CARSON CITY — After losing at John L. Harvey Field for the first time and dropping out of first place on Friday, seventh-ranked Western Nevada College was determined to reverse Salt Lake's momentum on Saturday.
Western Nevada's Dylan Baker and Taylor Smart did their parts in the turning the tables on the Bruins in the opening game of the Scenic West Athletic Conference baseball doubleheader. Baker tossed a one-hitter and Smart delivered a two-out, run-scoring single in the sixth for the game's only run in a 1-0 WNC victory.
Blowing snow halted the second game in the second inning of a scoreless tie, leaving the teams in a virtual tie for first place in the SWAC standings. WNC improved to 15-4, while Salt Lake, which swept the doubleheader on Friday, slipped to 14-3.
"Salt Lake leaves our yard in first place and in the driver's seat, and we have an extremely tall task of chasing them down," said WNC Coach D.J Whittemore.
Baker (8-0) won his eighth-straight decision, overcoming a steady 30-mph wind and late-game drizzle to stymie Salt Lake hitters.
"We needed a win in the biggest way, and Dylan put us on his shoulders with the one-hit shutout," Whittemore said.
The sophomore right-hander struck out nine and stranded six Bruins on base to win a duel with Ruddy Acosta (1-1),
"It was a little windy, and it was blowing me pretty much everywhere. I just tried to throw strikes," Baker said.
Salt Lake put a runner on second with one out in the seventh, but Baker was up to the task, striking out the final two hitters to end the game.
"That got me going," Baker said of the leadoff runner in the seventh. "I knew we had to get the first win today or we wouldn't have been into it for the second game."
In the sixth, Zach Hendrix started the Wildcats' winning rally with a base hit to right. Pinch-runner Bobby Gazzola went to second on Mike Umscheid's sacrifice bunt just in front of home plate. Smart followed a groundout to the Acosta with his clutch hit to center. The throw from center fielder Braden Anderson arrived well ahead of Gazzola, but catcher Nathan Fishel couldn't come up with the throw in time to apply the tag as Gazzola leaped over him to cleanly touch the plate to break up the scoreless duel.
"We didn't come up clutch yesterday," Smart said. "I stayed in myself and hit it back up the middle. It felt great.
"We never like losing to these guys because they're like our rival, and we wanted to beat them wind, rain or snow."
Whittemore was appreciative that Smart ended WNC's struggles to drive in a runner in scoring position.
"Smart prepares outstandingly and deserves any success he gets," Whittemore said.
Baker came into his ninth start with 0.25 earned run average. It was his third complete game.
"This is the best victory I've had all year," Baker said.
Wind gusts up to 60 mph annoyed the teams, causing hats to come off, pitchers to lose their balance and hitters and the home plate umpire to rub dirt out of their eyes.
Western Nevada didn't capitalize by having a baserunner on third base in each of the first four innings. The Wildcats left two runners on base in the first and third innings, and Smart was stranded on third in the second and fourth innings.
Dillon Ness hit a one-out single to left in the first inning. After Ness stole second base, Derrick Pitts walked on a full count. Hendrix lined a single to center to load the bases. But Acosta escaped the jam with a double play.
In the second, Smart walked, then stole second base. But after reaching third on Bobby Pappin's force out to the right side of the infield, Neil Lawhorn struck out looking for the inning's final out.
Salt Lake's best chance to score came in the fifth inning when Baker started missing high with his fastball. Dalton Gust walked with one out and moved to second on a hard one-hopper by Fishel. Baker balked while checking Gust at second. Anderson walked on five pitches and took second on defensive indifference. But third baseman AJ Hernandez came up with his second big play of the inning by catching Steven Adam's line drive for the third out.
Baker, falling behind the hitters early in the count, ran into a tough spot in the third inning. With one out, Anderson lined a double into the left-field corner. But after going to a 2-0 count on Adam, Baker came back for a strikeout, then Dominique Taylor grounded out to Hernandez at third to end the threat.
Smart and Hendrix each had two hits and reached base in all three plate appearances.
The teams didn't make it out of the first inning before experiencing a rain delay. Umpires waved the players off the field after WNC put two runners aboard with two outs in the bottom of the first.
When play resumed after a 20-minute delay, snow started falling in place of rain, and Pitts was retired on a groundout to second.
By the time Salt Lake came up to bat in the second, snow was blowing sideways into the players' faces. Fielders used their gloves to shield their faces from the pelting snow, and Pappin danced in a circle in center in an attempt to stay warm.
Umpires called a second delay with one out in the top of the second. Players on both teams waited out the break with some good-natured fun, including a dance-off in the on-deck circle. WNC players also did some jousting and bowling in front of their dugout. Umpires called the game after looking at an ominous weather forecast for the remainder of the day. Salt Lake came to the post-game handshake marching like an ROTC unit before falling to the ground in commando style with their wooden bats pointed at the Wildcats.
Sophomore right-hander Brandon Jackson (3-1), pitching in short sleeves, made his third start for the Wildcats.
WNC (26-9 overall) will play host to Colorado Northwestern on April 6-7.