Brandon Bayardi had just watched UNLV teammate T.J. White slap a fastball for an RBI single, and the slugger guessed he wouldn’t see a similar pitch.
Volunteer assistant coach Eric Nielsen was thinking the same thing and let Bayardi know.
Sure enough, the first pitch to Bayardi in the bottom of the fifth inning from San Diego State power pitcher Michael Cederoth was an off-speed offering. Bayardi jumped all over the hanging curveball to hit a grand slam and power the Rebels to a 6-3 victory Thursday in the second round of the Mountain West baseball tournament in Fresno, Calif.
The victory was UNLV’s first in the tournament since 2010.
The second-seeded Rebels (37-18) will play top-seeded New Mexico (36-18) at 7 p.m. today, with the winner advancing to Saturday’s championship game in the double-elimination tournament. UNLV right-hander Buddy Borden, the Mountain West co-pitcher of the year, will start against the Lobos, who defeated No. 5 UNR 7-3 on Thursday.
When Bayardi went to the plate in the fifth against third-seeded San Diego State (27-29), the Rebels had struggled to mount much of anything off Cederoth (3-8), a right-hander who entered the inning having retired 11 batters in a row. But then UNLV scored a run and loaded the bases with no outs.
“I figured we were about to make our move,” Bayardi said. “I feel like that (home run) lifted everybody’s spirits.”
The homer also backed a fine pitching performance from UNLV’s Erick Fedde (7-3). The right-hander went 7 1/3 innings, giving up seven hits and three runs while striking out seven.
He wanted to finish the game and wasn’t happy about being removed in the eighth after throwing 129 pitches.
That grit helped Fedde overcome bleeding from a gash in his right foot and cramping in his right calf in the sixth.
And it was why he bounced back from a shaky start just the week before. Fedde gave up six runs, four earned, in three innings of a 13-6 loss at Air Force.
“Everybody was going we should go with the pitcher of the year in Buddy,” UNLV coach Tim Chambers said. “We put together our game plan, and we weren’t going to show our kids any panic. When (Fedde is) on the mound, we have a really good chance to win.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.