Rebels ride the long ball

Until college baseball went to BBCOR bats in 2011, home runs throughout the country flew out more often than Southwest Airlines 737s at McCarran International Airport.

The game has since changed, and UNLV has felt the effects of the dead-bat era, this season alone failing to hit three home runs in a game.

At least until launching three Friday against New Mexico.

Then the Rebels homered four more times Saturday, powering their way to a 14-6 win at Wilson Stadium to ensure a key series victory.

Patrick Armstrong hit two of those home runs. The last time Patrick, who leads UNLV with six homers this season, hit two in a game occurred April 30 last season against UC Riverside.

“I think we all just feel good,” Armstrong said. “You try not to think about (the three homers) last night. We had a different ballgame to win today, and we came out fresh, and we came out swinging.”

UNLV (27-15, 15-8 Mountain West) goes for the sweep against the Lobos (31-13-1, 14-6) at 1:05 p.m. today. Including the series at New Mexico on March 7 through 9, the Rebels have won four of the five meetings this season.

Both teams sit atop the conference standings and are in good position to make regionals, each having appeared in various postseason projections. UNLV also was 28th in the Ratings Percentage Index rankings as of late Saturday.

Not that either team wants to assume anything regarding the postseason. UNLV came into this series off a five-game slide, and coach Tim Chambers doesn’t want his team to let up now. New Mexico suddenly finds itself with back-to-back defeats after carrying a nine-game winning streak into this series.

“Even though we won the series today, we really need to win again,” Chambers said. “We need to keep winning. We felt like 10-4 down the stretch would get us in (a regional), so that’s two. Now 8-4 down the stretch will get us in.

“This is a big confidence booster for our guys, but there’s still a lot of season left, and we can’t take for granted what we’re doing right now. Every win is really, really important right now.”

Keep hitting like this, and the Rebels — especially given their starting pitching — shouldn’t have any worries.

In addition to Armstrong, Morgan Stotts and Matt McCallister also homered Saturday. McCallister pounded one off the scoreboard beyond the left-field wall.

“It’s surprising with the home runs because with the BBCOR, you just don’t see that very often,” Chambers said.

UNLV also had 16 hits, giving the Rebels 34 for the series.

They kept responding, answering either in the same inning or the next each time the Lobos scored.

“They kept the pressure on us,” Armstrong said. “We had the lead, and it seemed like they were chipping away the whole time, so we didn’t have a chance to relax. We obviously felt good with the home runs, but they kept it close, so we had to compete the whole time. They’re a good team, and we knew we couldn’t let up.”

UNLV’s hitters provided more than enough support for right-hander John Richy (7-3), who pitched better than the score indicated. He went the distance, throwing only 95 pitches (five Lobos pitchers tossed 181), and allowed eight hits and five earned runs. Richy also struck out nine batters.

He turned up his performance when he most had to. The best example came after misplaying a bunt in the sixth inning, his throwing error bringing in a New Mexico run. Richy then got the next six batters in order.

“I made a stupid mistake,” Richy said. “I figured it out and got back in and competed.”

Contact reporter Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter @markanderson65.