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Wolverines hope playoffs pay off

By: Cecil Conley, Sports Editor
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Eric Nedeljkovic’s two seasons with Sierra College’s baseball team can be best measured inning by inning. The sophomore has rarely pitched more than one inning at any given time anyway. There was no room in the rotation for the right-hander when he joined the Wolverines last season, so he went to the bullpen. Even after one starter was injured, Nedeljkovic remained a reliever. Coach Rob Willson believes in a bullpen hierarchy, with one reliever being designated as the closer. The role was a golden opportunity for the 6-foot-1, 185-pound Nedeljkovic, who embraced it. “In the ninth inning, it’s do or die. You have to have that killer instinct,” he said. “That’s what I prefer. I know what I’ve got to do. I’m not going to pitch around a batter. It’s make it or break it.” The 2008 Folsom High School graduate is accustomed to taking the ball with the game on the line. Nedeljkovic has appeared in 18 of Sierra’s 36 games, posting a 3-1 record with six saves and a 2.31 ERA. His numbers are nearly identical in 2011: 17 appearances, 1-2, five saves and a 2.37 ERA. His efforts contributed to Sierra finishing third in the Big 8 Conference with a 12-9 record. The Wolverines (19-17 overall) are seeded 12th in the Northern California playoffs, which begin Friday. Sierra will travel to Hayward for a best-of-three series against No. 5 Chabot (25-10). The Gladiators swept a two-game series against the Wolverines in late February, winning each game by a run. Sierra’s softball team (29-11) is the No. 4 seed and will host San Jose City (22-13) on Saturday and Sunday. The Wolverines shared second place in the Big 8 with Sacramento City at 15-6. Speaking of pitching, softball coach Darci Brownell will be counting on Ashley McMahon. The sophomore was named to the All-Northern California team along with teammate Ashley Osier. McMahon is 17-6 with a 1.21 ERA. Osier, a freshman, is Sierra’s top hitter with a .429 batting average. Nedeljkovic worked two scoreless innings in Sierra’s 3-2 loss to Chabot on Feb. 24. The Gladiators will know what is coming when Wolverines coach Rob Willson sends Nedeljkovic to the mound. “My best pitch is my fastball. It’s my go-to pitch,” Nedeljkovic explained. “I can also throw my slider.” His repertoire of pitches also includes a “slurve,” which breaks like a curveball and snaps like a slider. With three quality pitches, Nedeljkovic could easily be a starter. The University of Miami had that in mind when it recruited Nedeljkovic, who signed a letter of intent in the fall with the Hurricanes. Nedeljkovic was also pursued by Oklahoma State, Virginia Tech and UC Santa Barbara, but he was sold on Miami after visiting the campus in Coral Gables, Fla., and meeting with the coaches. Miami’s interest in him as a starter did not surprise Nedeljkovic, but he will have a say in his role with the Hurricanes. The decision could boil down to where the Hurricanes can use him the most. “They’re leaving the decision up to me,” he said. “They want me to start and I’m going to have an opportunity to start, but I’m going to do my thing and they can see where I’m most effective.”