The Western Nebraska Community College softball team will be looking for a Region IX title when they begin play at the Region IX tournament on Friday in McCook.

                The Cougars will open the double-elimination tournament Friday morning at 10 a.m. when they face Northeastern Junior College, a team they have beat four times this year.

                “I think for us to win and bring home a title, we will just have to play together and play from the heart,” Emma Schweitzer said. “That is the main thing about Cougar softball is playing from the heart and really being together as a team and doing stuff for each other and not ourselves. We have to not have selfish at bats. We just have to take one for the team and doing stuff for each other and not individualize anything.”

                Still, no one team in the Region IX tournament can be taken lightly as this year’s tournament is up for grabs.

                NJC and WNCC kick off the tournament at 10 a.m. with the winner facing the top seed McCook Community College at 3 p.m. in the winner’s bracket. The other game pits Otero College against Trinidad State College at 12:30 p.m. The winners of the two afternoon games will face each other in the winner bracket finals on Saturday at 11 a.m.

                The loser of the NJC/WNCC contest will face the loser of the Otero/Trinidad game on Friday at 5:30 p.m. The championship is slated for Sunday with an if-necessary game later that day.
                The winner of the Region IX title will host the winner of the Kansas region next weekend with the winner qualifying for the national title in Yuma, Arizona.

                WNCC is one of the hottest teams in the region along with several other teams. WNCC enters regionals with a 24-28 record. WNCC ended the regular season falling three times to McCook. Before that, though, the Cougars had a five-game winning streak. WNCC also took four of five from NJC.

                NJC will be a team WNCC knows a lot about. WNCC lost 10-6 to the Plainswomen on April 15 and then won the next three in the four-game series at Volunteer Field 7-5, 11-3, and 10-9. Two of those wins came on walk-off hits. WNCC then topped NJC 5-2 at Sterling in a make-up game on April 19.

                “Our first-round opponent is NJC and they obviously are a tough team, but we have beat them before,” Schweitzer said. “I think as long as we come out playing our game and staying in control of us, we will be perfectly fine.”

                Schweitzer said the team is playing well and they need to continue playing like they are capable of.

                “After McCook last weekend we were a little rough, but I think it will make us stronger in the end anyway,” she said. “I think at the moment and going into this weekend, we are going to be extremely strong.”

                WNCC is led by seven players that have a batting average over .300. Victoria Wharton leads the team with a .451 average and the outfielder has scored 46 runs and swiped 30 bases. Erin Hanafin is next at .390 with 49 RBIs and 39 runs scored with for home runs.

                Also in the mix of 300-plus hitters are Macyn Hartman at .376, Bella Coffman at .257, Taylor Klein at .329, and Lexi Butterfield at .303.

                WNCC had his 35 home runs this season led by Hanafin with 11 followed by Butterfield with five, and four each from Hartman, Klein, and Bella Mumford.

                But while the Cougars have had home runs, the thing that stands out about this team is the ability to get base hits. WNCC has 88 doubles on the season as Hartman leads with 17 followed by Butterfield with 14, Klein with 12, and Wharton with 10.

                WNCC’s speed is also a factor as the Cougars have swiped 101 bases this season.

                The last time the Cougars won a Region IX title was 2019 when they beat McCook 14-5 in the championship game that was played at Volunteer Field. WNCC then hosted Butler Community College in the district finals and fell to the perennial national tournament team 5-4 and 8-5.

                This season, it is possible for the Cougars to bring home a regional title, but Schweitzer said the team just needs to stay within what they do best.

                “I think the biggest keys is controlling what we can control, staying together, and probably going all out every single inning,” she said.

WNCC baseball set to defend regional title

                The Western Nebraska Community College baseball team will be vying to repeat as Region IX champions as they get set to open the first-round of the Region IX tournament Friday and Saturday in Trinidad, Colorado.

                The Cougars will open the best of three series with a doubleheader on Friday at noon against Trinidad State College with an if-necessary game slated for Saturday. The four first-round winners will advance to the double-elimination tournament in Colorado Springs, Colorado, next weekend.

                Other first round games will pit McCook Community College traveling to Lamar Community College, Luna Community College heading to Southeast Community College, and Northeastern Junior College hosting Otero College.

                Eli Hernandez, a freshman utility player that plays outfield, infield and pitches, said the key is just playing together as a unit.

                “We will have to show up and have everyone on point like pitchers, hitters, and defensive players,” Hernandez said. “We will have to come out with a lot of energy and be ready to play.”
                WNCC enters the weekend series with a 21-31 record and are 12-10 in April, including winning three straight against NJC as well three straight against McCook and Colby.
                “The team is doing good right now,” Hernandez said. “Our hitters have been figuring it out and our starters have been doing really well the last couple of weeks. If we can just get our pitching and hitting to come together at the same time, we will have a good shot.”

                Trinidad enters with a 40-15 record and have 12 of their last 15. The last time WNCC and the Trojans played, it was March 26 and 27 and Trinidad won four times, but the were close contests. Trinidad won 2-0 and 6-5 in pitcher duals and then also won 11-6 and 10-4.
                Hernandez said they have been working hard in practice to capitalize on what Trinidad does well.

                “When we played them last time, they like to throw the ball low so we got into a lot of ground balls,” he said. “We have been practicing on hitting a low pitch this week so we can capitalize off that.”

                The 2-0 game was a tight contest between the two pitchers. WNCC’s Dawson Hurford allowed 11 hits and gave up just two, fourth-inning runs. Trinidad’s Isaac Gallegos allowed just three hits in the shutout.

                Hernandez said the key is keeping the energy up.

                “We will have to hit that low pitch and keep the energy in the dugout the entire game,” he said. “We have to not try to fall flat at anytime in the game because there will always be a chance to come back of what the score deficit is.”

                WNCC has showed that they can come back and win games in the final innings and Saturday’s regular season against McCook was one of those where the score was tied at 9-9 in the ninth and Jack Jones got a single to score Quinn McCafferty with the winning run.

                All the games in the Region IX tournament are 9-inning contests.

                Last year, WNCC defeated Trinidad State in the first-round at Trinidad 17-14 and 11-10. At the regional tournament, WNCC topped Southeast 6-4 before defeating Lamar 12-10. In the Region IX championship game, the Cougars beat Southeast 4-3 as Harold Baez got the 4-inning save in striking out six.