UNLV had hopes of playing in an NCAA baseball regional this season, but the team’s .500 record is indicative of its inconsistency.
Even so, the Rebels’ postseason hopes are still alive, and that’s what they are focused on as the Mountain West tournament begins Thursday at Peccole Park in Reno.
No. 3 seed UNLV (27-27, 14-16 MW) plays No. 2 San Diego State (32-23, 16-13) at 2 p.m. in the double-elimination tournament. Top seed Fresno State (35-14-1, 20-8-1) faces No. 4 UNR (29-24, 14-16) at 6:30.
The winner advances to a regional tournament. Fresno State, ranked No. 23 by Baseball America and No. 25 by Collegiate Baseball, is the only team in the field that could get an at-large bid, though their No. 38 RPI ranking doesn’t make it a sure thing.
”I think all four teams this week have a chance to win it,” UNLV coach Stan Stolte said. “Obviously, Fresno’s the favorite, as they should be. They rolled through the league pretty easy, and as we experienced last weekend, they’re playing pretty well right now.”
Fresno State swept the Rebels in a three-game series at Wilson Stadium, winning 7-0, 16-5 and 11-4, and they have lost four straight entering the conference tournament.
If UNLV has one advantage that can carry it to the conference title, it’s offense.
The Rebels are third in the Mountain West with a .291 team batting average, behind Fresno State (.297) and New Mexico (.292).
UNLV shortstop Bryson Stott is a projected first-round pick in next month’s major league draft. He is fourth in the Mountain West in batting (.361), second in home runs (10) and doubles (19) and first in runs scored (61).
“Once your bats get hot and your arms get hot, it’s a fun game to play,” Stott said. “With the bats that are in our lineup this year, I think we have a chance to do damage.”
Pitching is another matter. UNLV’s 5.76 ERA is ahead of only New Mexico’s 6.21 in the conference.
Right-hander Ryan Hare will start against the Aztecs, and he has pitched up to the level of an ace with a 7-4 record and 3.79 ERA.
Stolte said his biggest worry is falling into the losers bracket.
“We’re not quite as deep (as other teams),” he said. “We think the best chance of winning is through the winners bracket, obviously, because it would be tough to come through the losers bracket. You’d have to play up to five games, and we’re a little thin when we get to the fourth, fifth game.”
At Peccole Park, Reno
Game 1: No. 2 San Diego State vs. No. 3 UNLV, 2 p.m.
Game 2: No. 1 Fresno State at No. 4 UNR, 6:30 p.m.
Game 3: Loser Game 1 vs. Loser Game 2, 2 p.m.
Game 4: Winner Game 1 vs. Winner Game 2, 6:30 p.m.
Game 5: Winner Game 3 vs. Loser Game 4, 2 p.m.
Game 6: Winner Game 4 vs. Winner Game 5, 6:30 p.m.
Game 7: Winner Game 6 vs. Loser Game 6, 1 p.m. (if necessary)