Last weekend, Nevada swept conference rival Fresno State in a three-game series at Peccole Park. The series featured a couple of superstars, great coaching and big crowds.
Fresno State and Nevada are quite familiar with each other. They’ve played over 150 times. Both schools switched conferences together, moving from the Western Athletic Conference to the Mountain West Conference in 2012. No love was lost in the transition. By Sunday afternoon 47 runs were scored, 12 players were hit by pitches and Nevada was 7-0, marking its best start in program history.
However, the Wolf Pack doesn’t think about records or history. It doesn’t even think about recent history, as in last weekend or last game. Nevada’s mentality is to take every game, every inning, one pitch at a time. That’s exactly what it did this weekend, and the Pack swept Fresno State in the first MWC matchup of the season.
Fresno State came into the weekend with a 3-1 record. They took three wins from UC Irvine in its opening series, and then dropped one to Cal Poly. Nevada was 4-0 for the first time since 1995 after sweeping Abilene Christian in a three-game series and beating No. 5 Texas Tech in Lubbock.
This weekend was exciting. It’s as simple as that. The fans showed up (attendance was over 1,400 for the first two games) and the players showed up, and it made for a great atmosphere.
The Wolf Pack won its home opener at Peccole Park with a walk-off home run from Austin Byler 9-8 in front of 1,451 fans. Some notables in attendance were university President Marc Johnson, Nevada football head coach Brian Polian, and quite a few Major League Baseball scouts.
The Wolf Pack dug itself into an early hole, trailing 7-2 after five innings.
“We knew it was a matter of time before we were going to start hitting the ball, and the balls were going to start dropping,” outfielder Trent Brooks said. “Win each pitch, that’s our goal right now.”
The Wolf Pack didn’t win every pitch that game, but it won the last one. Byler won the game on the final pitch from Fresno State’s closer Jake Shull.
The Bulldogs had pitched around Byler all game. He had only one official at-bat at that point with three walks and a hit by pitch. Then, the first good pitch Byler saw all game was hit 381 feet over the left-center field wall. Granted, the ball got a little help from the wind as it left the park, but it was a clutch homerun by a clutch performer nonetheless.
“That’s a Barry Bonds type night,” Johnson said. “He literally got one good pitch to hit all night and he hit it out — and that’s why he’s a special hitter.”
Byler was giddy after the homerun. The Nationals and a six-figure paycheck weren’t even an afterthought.
Game two got choppy with six players being hit by pitches. In the bottom of the seventh, after a pitch hit Byler yet again, home plate umpire Ryan West issued a warning to both benches.
“It kind of looked like they were targeting us, so we just told ourselves: stay within ourselves, play our baseball, and do what we do,” said Nevada catcher Jordan Devencenzi.
Coach Johnson was quick to react to the warnings. He called time out, and gathered his team in the dugout.
“[I told them to] keep [their] poise and composure,” Johnson said, “We need each guy, and we didn’t need anything to escalate.”
While the drama went on between the dugouts, Nevada was dominating on the scoreboard, winning the game 12-7.
For the second game in a row, Byler walked three times and was hit by a pitch. Junior Bryce Greager led Nevada offensively going 2-of-4 with four RBI.
Sunday was a miserably cold day at the ballpark. Fresno State had a 3-0 lead early, but Nevada chipped away until tying it with solo home run from Greager in the sixth.
Both teams executed well this game with pitching, sacrifice bunts and situational hitting. The Bulldogs regained the lead in the seventh via back-to-back sacrifice flies. The bottom half of the inning began with a double from outfielder Cal Stevenson. He moved to third with a sacrifice bunt by shortstop Kyle Hunt, and then scored on an RBI groundout by outfielder Kewby Meyer.
In the eighth, the Wolf Pack scored three runs. Greager, Stevenson and Hunt had RBI base-hits. With a 7-4 lead in the ninth, Johnson gave the ball to the side-arm closer Adam Whitt who completed the sweep.
Nevada’s 7-0 (3-0 MW) record is the best in the MWC. The conference has been successful so far this season with the seven teams combining for a record of 26-13 against non-conference opponents after this weekend.
This weekend’s series is just a taste of what’s to come for Nevada’s conference play this season.
“That was a war, and I don’t anticipate anything different in any of the next 9 conference weekends that we have,” Johnson said.
The Wolf Pack will be in Palo Alto, California on Tuesday to play Stanford. The Cardinals are just 3-4 this season, but they’ve played Indiana, California and Cal State Fullerton — three teams that have all been in the College World Series once in the past six years.
”It’s always a challenge, but I like my guys, and I feel good about they’re maturity,” Johnson said. “They’ll be ready.”
Ryan Suppe can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @TheSagebrush.