The Western Nebraska Community College baseball team knew they had to win Sunday to remain alive for the post season.
They did just that, jumping on Lamar Community College opening pitcher early and then held the strong pitching of Chandler Young and Zach Berg in claiming a 6-4 win over the Lopes in Empire Conference action Sunday at Cleveland Field.
The win moves the Cougars into a one-game play-in game with Southeast Community College on Wednesday in Trinidad State Junior College with the winner earning the fourth seed in the Region IX tournament that begins Thursday. WNCC and Southeast each finished the conference with 20-16 records. NJC is 20-15 with a game with McCook on Monday, but the Plainsmen hold the head-to-head series over WNCC and Southeast.
The win sends the Cougars into the play-in game and WNCC head coach Mike Jones said they should be ready.
“The guys did a great job coming in. We had five games in three days and these guys had to win four out of five,” Jones said. “It is a lot of pressure on the guys at the end of the season, I thought they handled it with nothing but class. They competed all the way through and stayed together as they had to battle through some mistakes. It shows a lot about the character of these young men and hope this carries us into the postseason.”
Jones said they received two excellent pitching performances on the day with some big defensive plays.
“I thought we came out with very disciplined bats early. We forced them to throw the fast ball and stayed off the breaking pitch, and we stayed off some change ups as well,” WNCC coach Mike Jones said. “I thought we did a good job early with some disciplined at bats. Little things here and there got us a lot of scoring opportunities.”
A big key was the pitching performance of Young and Berg. Both were on short notice. Young last pitched on Wednesday against McCook and Berg went four innings on Friday.
“I thought it was an outstanding performance. Chandler was on short rest. He is well-conditioned but at the same time being on a short rest and pitching in a big game. I thought he did a great job of controlling everything. He attacked their hitters real hard for the first three innings. As he got going, he struggled with the breaking ball and the change-up got away from him as he got tired. But he got through it and handed the ball off to Berg and Berg did a great job.”
Young went five innings in scattering four hits and giving up four runs while striking out three. Berg picked up the save in going four innings in allowing just two hits and striking out five in facing just 14 batters.
Jones said the defense was good on Sunday.
“The defense was really good. I think we made just one error but for the most part I think the defense was excellent,” Jones said. “Not just the guys on the infield, but the guys in the outfield I thought did a great job. Michael Felton did a good job behind the plate. Zach has been a guy for us all season long and he was on short rest. Being a sophomore, being a leader, really wanted the ball in his hands in the end of our season. He did a great job,”
Southeast on Wednesday is a game where they will face a team with a good pitching staff. WNCC is also deep with pitchers, using just two on Sunday.
“The matchup with Southeast will be interesting,” Jones said. “They have good pitching and have been really good against us in the past. They play solid defense. But if we can put together a good scouting report and come out with a good offensive plan early and get up and then take care of business from there.”
That is exactly what WNCC did against Lamar, get up early and let the pitching and defense take care of the rest.
WNCC loaded the bases on singles by Mitch Osborne and Brevin Owen while Dermot Fritsch was hit by a pitch. Ethan Miller scored the first run with a single. Luis Alcantara also singled in a run and Fritsch scored after Michael Felton was hit by a pitch. WNCC led 3-0 after one inning.
The Cougars went up 6-0 with three more runs in the third. Alcantara singled up the first run, scoring Owen followed by Braden Lofink driving in Miller with a single. Ty McAninch singled to score Lofink with the sixth run.
Lamar came back with a run in the fourth and three in the fifth to slice the lead to 6-4. After that Berg shut the door in relieve of Young, striking out five of the 12 outs.
WNCC outhit Lamar 11-6. All the Cougars’ hits were singles. Ethan Miller, Luis Alcantara, and Ty McAninch led the attack with two hits each. Alcantara had two RBIs on the day while Brevin Owen scored two runs.
Lamar 000 130 000 – 4 6 2
WNCC 303 000 00x – 6 11 1
WP – Chandler Young, S – Zach Berg.