By Stone Harper
High expectations were put on the Wolf Pack this season with Nevada returning the core of its starters from a team that won 32 games and made it to the semifinals of the Mountain West tournament. However, Nevada has shocked even any optimist’s expectations this year by opening up with a 20-4 record, including winning seven straight games.
24 games are the least amount it has taken the Wolf Pack to get to 20 wins in school history. Nevada will look to improve on its best start with its contest today against Sacramento State.
Nevada has already had a crack at the Hornets this season as the Wolf Pack was able to take home a 6-2 win on March 15. The Wolf Pack was paced in that game by a two hit, two RBI performance by catcher Jordan Devencenzi. Nevada also got an exceptional pitching performance from sophomore Trenton Brooks, who only gave up one hit in the three innings pitched.
The key for Nevada taking the second game of this series will be offense. The Hornets pitching staff is exceptional and includes two games who have a sub-two ERA, so hits will be at a premium. If Nevada can get some early runs on the board it will be well on its way to its 21st victory of the season.
BYLER AND HOWELL PROVIDE BATS FOR WOLF PACK
Austin Byler is one of the best hitters in the MWC. Last year the junior was first team all conference after leading the league in home runs with 14, slugging percentage at .624 and was ninth in the MWC in batting average at .326.
However, the first baseman is on his way to bettering those marks from his new leadoff spot. In 2015 Byler is hitting .337 with six homeruns and 21 RBI. Those impressive numbers include hitting a walk off homerun against Fresno State in the team’s sixth game of the season.
As impressive as those stats are, Byler is not even the team’s best hitter. That distinction would belong to junior Ryan Howell. The transfer from Chabot College is currently hitting a team .427 with eight homeruns and 36 RBI. Howell’s batting average is second best in the MWC and his RBI’s and homeruns are tops in the conference.
If there is any main reason for the Wolf Pack being so impressive this season, you can look no further than the offensive production of Byler and Howell. If both of these sluggers can continue to hit the ball the way they have, Nevada will continue to pick up victories and may even make a trip to the College World Series — something the Wolf Pack hasn’t done in over a decade.
Stone Harper can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @StoneHarperNVSB.