by Ryan Suppe
Another series, another victory for the Wolf Pack.
The only difference is the series sweep came against in-state rival UNLV, earning the Wolf Pack (26-7, 12-3 MW ) three points in the Governor’s Series, deadlocking the competition at 15 points apiece.
The sweep also pushed Nevada to a first-place tie with San Diego State atop the league standings.
Nevada still isn’t getting love from all of the major college baseball polls as it remains just outside of the top 25 in Baseball America and Perfect Game. But standings and statistics are unbiased compared to rankings, and that’s where Nevada stands out. Nevada junior infielder Ryan Howell is in the nation’s top five in both home runs and runs batted in. He’s hitting .380 with 10 home runs and 46 RBI. Head coach Jay Johnson says Howell, who transferred from Chabot College this year, is smart and strong. That’s why he’s successful at the plate.
“He’s got a great, mature approach to what he’s doing,“ Johnson said. “You put good mental strength together with good physical strength and you usually get pretty good results.”
Howell and freshman Cal Stevenson are third and fourth
in the Mountain West in batting average. Stevenson is hitting .370, and he’s getting some time in the leadoff spot in his first season at Nevada. A few weeks ago, head coach Jay Johnson moved Austin Byler from third to first in the batting order. Now Byler switches between first and second in the order depending on whether a left-hander or right-hander is pitching.
It was a genius coaching move. Byler’s .554 on base percentage is the third best in college baseball, and he leads the Mountain West and is tied for fifth in the country in runs scored. The higher Byler is in the line-up the more at bats he gets and the more runs he scores.
“He hits second against righty’s and first against lefty’s,“ Johnson said. “I would like him to have a few more at bats versus lefty’s.”
Now when teams are in a position to pitch around Byler, they have to think about Howell waiting in the on deck circle, and then usually Bryce Greager, Trent Brooks or Kewby Meyer after that who all hit over .300. In the three-game weekend tilt with the Rebels, the Wolf Pack outscored UNLV 28-12. Nevada won Thursday’s game thanks to another walkoff from Byler. He’s had three walk-off hits already this season. If he is this clutch for the rest of the season it might earn him an extra zero or two on his major league signing bonus.
Also, on Thursday, Nevada turned the first triple play in Peccole Park’s 27-year history. With runners on first and second, a line drive was hit to Howell at second base. Howell caught it, flipped to Kyle Hunt to get the runner on second, and he threw to first before that runner could get back. Unfortunately, the historical play did not make Sportcenter’s Top 10, but it did get 165 retweets on Twitter.
The Wolf Pack dominated the Rebels on Friday behind a combined three-hitter from Christian Stolo and Evan McMahan. Stolo, who was named Mountain West pitcher of the week for his performance, pitched six innings and earned the win before giving the ball to McMahan. Seven Wolf Pack hitters had multi-hit games, and it won 12-1.
Nevada finished the sweep with a 6-2 victory, adding to UNLV’s (12-18, 3-12 MW) struggles. The Rebels have been bit by the injury bug Even their head coach, Tim Chambers, couldn’t travel to Reno last week due to back problems.
Ryan Suppe can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.