CORVALLIS, Ore. — When Patrick Armstrong homered in the second inning to give UNLV a two-run lead, the Rebels looked to be in good shape with right-hander John Richy — who hadn’t lost since April 18 — on the mound.
Only the Rebels aren’t in very good shape at all these days, with coach Tim Chambers even speaking in somber tones about his team’s situation.
It’s certainly not the team he took into the season, and the Rebels are in danger of going out quietly at the end of a season that once held so much promise.
“I feel bad for the kids first and foremost,” Chambers said. “They have an opportunity to do something special, and they can’t do it with a full team. They’re not even going to be able to do it with half the starters.”
The season isn’t over, at least not yet, but after Friday’s 10-3 loss to third-seeded UC Irvine at Goss Stadium, No. 2 UNLV has no margin for error in the double-elimination NCAA baseball regional. The Rebels must win four games in a row to advance.
“We know what’s at stake,” Armstrong said. “We’re not a team to give up. … We know we have to fight, and we know we have to take the long road. We still have a chance.”
The Rebels (35-24) will play fourth-seeded North Dakota State (25-25) at 2 p.m. today in an elimination game.
Irvine (36-22) plays No. 1-seeded Oregon State (43-12) — also the nation’s top overall seed — at 8 p.m. today, with the winner advancing to Sunday’s potential championship game. Oregon State defeated North Dakota State 2-1 on Friday night.
Right-hander Bryan Bonnell (6-5, 3.01 ERA) will try to extend UNLV’s season.
Richy (11-4) attempted to get the Rebels off to a strong start against Irvine, and it looked as if he would do just that, especially in the second inning when Armstrong hit his two-run homer to left field. It was his team-leading eighth home run of the season.
But in the third, Richy hit a batter and threw a wild pitch and Armstrong committed an error at first base to allow Irvine to tie the game.
Even so, Richy appeared in control, allowing one hit through four innings and striking out six. But the Anteaters were the ones who took control by scoring five runs on four hits in the fifth. Connor Spencer with a double and Jerry McClanahan with a single each drove in two runs.
Richy allowed nine hits and nine runs (eight earned) in 7 2/3 innings in what could be the junior’s final start in a Rebels uniform. He did strike out eight, but also threw two wild pitches and hit three batters.
“I made some mistakes, and they capitalized on it,” Richy said. “I gave up way too many free bags … and I missed in the big part of the strike zone. They’re good hitters, and that’s what you expect from them.
“Sometimes you have your best stuff, and sometimes you don’t. I didn’t really have it today.”
Neither did UNLV’s batters, who didn’t get a hit after Joey Swanner led off the third inning with a single.
The Rebels had an opportunity in the sixth, loading the bases on three walks with one out, but they scored only one run off Irvine right-hander Andrew Morales (10-2), who gave up four hits in seven innings.
“Obviously, he’s a good pitcher,” Armstrong said. “His numbers show that. We were hitting the ball hard. We had a couple of line-drive outs to the outfield and had opportunities with guys on base.
“It’s tough to come back from that far down, but we never thought we were out of it.”
The Rebels will have to bounce back with a depleted roster. Ace pitcher Erick Fedde (right elbow) and outfielder Joey Armstrong (right wrist) can only watch, outfielder Swanner has battled injuries to both hamstrings, third baseman T.J. White is playing with a broken left hand, and Chambers revealed that second baseman Justin Jones broke his right wrist in batting practice last week, though he remains in the lineup.
UNLV limps into today’s game having lost three straight after falling to an Irvine team that entered on a six-game losing streak.
“I can’t get mad at them or holler at them,” Chambers said. “You don’t tell them anything. You just go out and keep playing. They’re trying as hard as they can. They’ll come out and play hard.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.