STERLING, Colo. – The Western Nebraska Community College baseball team is one win away from capturing their first Empire Conference title after sweeping past Northeastern Junior College Saturday in Sterling, Colorado.
WNCC received two stellar pitching performances and some clutch defense in picking up the two conference wins. In the opener, Eddy Nodarse allowed just three hits in helping the Cougars to the 5-2 win. The second game saw Zac Moran pitch six strong innings, scattering five hits in the 2-1 win. Ian Fisher picked up the save in both games.
The win moves the Cougars to 27-27 overall but more importantly to 22-12 in conference play. The Cougars have two games Sunday at Lamar Community College to wrap up the regular season. Sunday's games are important for both squads. WNCC just needs one win to secure the conference championship and the host of the Region IX tournament, while Lamar needs to win both games to qualify for the tournament. If Lamar wins both games Sunday, the Lopes will make the tournament and Trinidad State will host the tournament. If Lamar falls just once, McCook will get into the tournament and Cleveland Field will be the site of the tournament next week.
WNCC coach Mike Jones said his team played well in picking up the two wins Saturday.
"The pitching was outstanding and the defense behind the guys was really good," Jones said. "We made some really great plays behind the pitchers, the pitchers threw a lot of strikes and forced them to put the ball in play, and then played great defense."
Nodarse and Moran were the keys for the Cougars on the mound. The two pitchers, the Coguars fifth and sixth starters, got the job done.
"One of the strong points of our team is the depth within our pitching staff and that really showed up today," Jones said.
Defense was also stellar, holding NJC to just three runs and eight hits.
"The defense was definitely the difference today," Jones said. "Guys just didn't make the routine plays, but we made some great plays. If we can keep that kind of defense and pitching going, the offense will find ways to get across runs."
The second game was a defensive battle. NJC took the early lead at 1-0 in the second. WNCC came right back with two in the third for the lead. On two singles and double. Ryan Grasser plated the first run with a run-scoring single with two outs. Brandon Bachar then put the Cougars up 2-1 with a run-scoring double.
That was all the Cougars needed with Moran and Fisher on the mound and the Cougar defense making big plays to thwart NJC rallies. The defense turned two double plays in the fourth and fifth innings that proved clutch.
WNCC finished with eight hits. Grasser had two hits in the contest, both singles with a run scored and RBI. Bachar had the only extra base hit with a double.
The opening game was also a battle. Both teams plated a run in the first inning. WNCC retook the lead in the fourth when they plated two runs on just two hits. Isaac Taylor started the frame with a single. Bachar then was hit by a pitch to put two on. Lucas Piatchek came through with the big hit, a 2-out 2-run single to put WNCC up 3-1.
NJC cut the deficit to one with a run in the sixth, but the Cougars plated two insurance runs in the seventh all with two outs. Ty Benson started the rally with a single followed by a run-scoring double by Grasser. Achtermann followed with a run-scoring triple to put WNCC up 5-2.
WNCC had seven hits in the contest. Achtermann and Isaac Taylor each had two hits. Achtermann had a triple and a RBI. Grasser finished with a double, a RBI, and two runs scored. Lucas Piatchek finished with two RBIs.
"We will see Lamar's best for sure," Jones said. "They need both games for them to get into the tournament. They will come at us with everything they got. "
Jones said they just need to play like they have the last three wins.
"We just need to keep playing really good defense behind the pitchers," he said. "We have to come up with the timely hits like we have been able to do by stretching our at bats and finding a way to get on base. Then we need guys to come up with the big hit with guys on base."
WNCC 100 200 2 – 5 7 2
NJC 100 001 0 – 2 3 1
WNCC 002 000 0 – 2 8 1
NJC 010 000 0 – 1 5 0