by Chris Boline
The Wolf Pack baseball team suffered its first series loss of the season this past weekend to Fresno State.
In terms of catastrophic events to happen to a squad, this was a minor setback at best.
Yes, Nevada suffered two hard-fought losses to a Bulldogs team that is in the middle of the Mountain West Conference standings. Yes, the Wolf Pack and Bulldogs got into a brawl that saw Fresno State’s bench clear, leading to players from both teams being suspended. Yes, this drops the Pack to second-place in the MWC standings, but Nevada still has the most wins in the conference and time to solidify its place at the top of the standings. However, what is the most troubling about this weekend’s series is that it is a continuation of Nevada’s team struggles on the road.
Road woes are nothing new for the Wolf Pack. Nevada notched losing records away from Reno in 2011 (6-19), 2012 (10-13), 2013 (10-15) and last year Nevada went 9-18. Now, while these statistics might be deceptive, given that the Wolf Pack did end up with an overall winning record in two of those four seasons, Nevada’s season was shut down each year in the conference tournament. Indeed the Wolf Pack will need to start hitting on all cylinders to secure an NCAA tournament berth for the first time since 2000.
Nonetheless, the remaining road schedule won’t be a piece of cake for Nevada. The Wolf Pack will square off with perennial MWC power San Diego State this week and then head to head coach Jay Johnson’s former stomping grounds, the University of San Diego, for one game against the Toreros. After that, a tough eight-game road stretch against New Mexico, Saint Mary’s and Creighton awaits the Wolf Pack. Nevada will get some home breaks against San Jose State and Air Force to close out the regular season, but with 11 out of the last 19 games on the road, the importance of coming up on the road cannot be overstated. Additionally, the pressure to perform during the final part of the semester will be weighing heavily on the baseball players.
A silver lining for Nevada is that post-season play will be in its favor this year. The Mountain West Championships will be held at Peccole Park in May, which is a boon for the Pack given its current 17-2 record, but if the Wolf Pack makes the NCAA Regional Tournament then it would need to be able to conquer its road demons. Additionally, it is universally known in sports that a hot team on a winning streak is much more likely to do damage in the playoffs than one a cold streak.
Now is the time for the 10 seniors on the team to shine. Guys like Austin Byler, Kewby Meyer and Jason Deitrich will be leaned on to take the Wolf Pack back to the NCAA tournament for the first time since the turn of the new millennium.
Chris Boline can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @CDBoline.