The Western Nebraska Community College baseball team was one out from capturing a Region IX championship last year and head coach Mike Jones added some pitching firepower to next year's lineup after signing one of the top pitchers in Colorado in Wiggins High School's Bryce Ford this week.
Ford, who was named to the Colorado 2A First Team while racking up 135 strikeouts with an earned run average of 1.73, said he is excited to be Cougar.
"Couple things that led me to WNCC," he said. "I was familiar with the area and the weather is pretty much the same as Colorado. There is good opportunities up here with coach. It is a good program and I know a couple people that have gone through here and they liked it a lot. That encouraged me to come,"
WNCC head coach Mike Jones said Ford has plenty of velocity from the mound.
"We are bringing in a real athletic guy," Jones said. "He is a 3-sport athlete and when you see him pitch, everybody will enjoy watching him throw just because of his very smooth delivery. The ball jumps out of his hand right now. His velocity is good and the feel for the breaking ball is pretty good with a pretty tight rotation. Over the course of him being here, over the next six or seven months before spring games, I am real curious of what kind of jump he makes. With a lot of hard work and time put in, we will see become a guy for sure."
Building that team to compete for a regional title has been something happening the past few years. The Cougars nearly won the regional title in May, coming within one out of the regional title before falling to Lamar Community College in the first championship game and then dropping the if-necessary game.
With the guys coming back, they know what it takes to get that next level, a regional title.
"For us to be one strike away from that Region IX championship is something that has created motivation for us already," Jones said. "A lot of guys returning and talking about it and they decided to get right back to work to make sure we can come out on top next spring. There are a lot of high expectations, and not just from me but from all the guys returning and the group that is signing with us. There will be a lot of excitement when fall ball begins."
Signing a player like Ford will be beneficial for the program.
"We need to have guys go out on the mound and get outs and put a good defense behind them," Jones said. "Signing guys like Bryce will be huge for us. He has the strike out numbers. He has the put-away stuff. Once he makes the adjustment into the college game, he definitely will be a guy that we can lean on."
In his four years at Wiggins, Ford finished with 261 strikeouts and a career 3.25 ERA.
Not only is Ford strong from the mound, but he carries a mean bat. Last season for Wiggins, Ford, hit .551 with 27 runs scored, six home runs, five triples, and four doubles. In his four in high school, Ford finished with a .398 batting average with 81 RBIs, 65 runs scored, eight home runs, and 18 doubles.
Ford is currently playing legion baseball with the Greeley GoJos. But said he wants to continue growing as a ball player and climbing the levels of playing, hopefully following in former Cougar Alex Achtermann, who was drafted by the Colorado Rockies.
"College hitters are a lot tougher to get out, but I have to adapt my game and change up who I am maybe," Ford said. "Maybe not so much of an over-powering guy, but will get you out with the corners."
Ford's goal is to get better, move on to a four-year level, and then hopefully to continue pitching after college.
"I really grind two years here and increase myself as a pitcher and player," Ford said. "I then want to move on to play some more ball at a four-year school and finish out a master's degree. It is always a dream [to play pro] but it is a lot of hard work and I really put that in so we will see in a few years."