After two months on the road, the Western Nebraska Community College softball and baseball team will be at home for key conference games this week.
The WNCC baseball team opens the home portion of their schedule when they take on Empire Conference-leading Northeastern Junior College on Thursday at 1 p.m. in a doubleheader at Cleveland Field. NJC enters the contest leading the conference at 9-5 and is the only team above .500 with a 16-13 record. WNCC is just three games out of first place with a 7-9 conference record.
WNCC sophomore Kale Litzelman said it feels great to be at home.
“I am excited to be at home,” the Hotchkiss, Colorado, native said. “We play at home [Thursday] for a double and a lot of teams played the majority of their games at home already so it will be nice to be at home for the rest of the season.
These home games this week are huge for conference standings. Litzelman said they have to take care of business.
“These home games are big,” he said. “Trinidad State went 9-3 at home and they started going on the road and they lost three games to Southeast. There is a 3-way tie for second at 9-7 and everyone is right in that area.”
After NJC, the Cougars will then have a 3-game series with McCook Community College on Saturday and Sunday at Cleveland Field. Both days have a 1 p.m. first pitch.
Litzelman said they have been playing well, just having some bad luck, but he expects the hitting to come around at home.
“When we play defense and pitch well, we win games,” Litzelman said. “The hitting is coming along and everybody is willing to get better every time. As long as we stay on this path, we will be in a good spot.”
The baseball team is hitting .249 as a team while their opponents are hitting at a clip of .284. Arnoldo Maltos-Garcia is leading the team with a .400 average followed by Ty McAninch at .339 and Dermot Fritsch at .329.
While the baseball team opens the home campaign on Thursday, the softball team will finally get to play at home this weekend when they host No. 18 Otero Junior College on Saturday and Sunday at Volunteer Field. Saturday’s contest begins at 3 p.m. while Sunday’s doubleheader starts at 11 a.m.
The two teams locked up in a doubleheader last week and the split the two games. Otero won the first contest 6-3 before WNCC came back with five home runs, including three from freshman Mickie Mills with a 15-6 win.
Mills said the team is excited to play in front of their fans.
“It feels really good to finally play a game at home, not having to ride the bus to another school is a great feeling,” the freshman from Spanish Fork, Utah, said. “I am really pumped and excited to play in front of our home crowd.”
The softball team is 16-16 on the season but are knocking on the door to overtake Otero for the conference lead. It will be a weekend where the top two teams in the conference will do battle. The winner of the conference will host the regional tournament in May.
“These games are important because the standings are close and Otero has the best record,” Mills said. “We need to just relax and play our game because when we have fun and just play, we perform better.”
Otero is 13-3 in the conference while the Cougars are 8-4. The Rattlers are 24-6 overall after splitting a doubleheader with Seward County Community College on Wednesday, winning the first one 7-3 and falling in the second one 10-5.
WNCC comes into the game hitting .342 at the plate as a team. Michaela Kelly leads the team at .489 followed by Emma Glawson at .463. The Cougars have also had a knack for extra base hits in the 32 road games, collecting 69 doubles, eight triples, and 39 home runs. Kelly and Glawson lead the team with 10 doubles each, while Kelly leads with four triples. Mills leads the home run category with eight round-trippers followed by Glawson with six, and four each from Kelly, Bri George, and Sidnee Hogan.
After this week, the softball team will be back at home on Friday, April 13 hosting Trinidad State. The baseball team will be at home next week as well, hosting Otero Junior College on April 10 before hosting Mesa Club team on April 13.
Region IX Baseball Standings
Team Conf. Overall
NJC 9-5 16-13
Lamar 9-7 13-15
Southeast 9-7 10-15
Trinidad 9-7 14-17
WNCC 7-9 10-20
Otero 7-11 10-23
McCook 6-10 9-16
Region IX Softball Standings
Otero 13-3 24-6
WNCC 8-4 16-16
McCook 7-7 14-18
Lamar 6-8 13-18
Trinidad 5-9 14-19
NJC 3-11 20-14WN