The season didn’t end the way the Western Nebraska Community College baseball team wanted it to a year ago. This year’s team is anxious to go out because it fells like it has unfinished business from a year ago.
The Cougar team was one out from capturing their second Region IX title, but lost to Lamar Community College in the first title game and then won the if-necessary game to earn the regional title.
That finish has put a new spin on the season for the Cougars this year as many of the players on that team return and they would love to bring home a regional title to Scottsbluff.
“After being one out away from a Region IX championship, the guys have been motivated this entire year to get back on the field again and compete for another championship,” WNCC head coach Mike Jones said. “It has been a motivation and now it is time to go and play again. The thing is a lot of these sophomore understand they have a long ways to go and no reason to rush or panic.”
The Cougars will open the season this weekend in Albuquerque, New Mexico, at the ABA JUCO Weekend powered by Five Tool. The Cougars will face Dodge City Community College and New Mexico Military on Saturday and then New Mexico Military and El Paso Community College on Sunday.
The WNCC and Dodge City contest will be interesting as Jones was the head coach at Dodge City before coming to WNCC.
After two days in New Mexico, WNCC will face Lamar Community College on Monday in a non-conference contest.
“The team is excited to play,” Jones said. “We are well organized and they are excited to play. The weather is going to be alright, so we will get a chance to get on the field and play and make a few mistakes and then come back and fix them.”
Jones knows they will see some good competition in New Mexico.
“We will see some good teams,” Jones said. “There will be plenty of talent all over the place. Whether we see everyone’s best game or their worst game, right now we have to focus on ourselves. We need to get on the field and get organized and understand how they are supposed to run an offense, how we are supposed to play defense, how we want to work over some hitters. It will be up to us to stay focused on ourselves.”
In addition to returning sophomores, the Cougars have some talented freshmen on the squad this year.
“There is plenty of talent,” Jones said. “There is guys with a lot of experience and a ton of college at-bats and a lot of innings on the mound. We have had nothing but positive practices throughout the fall and early in the spring. It is a good group of people. Everybody has the right goals and right mindset right now so we should be successful in the future.”
The pitching staff should be solid this season with 16 returners that saw action a year ago and a few newcomers.
“We have a lot of depth on the pitching staff,” Jones said. “That allows us to take our time early and get everybody their innings. There is no reason to run up anybody’s pitch count. The first two weekends is an opportunity to build up arm strength and build up their pitch count. We are going to take our time with everybody and keep everyone healthy.”
The pitching staff will definitely be a plus this season. Back are Chandler Young of Ft. Collins, Colorado; Kyler Harris of Magnolia, Texas; Garrett Declue of Littleton, Colorado; Mitch Mullen of Highlands Ranch, Colorado; Elliot McNeave of Westminster, Colorado; and Brandon Rollinson of Ft. Collins, Colorado.
The freshmen pitching prospects include a pair of WESTCO Zephyr players in Trent Richter and Paul Panduro. Other newcomers to the mound include Jerson Morales of Miami, Florida; Alan Cortes of Carolina, Puerto Rico; Corbin Kirk of Casper, Wyoming; Miguel Baez of the Dominican Republic; Will Potter of Toronto, Ontario; and Dawson Hurford of Victoria, British Columbia.
The offensive side of the plate should also be deep with plenty of returners coming back. The sophomore infielders and outfielders include Austin Abbott of Gering; Ty McAninch of Thornton, Colorado; Michael Felton of Loveland, Colorado; Luis Alcantara of Santo Domingo, Dominican Republic; Joey Olson of Olathe, Kansas; Ethan “Q” Miller of Centennial, Colorado; Matt Womack of Houston, Texas; John Betsch of Conifer, Colorado; Dermot Fritsch of Brisbane, Australia; and Hunter Nelson of Erie, Colorado.
The newcomers to the roster include plenty of players that red-shirted a year ago along with some true freshman. The first-year players include Orey Fricke of Ogallala; Jordan Rollins of Miami, Florida; Joe Kinneberg of Sandy, Utah; Jayden Orozco of Chandler, Arizona; and Caleb Coats of Katy, Texas.
Four of the pitchers pitched last summer in the Expedition League. Richter, Panduro, and Harris pitched for the Casper Horseheads while Morales pitched for the Pierre, South Dakota, team. Alcantara played for the Horseheads as an infielder.
WNCC’s first home game is slated for March 4 when they host Northeastern Junior College in a doubleheader. The regular season wraps ups May 2-3 when the Cougars host Lamar Community College in a 3-game series.
WNCC Baseball Schedule
Feb. 15 Dodge City Albuquerque, New Mexico
Feb. 15 New Mexico Military Albuquerque, New Mexico
Feb. 16 New Mexico Military Albuquerque, New Mexico
Feb. 16 El Paso Albuquerque, New Mexico
Feb. 17 Lamar Lamar, Colorado
Feb. 22 Barton Great Bend, Kansas
Feb. 23 Barton Great Bend, Kansas
Feb. 29 Lamar Lamar, Colorado
March 1 Lamar Lamar, Colorado
March 4 Northeastern Scottsbluff, Nebraska
March 7 Trinidad State Trinidad, Colorado
March 8 Trinidad State Trinidad, Colorado
March 10 South Mountain Phoenix, Arizona
March 11 South Mountain Phoenix, Arizona
March 12 GateWay Mesa, Arizona
March 12 Phoenix Phoenix, Arizona
March 13 Phoenix Phoenix, Arizona
March 14 Mesa Mesa, Arizona
March 17 McCook Scottsbluff, Nebraska
March 21 Southeast Scottsbluff, Nebraska
March 22 Southeast Scottsbluff, Nebraska
March 25 Northeastern Sterling, Colorado
March 28 Otero Scottsbluff, Nebraska
March 29 Otero Scottsbluff, Nebraska
April 1 Otero La Junta, Colorado
April 4 McCook McCook, Nebraska
April 8 McCook Scottsbluff, Nebraska
April 18 Trinidad State Scottsbluff, Nebraska
April 19 Trinidad State Scottsbluff, Nebraska
April 23 Northestern Scottsbluff, Nebraska
April 25 Southeast Beatrice, Nebraska
April 26 Southeast Beatrice, Nebraska
May 2 Lamar Scottsbluff, Nebraska
May 3 Lamar Scottsbluff, Nebraska