Max Smith kept UNLV going, lifting a pitch Saturday afternoon over the right-center field wall to beat UNR and put the Rebels in the Mountain West tournament championship game.
Then the third-seeded Rebels hung with top seed Fresno State for most of the night, but UNLV simply didn’t have the pitching left.
The Bulldogs, ranked 23rd by Baseball America, blew open a two-run game with six runs in the seventh inning. They went on to beat UNLV 12-6 to win the conference title at Peccole Park in Reno and capture the league’s automatic bid to the NCAA regionals.
“Fresno was clearly the best team in the league this year,” UNLV coach Stan Stolte said. “Hopefully, we can keep improving and get to that point.”
UNLV, which beat UNR 6-5 earlier in the day, ended its season 29-29. The No. 4 seed Wolf Pack finished 30-26.
The Rebels might not be happy their season is over, but at least they won’t have to worry about seeing Fresno State (38-14-1) until next year.
Fresno State outscored the Rebels 57-16 in five meetings over 10 days — three games to end the regular season and two in the tournament.
Saturday night’s game looked like another one of those games when the Bulldogs took a 4-0 lead after two innings. But UNLV starter Bradley Spooner (2-3) settled down and kept his team in the game, pitching into the fifth inning.
UNLV tied the score in the fifth before Fresno State answered with a run in the bottom half for a 5-4 lead. The Bulldogs scored another run in the sixth, then had the big seventh.
“The pitching has got to keep us close there late so when we get into the last innings, we’re down two or three instead of five or six,” Stolte said. “We’ve got to keep getting better every year so that we’re on the other side of this deal. We don’t do this to finish second.”
At Peccole Park, Reno
UNLV 9, San Diego State 3
Fresno State 4, UNR 3
UNR 6, San Diego State 4
Fresno State 11, UNLV 1
UNLV 6, UNR, 5
Fresno State 12, UNLV 6