LAMAR, Colo. – The Western Nebraska Community College baseball team had three home runs, including a seventh-inning 2-run shot by Ryan Glasser, to give the Cougars an 8-6 win over Lamar Community College Sunday afternoon in Lamar, Colorado.
Sunday's win was especially special for the Cougar baseball team as the win gave WNCC its first Empire Conference championship and the host of the Region IX tournament, which begins Thursday at Cleveland Field.
Earning the conference regular season title wasn't easy. WNCC entered the weekend knowing they had to go 4-2. WNCC split with McCook on Friday and then swept Northeastern Junior College on Saturday making Sunday's contest with Lamar the pivotal series. WNCC needed just one win to claim the title, but they opened up the series with a 7-3 game one defeat, setting up the all -important second game.
WNCC led from start to finish in game two and receiving clutch hits – WNCC hammered three home runs -- and received stellar pitching in claiming the win. The loss also knocked Lamar out of the regional tournament, giving McCook Community College the fourth and final spot.
Isaac Taylor, who had one of those home runs in the second game, said this is a big accomplishment for the Cougars, who have led the conference standings all season but had to claim the title in the final game of the regular season.
"it feels amazing to win and be conference champs," the sophomore from Cheyenne, Wyoming, said. "Also, hosting the tournament is a huge advantage. It is the first time that WNCC has had the opportunity and it really shows how hard we, as a team, have worked this year."
WNCC has won the Region IX tournament once before and hosted a district final in 2007, but never hosted a baseball regional tournament. Times and pairings will be released later this week.
"This is a major accomplishment for the team and school, but we're not done yet," Taylor said. "We still have more to do. We are all focused on winning the region IX tournament."
WNCC had to put everything together in the second game to accomplish the first-ever feat and Taylor said they did.
"It [the win] really was a team effort," he said. "It wasn't just one guy that won the game, everyone had great at bats, the defense played well, and the pitching was very solid."
The pitching did its job in the second game. Jacob Pekol tossed four innings in allowing five runs and striking out four. Angel Cortes finished off the game in relief, tossing three strong innings while allowing just one hit – a seventh-inning home run – and striking out five.
"The pitching was a huge impact on the game," Taylor said. "Pekol pitched really well and then Angel came in and shut down the hitters. He pitched well and he located well. He was very tough to hit."
Offensively, WNCC got the job done, too. WNCC had just seven hits but they made the most of those hits.
"The offense as a whole was unbelievable," Taylor said. "Every time Lamar scored we cane right back and answered. We were calm in our at bats. We took the pitches we needed to and had quality at bats right after the other. It was really fun to see everyone hitting homeruns and just helping the team any way they can."
WNCC hammered six home runs in the doubleheader, three in each game. The home runs in the second game proved to be huge.
The Cougars struck first as Brandon Bachar belted a 2-out 3-run home run in the first for a quick 3-0 lead. Lamar came back to cut the lead to 3-2 in the first.
WNCC's long ball hitting continued in the third when Alex Achtermann and Lincoln Trujillo both singled and then Taylor came through with a 3-run bomb to put WNCC up 6-2.
Lamar came back with one in the third and two in the fourth to cut the lead to 6-5. That was when Cortes shut down the Lamar bats, where the sophomore shut down the Lopes one-two-three in the fifth and sixth.
WNCC added two insurance runs in the seventh as Grasser belted a 2-run shot for the 8-5 lead, which proved to be the game winner.
WNCC finished with just seven hits. Trujillo led the team with two hits with two runs scored. Grasser had two RBIs, while Bachar and Taylor each had three RBIs
WNCC could have ended any suspense with a win in the first game, but despite three solo home runs, Lamar had plenty to play for and matched the Cougars runs plus some to force the important second game.
WNCC opened the first game with a Grasser home run and got solo blasts from Cole Williams in the third and Tyler Shubert in the fifth. After Shubert's bomb gave the Cougars a 3-2 lead, the Lopes' offense heated up, scoring five times in the fifth and sixth for the win.
The Cougars managed just five hits in the contest. Alex Achtermann had two hits, including a double.
WNCC 101 010 0 – 3 5 2
Lamar 010 123 x – 7 10 2
WNCC 303 000 2 – 8 7 1
Lamar 201 200 1 – 6 9 0