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Lack of timely hitting again foils Rebels

If UNLV hopes to unseat Texas Christian and win the Mountain West Conference baseball title this spring, the Rebels had better find a way to score more than two runs a game.

For the second straight day, a lack of timely hitting, combined with clutch pitching by TCU, led to UNLV’s demise Saturday at Wilson Stadium as the Horned Frogs won their eighth straight game, 10-2.

The Rebels left only six men on base. But on the few occasions they had a chance to score, they didn’t capitalize. The most fateful scenario came in the sixth inning when UNLV, trailing 5-2, had the bases loaded with one out, only to have Danny Higa hit into a double play.

“Opportunity, opportunity,” UNLV coach Tim Chambers lamented. “That’s been the story this year. We’re just not cashing in.”

Indicative of the Rebels’ bad luck was the bottom of the first inning.

With two on, two out and a 3-and-2 count to Brandon Bayardi, TCU pitcher Andrew Mitchell threw what appeared to be ball four. But the high, inside pitch nicked Bayardi’s bat for a foul ball. On the next pitch, Bayardi grounded out to shortstop to end the inning and a chance to pull even after TCU had taken a 1-0 lead off Rebels pitcher Zak Qualls.

Trent Cook, who would have been due up had Bayardi walked, led off the bottom of the second with a home run to right field to tie the score at 1.

Bayardi and UNLV’s bad luck continued in the top of the seventh. With two on and one out, Michael Resnick lifted a fly ball to right field. With the wind carrying it, it looked like trouble. But Bayardi made the catch, only to slip and fall.

Kyle Von Tungeln, the TCU runner at second, tagged up and made it home, giving the Horned Frogs the kind of gift run UNLV couldn’t afford to surrender as TCU extended its lead to 6-2.

The Horned Frogs (10-6, 2-0 Mountain West) had taken control with a three-run fourth inning as Qualls (2-1) walked two and surrendered a two-run double to Davy Wright.

UNLV (10-9, 0-2) got its other run in the fourth on a walk, a hit and a balk by Mitchell that scored Marvin Campbell as the Rebels pulled within 4-2.

But UNLV’s pitchers didn’t keep the Rebels in the game.

Qualls was lifted in the fifth for Mark Shannon, who started the game as UNLV’s center fielder. It was Shannon’s sixth mound appearance, and it was a tough one. He surrendered five runs, including a three-run homer by Jason Coats, who finished 2-for-4 with five RBIs.

Mitchell (1-2), who was on a pitch count of 75, was lifted in the fifth for Preston Morrison, who shut out the Rebels for the next 3 2/3 innings before Chris Murphy pitched a scoreless ninth.

Weather permitting, the three-game series concludes at 1:05 p.m. today. The Rebels have managed four runs in two games, and Chambers said that has to change to avoid getting swept.

“We need to find a way to make some breaks for ourselves,” he said. “We’ve got to be more aggressive at the plate, but we also have to be smart up there.

“I’m optimistic we can turn it around. We’re a whole lot better offensively than we’ve shown. But six of our first nine (in league) are against these guys, so we better find a way to get up off the deck in a hurry.”

Contact reporter Steve Carp at scarp@reviewjournal.com or 702-387-2913. Follow him on Twitter: @stevecarprj.

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