By the time UNLV reached the bottom of the 12th inning Friday, the Rebels knew they were facing a tiring pitcher.
And they knew this was their chance, especially because Central Michigan didn’t have anyone warming up in the bullpen.
Anthony Morel took advantage, driving the first pitch he saw from Jesse Hernandez to left field to score Jesse Wight with two outs, giving the Rebels a 6-5 season-opening victory Friday at Wilson Stadium.
UNLV victimized Hernandez, a reliever who blew the save in the ninth, for singles by Wight, Sam Pavlisick and Morel in the 12th. Hernandez already had thrown three innings entering the 12th.
"We knew he was pretty fatigued," Morel said. "We didn’t see anybody in their bullpen, so we figured we might as well make a run at it."
The victory over Central Michigan, which opened its season earlier Friday with a 12-8 loss to Southern Utah, won’t catapult UNLV into the NCAA Tournament, but it was important to begin with a win. The Rebels are coming off back-to-back losing seasons, and Central Michigan was 35-21 last year.
"You want to have confidence," Rebels coach Buddy Gouldsmith said. "By no means did we play great tonight. I certainly wouldn’t fault our effort."
The Rebels spent the evening living dangerously.
They carried a 4-3 lead into the seventh, having withstood a Central Michigan threat in each inning. The Chippewas left nine runners on base up to that point, including the bases loaded in the fifth.
But UNLV’s fortune ended in the eighth when Central Michigan’s Sean Hoorelbeke scored on a double play to tie the game at 4. Then the Chippewas went ahead 5-4 in the top of the ninth on Noah Lankford’s suicide squeeze bunt to score Billy Anderson.
UNLV’s J.J. Sferra led off the bottom of the ninth with a high chopper and ended up on second base when Central Michigan middle infielders Brendan Emmett and Jeff Digati collided. Two batters later, Xavier Scruggs fouled off three 0-2 pitches before lifting a fly to center field to score Sferra from third and send the game into extra innings.
After both teams failed to score in the 10th and 11th, UNLV struck in the 12th.
"Certainly coming back the way we did and winning the way we did showed some character, but nevertheless we’re just trying to build," Gouldsmith said.
"We talk all the time if you want to be a great team, great teams win close ballgames, and certainly tonight would be one of them."
The teams play the second of their three-game series at 2 p.m. today.
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or (702) 387-2914.UNLV – 6 CENTRAL MICHIGAN – 5 KEY: Singles by Jesse Wight, Sam Pavlisick and Anthony Morel in the 12th inning pushed across the winning run. NEXT: Central Michigan at UNLV,2 p.m. today, Wilson Stadium