By Ryan Suppe
This weekend, Nevada was swept for the first time in two years. The Wolf Pack dropped three games in a row on the road at UC Irvine. The Anteaters won game one on Friday 4-1, game two on Saturday 8-7 in extra innings and game three on Sunday 6-0.
The last time Nevada suffered a series sweep was May 15-17, 2014, at the hands of UNLV. The Wolf Pack falls to 3-5 on the young season.
After splitting the opening series with Northwestern last weekend, Nevada beat Arizona State 11-5 in a midweek matchup. Then head coach T.J. Bruce and his team traveled to Irvine, California, for a three-game series with the Anteaters.
UC Irvine started the season facing three different Mountain West conference opponents, including Nevada. On opening weekend, the Anteaters split a four-game series with San José State. Then they dropped a game to San Diego State on Feb. 23. The Spartans were picked to finish last in the Mountain West in the 2016 Coaches Poll, while the Aztecs were picked to finish first.
The Wolf Pack went into the series against UC Irvine on a three-game winning streak, but had it snapped in game one despite a stellar pitching performance by senior Christian Stolo, Nevada’s Friday starter.
Stolo, the reigning MW Pitcher of the Year and a selection for the 2016 MW Baseball Preseason Team, threw five innings and gave up one earned run (a home run to Keston Hiura, a first team freshman All-American in 2015) on five hits, and he was charged with his second loss of the season. Nevada’s only run of the game came on a throwing error with the bases loaded by the Anteaters’ catcher. The Wolf Pack gave up three unearned runs in the 4-1 defeat.
“We fell behind in counts, had poor base running and we didn’t field our positions very well defensively,” Bruce said. “Those three things combined make it very tough to win a college baseball game.”
Nevada looked much better in game two, but couldn’t close in the late innings, losing 8-7. The Wolf Pack had a 7-2 lead when UC Irvine chipped away in the eighth with two runs and plated three runs in the ninth to tie the game 7-7 and force extra innings.
In the bottom of the 10th, the Anteaters loaded the bases with a hit by pitch, a walk and an intentional walk to Hiura, who was 4-for-4 on the day. Junior Alex Guenette pinch hit with two outs and completed the comeback for the Anteaters on a ground-ball base hit into center field.
The series finale was all Anteaters Sunday as the offensive woes returned for Nevada in the 6-0 loss. The Wolf Pack was shut out for the first time this season and was held to just four hits. UC Irvine’s sophomore starting pitcher, Shaun Vetrovec, threw seven innings and gave up three hits.
While this weekend was grim for Bruce’s squad, there are some positive takeaways. Junior Ty Pennington has proven to be a consistent run stopper out of the bullpen for Nevada. In six and two-thirds innings he has a 1.35 ERA and 0.9000 WHIP. Offensively, junior Miles Mastrobuoni leads the Wolf Pack in batting average at .455, and senior Bryce Greager leads the team in runs batted in with eight.
Preseason All-Mountain West outfielder Trenton Brooks was not in the batting lineup in games two and three against UC Irvine. The senior was 0-for-4 in Friday’s game, and he was the starting pitcher in game three. Brooks is batting .136 with one home run and four RBIs in 22 plate appearances this year.
Nevada will play its home opener against Santa Clara on Tuesday. A win for Nevada would be the 500th home victory for the Wolf Pack in Peccole Park’s 28-year history.
Ryan Suppe can be reached at email@example.com and on Twitter @SagebrushSports.