Pat McMeel's talent as a catcher is obvious.
At 6-foot-1 and 220 pounds, McMeel had the size and the arm to impress.
“We saw him once and offered him a scholarship,” said D.J. Whittemore, coach at Western Nevada College, a two-year school in Carson City.
But Tanner Nielsen, McMeel’s teammate at North Thurston High School, was a different story. At 5-9 (the program lists him at 5-10) and about 155 pounds, he lacked McMeel’s size and rocket arm. He lacked that “wow factor.”
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“We weren’t nearly as impressed with Tanner,” Whittemore admitted.
Nielsen, a shortstop, contacted Whittemore a year ago and wanted to transfer to Western Nevada College after Matt Acker, Nielsen’s coach at Green River Community College, left. But Whittemore wasn’t interested. That didn’t deter Nielsen.
“He just kept calling,” Whittemore said. “He kept pestering me.”
Finally, worn down by Nielsen’s queries, Whittemore relented and offered Nielsen a chance to walk on last fall with no guarantee of making the team. Eventually, about eight games into the spring season, Nielsen’s vacuum glove and knack for making the play at shortstop helped him blossom into an unexpected starter from a once-unwanted player.
“At the end of fall practice, we told him he’s not going to play,” Whittemore said. “There were guys ahead of him. He told us he was going to continue to work hard and find a way to help us win.”
He has lived up to his pledge.
“He’s changed the season for us,” Whittemore said. “He’s a phenomenal defender. You can win with a shortstop like that.”
McMeel’s done his part, too.
“He’s the best catcher in the league,” Whittemore said. “He calls the game for us. Does a nice job on scouting reports. He’s got a great arm.”
After 52 games, Nielsen is batting ninth in the lineup and has a .280 average, going 33-for-118. McMeel is batting seventh or eighth and is hitting .207.
With the two former Rams in the lineup, Western Nevada is 40-12.
“Pat has done a great job of putting his defensive responsibilities first,” Whittemore said. “That’s how you win.”
Whittemore said McMeel has accepted a baseball scholarship to New Mexico State. Nielsen is again waiting for someone to give him a chance to prove himself.
“Tanner’s problem is he doesn’t have any one thing that just pops out at you,” Whittemore said. “He’s just steady, consistent. He’s made 40 plays in a row without an error. You’re lucky if you can find a shortstop who’ll make 10 in a row. Every player on this team is lucky he came here. It’s just a great story.”
SIZZLING HAUPERT ON A HITTING TEAR
Kelsey Haupert is opposing pitchers’ worst nightmare.
The Central Washington senior third baseman recently had 10 consecutive hits, breaking a Great Northwest Athletic Conference record.
Haupert, a Black Hills graduate, is now batting .459, going 61-for-133 for the season.
She strung together nine hits Monday as Central beat Simon Fraser in three games, which included the completion of a suspended game. During that streak, Haupert tied a GNAC single-game record with five hits in the suspended game.
She went 10-for-11 in those three wins against the Clan. She also went 2-for-3 in a 7-6 win against Saint Martin’s on Sunday, hitting a homer in her final at-bat. In those four games, she was a sizzling 12-for-14.
SAINTS PULL OUT WIN
Saint Martin’s finished its baseball season in dramatic fashion Saturday.
With the bases loaded in the bottom of the ninth, Blaine Evans singled to drive in the winning run, giving the Saints a wild 6-5 comeback win against Northwest Nazarene. The Saints outhit Northwest Nazarene 10-7 in the first game but lost, 10-2.
SMU finished the season 25-22 overall and 21-11 in conference.
Gail Wood: 360-754-5443 firstname.lastname@example.org