The magic number three—known to symbolize luck, self-achievement, confidence and wealth. Three is exactly what Nevada baseball has seen when it comes to being champions.
It all started in 2015—the first time Nevada baseball was ever named Mountain West Regular-Season Champions. Three years later, they were champions in 2018. Another three years rolled around, and for the third time in 2021 the team was named champions.
A total of three championships won, all three years apart.
“I didn’t even know that, in all honesty,” head coach T.J. Bruce said after a Thursday morning practice. “I have no idea, but I know that Nevada baseball has done a great job in our league.”
The men still here
T.J Bruce, current head coach, was a part of the team during the 2018 and 2021 championships. His first season coaching Nevada was in 2016. Troy Buckley joined Nevada in summer of 2019 as the associate head coach and pitching coach. Abe Alvarez has been on the coaching staff since 2018, switching from a volunteer to an assistant coach in 2019. Kyle Hunt is entering his third season as volunteer assistant head coach.
Hunt has something about him that is different from the rest of the current coaching staff—he is a Nevada baseball alum. He played on the 2015 championship team in his senior year as shortstop. The team went 41-15 overall and 22-7 in conference.
“That team had been together for four years,” Hunt said. “We all just had one common goal, right, we wanted to win. We wanted to win a Mountain West Championship. We hadn’t won a championship in however long, so that was kind of the legacy we wanted to leave.”
Being with the university for nine years—four on the team and five on the coaching staff—Hunt knows his way around the team.
As for the athletes, three men on the team played during the 2018 and 2021 season: Tyler Bosetti, Joshua Zamora and Jordan Jackson.
Third baseman, Bosetti, wears jersey number one. The 6-footer is a redshirt senior from Vacaville, Calif. who switched from playing shortstop in 2018 to third baseman in 2021. Zamora, standing at 5 feet 11 inches tall and a redshirt senior, plays second base. Jackson is 6 feet 3 inches tall and is from San Diego, Calif.
All of these men have been with Nevada for at least one championship and may be here for another one this season.
Being named Champions
To be named conference champs, a team’s record and winning percentage are the stats that are reviewed by the Mountain West Conference.
As mentioned earlier, the 2015 team was champions. The team went 41-15 overall and 22-7 in conference. Their winning percentage overall was .732 and their conference percentage was .759. The coach at the time was Jay Johnson who only coached the 2014-2015 season.
It’s the end of the 2018 season in May, and Nevada has their last three conference games against San Diego State University. Nevada started out with a loss but came back and won the last two games. That’s when the news came—Nevada baseball was named Mountain West Conference Champions. They ended 20-9 in conference and 29-24 overall. Their winning percentages were .547 overall and .690 in conference.
Although, the season did not look promising right off the bat.
“It was a typical slow start,” Bruce said. “Then we just kind of rolled through conference. I think we were 20-9. At one point, we got swept – which was tough. You can’t get swept in the league. I think if you do, you hurt your chances. And what we ended up doing was sweeping some other teams.”
The team had seniors from the 2015 champion team and freshmen such as Bosetti, Zamora and Jackson.
Bosetti split time playing shortstop that year, Zamora was at third and Jackson was a pitcher. The team held each other accountable and stayed loyal to each other, which are reasons Bosetti thinks they became champions. The number of older players on the team from the 2015 champion team helped Jackson and other freshmen have a great season.
“That team showed me what college baseball is all about,” Zamora said. “It’s all about fun, energy, and most importantly, winning.”
Three years later, Nevada baseball saw their third Mountain West Conference Championship. The team had a solid end to the season with 15 consecutive conference wins from April 24 to May 30. Overall, the men went 25-20 with a win percentage of .556. Just looking at conference games, they ended 22-9 with a win percentage of .710.
The roles switched this season. Bosetti, Jackson and Zamora are now the older men on the team. Bosetti and Zamora also changed positions; Bosetti to third and Zamora to second.
“We knew how to win,” Jackson said. “And we kind of brought the younger guys along, and they really bought into what we do here. So, it’s kind of that culture that we have.”
They loved how much work everyone on the team was willing to put in and be on the field all of the time. Bosetti said the 2021 team “put in more work than I think we ever have since I’ve been here.”
Bruce experienced two seasons of being named champions and going to the College World Series. It became his goal to go every year, but the first step to getting there is winning the league.
Everyone on the team received a ring for the champions in the 2018 and 2021 season. The three athletes keep their rings in their room and have different memories tied to them.
Every time Jackson walks into his room, he sees the ring sitting on his dresser. It reminds him of the fun times he had during those seasons. The ring makes Bosetti hungry to win even more games, but Zamora views his ring as a next step.
“It shows, you know, not the end goal but a stepping stone,” Zamora said. “Right now, that’s a stepping stone. We have to win a conference to get to where we want to be.”
The men don’t wear their rings everyday. Jackson likes to take his out during special events. Otherwise, he would rather keep it safe and clean on his dresser.
There are things that championship teams have that they may lack in other seasons. For the 2018 and 2021 teams, the coaches and three players said those men were tough. With a schedule of 53 games in 2018 and 45 in 2021, the Wolf Pack’s toughness carried them to the top.
“They didn’t worry about anybody but themselves,” Bruce said. “They weren’t concerned with any motivational tactics that the staff tried to do… they just went out and played. And I think that, when you do that, most of the good teams I’ve ever been a part of, you look back, you’re like, ‘well, holy cow.’ You know, they were this, this and that. And that’s what those guys were. That was the number one thing. That would be my number one representation of Nevada baseball is toughness.”
The athletes started to ask questions like “how do I become better?” and “what do I need to take my game to the next level?” Players advance when they want to excel in their game. Even through the ups and downs of the season, the team figured out how to respond. Sticking to that process got the team the result they wanted.
It also helps when the coaching stays consistent. Bruce coached during both the 2018 and 2021 season, and the athletes say he has always been a hard-nosed coach.
“He’ll get on you and he needs to get on you, which is great,” Bosetti said. “Knowing that he’ll tell you the truth is – I think it’s what makes you grow as a person and as a player.”
Zamora believes that not any type of ball player can be on Nevada’s team. A person has to be mentally and physically tough to be able to push through adversity when on a team run by Bruce.
Culture. It’s the word that defines a group of people who have similar behaviors, knowledge and capabilities.
The culture of the 2019 and 2020 teams were stuck in the dugout, and they were never able to get out on the field and grow. The 2019 team lost a lot of older players, and the men didn’t hang out much. They had little trust in each other on the field due to many different things.
“As we kind of grow up, you start to see there’s a difference,” Zamora said. “There’s a separation between how people are raised and society as a whole. And I think that kind of played a deal with it, trying to learn how to, you know, deal with different generations, and different age groups and different guys.”
The COVID-19 pandemic caused a huge change in society in 2020. Quarantining could have led to the team not bonding as much as they have in other seasons. Bruce admits to the 2020 season being a rough year for him as a coach.
“And then 2020, you know, I would attribute that to a lot,” Bruce said. “We were 2-12. We lost the first 10 games in a row, which was miserable. But we had poor leadership, and that starts with me. I don’t think it’s anything the players did. I think it was everything that I did. I didn’t prepare these guys well enough during the fall and then during the spring.”
Bruce describes his coaching style as old-school. He wants to get all of the players to be leaders – individually and to each other. There is a process to the game that starts with fundamentals. He doesn’t believe in chasing wins, but in practice. Bruce motivates his players in different ways so they become tough, accountable and loyal.
“I just didn’t do a good job at keeping everybody accountable,” Bruce said about the 2020 season. “I didn’t do a good job at leading these guys in this program… That’s a look in the mirror I had to take.”
Hunt saw that the men weren’t buying into the competitiveness or toughness of the game. He sees this happen most of the time with teams that aren’t doing well.
The pressure. You would think after being named champions last season, the men would feel a constant pressure to live up to those standards for a second time. Although, this is the last thing they have on their minds.
Bosetti focuses on the fact that there is always more work needed to get the team where they want to be. Jackson tries to keep the culture of the team alive so there isn’t any feeling of pressure. Bruce wore a sweatshirt to Wednesday’s practice that says ‘pressure is privilege.’
“I don’t look at it as pressure because I expect to win the league every year,” Bruce said. “In all honesty, I expect to have the best program in our league every single year. So, I guess my standards are a lot higher. And that’s what you’re trying to get the players year in and year out – to buy into that standard every single year that it is a disappointment when you lose a game. Like I truly expect to go 56-0.”
That is what the players want, too—to win.
Starting with winning a regional, to super-regional, and taking a trip to Omaha.
The big question remains: do the men have the same culture as the previous three teams to take home the championship?
“For sure, yeah,” Bosetti said without a doubt. “I mean, I truly believe in our team… All the older guys, like we’ve been here, we know what winning looks like and we can definitely do it again.”
The team has 18 returning players from last season, and Hunt thinks that is a key part of the team’s goal of being champions this season. Some of the players – like Bosetti, Jackson and Zamora – won championships twice now.
“It’s gonna take a lot of these guys being competitive and tough and just kind of what we stand for as a program,” Hunt said. “It’s gonna be hard. I think they are up for it, but you know these guys just need to know that and know that they got to come out here everyday and there’s a target on their back. Everyone wants to beat them. They got to understand that everyday is going to be a fight, and every day they have to come out and bring their best.”
To get a high winning percentage this season, Bruce is putting into the players’ heads that they have to buy into the process. Fundamentals are the biggest thing the men have to conquer. Handling expectations is another factor Bruce is promoting. The coaching staff hopes that the team has high expectations for themselves, like they do for the team.
So far, the team stands at 13-13 overall and 7-4 in conference. Their winning percentages are .500 overall and .636 in conference.
This season has a total of 27 conference games. Looking at the end of the season, the team wants to win every one. Hunt explains that coaches can’t do much during the games, and it is up to how much the players really want to win. The outcome is based on what the men do on the field and where they want to take their season. When it comes to championships, Bruce believes Nevada can win every year.
Bosetti, Zamora and Jackson are planning on graduating this year, which means there will only be champions from the 2021 season left on the team. Bruce recently signed another five-year deal with the university to put him in charge until 2026.
If this three-year spell for Nevada baseball continues, Bruce could see one more championship in 2024 before his contract ends.
Kelsey Middleton can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @sportsbykels