andrew Woeck deals on the mound. Alex Schmidt makes a play at first. Taylor Smart takes a pitch.
Andrew Woeck deals on the mound.Alex Schmidt makes a play at first.Taylor Smart takes a pitch.
Wildcats intently watch the JUCO World Series. D.J. Whittemore coaches his Cats. Chris Woolley at bat.
Wildcats intently watch the JUCO World Series.D.J. Whittemore coaches his 'Cats.Chris Woolley at bat.
Anthony Consiglio delivers a pitch. Alex Schmidt catches a pickoff attempt. Chris Woolley makes a play at second.
Anthony Consiglio delivers a pitch.Alex Schmidt catches a pickoff attempt.Chris Woolley makes a play at second.
Alex Schmidt fields a grounder. Bobby Pappin puts down a bunt. Neil Lawhorn makes a play on a sacrifice bunt.
Alex Schmidt fields a grounder.Bobby Pappin puts down a bunt.Neil Lawhorn makes a play on a sacrifice bunt.
A Wildcat scrambles back to first.    
A Wildcat scrambles back to first.    
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