Coach Tim Chambers had a dream UNLV’s name would appear on the first regional bracket announced Monday morning.
He was right. The Rebels not only didn’t have to wait long to find out their destination, they also discovered the challenge that faces them.
UNLV (35-23) will be a No. 2 seed in Corvallis, Ore., home to the nation’s top overall seed in Oregon State (42-12). The Rebels play third-seeded UC Irvine (35-22) at 2 p.m. Friday, and the Beavers face No. 4 North Dakota State (25-24) at 8 p.m.
Even if this regional won’t be the easiest to survive, the Rebels are happy to still be playing. This is their first postseason appearance since 2005.
“We definitely put UNLV on the map this year,” first baseman Patrick Armstrong said. “That’s huge for the years to come. We’ve got to go there and show people what we’re all about.”
ESPN3 will televise UNLV’s regional opener online. The double-elimination tournament lasts at least through Sunday with a possible final game Monday.
UNLV shared the Mountain West regular-season co-championship with New Mexico, which did not make the field of 64. Conference tournament champion San Diego State, which will be a No. 3 seed in Lafayette, La., was the league’s only other school to make a regional.
The Rebels figured to be in the postseason even after losing 4-3 to the Aztecs in Sunday’s Mountain West tournament final, but until their name was announced, a little uncertainty settled in.
“We’re trying to get this thing where we’re in a regional every year, not just once in a while,” Chambers said. “I think we’re on our way, I really do.”
UNLV was 27th in the official Ratings Percentage Index rankings released Monday. Big West Conference commissioner Dennis Farrell, the chairman of the NCAA selection committee, said UNLV made a solid case to be a two-seed.
“UNLV obviously had a high RPI and success in the West with several quality wins as well,” Farrell said. “In terms of sending them to Oregon State, our seeding parameters is to try to limit the amount of travel as much as possible. So (when) the committee sat down and put together that Corvallis regional, it just seemed to fit that UNLV would go there. Arizona State was going to Cal Poly (as a No. 2) at that point as well.”
Chambers said UNLV’s seeding was justified, citing road victories such as taking two of three at Nebraska and one of two at Arkansas. Those teams also received No. 2 seeds.
“This team’s grinded it out all year long,” Chambers said. “I don’t know if there’s a team in the country that’s been through as much as we’ve been through as far as injuries. But they kept fighting, and hopefully we can get a couple of guys healthy by the time we get there.”
UNLV’s coaches might change their pitching strategy this week.
Chambers said he was considering bypassing ace right-hander John Richy (11-3, 2.78 ERA) until Saturday in case the Rebels face Oregon State. Richy would go by that day at the latest.
“Regardless of what (Chambers) wants me to do, when he gives me the ball, I’m going to go out there and compete,” Richy said.
Lefty Brayden Torres, who was named the Mountain West tournament’s top relief pitcher and has eight saves, also could become a starter. His ERA is 2.05.
Chambers was asked who would be the closer if Torres starts. “Who cares?” he replied. “You’ve got to get to a spot to close before you can close.”
UNLV faces an Irvine team that was one of the last four teams into the tournament. The Anteaters finished third in the Big West, but make their eighth postseason appearance in 11 years.
They feature two strong right-handers. Sam Moore leads the country with 23 saves, and Andrew Morales is 9-2 with a 1.56 ERA. First baseman Connor Spencer is third in the Big West with a .361 batting average.
So even though UNLV gets to stay in the West, the Rebels’ road isn’t easy.
“When I got here my freshman year, that was a goal, just get to a regional,” said Richy, a junior. “Anything can happen from there. Finally getting that goal accomplished is a great feeling, but now we’re going to try to take care of business and try to make a run to Omaha.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.