Entering Saturday’s game against UNR, the running joke around UNLV’s clubhouse was that right-hander Kenny Oakley would go winless this season, but the team would still win every game in which he pitched.
The 6-foot-3-inch junior won’t have to hear that one again after turning in a career performance in the second game of a three-game Mountain West baseball series at Wilson Stadium.
Oakley threw a four-hitter on 133 pitches to lead the Rebels to a 1-0 victory over the Wolf Pack (12-2, 4-1 MW). The victory snapped a four-game losing streak and gave UNLV (7-6, 1-4 MW) its first conference win.
“I guess we can put that joke to rest,” said Oakley, who finished with a career-high 11 strikeouts and two walks. “Maybe I can get a few more (wins) now.”
Oakley, whose previous career high in strikeouts was 10 against Utah Valley last season, received no-decisions in his first two starts of the season and lost his third appearance last week in the series finale to Fresno State.
But he wasn’t going to be denied Saturday, even if it meant facing one of the conference’s top hitting teams.
“It’s just another team,” Oakley said. “I don’t think, ‘Oh, this is a good hitting team. This is a bad hitting team.’ This is Division I baseball. Everybody can hit, or else they wouldn’t be playing here. They’ve been hitting pretty well, but I feel like if my stuff is working, it doesn’t matter how good the other team is.”
Oakley, a Coronado High School product, walked the first batter of the game but quickly found his groove with his breaking pitches. He took a no-hitter into the fourth inning before it was broken up on a single by Kyle Hunt.
Though he was at 115 pitches after eight innings and two left-handed hitters were due up at the top of the lineup in the ninth, coach Tim Chambers opted to stay with Oakley.
“That was special,” Chambers said. “I was up and down four or five times, deciding if I was going to take him out or not because he was getting up there in pitch count. He’s kind of stubborn.
“Kenny is usually good for six or seven (innings). But you never can expect a shutout because they have a good hitting team. They’ve got guys who can hit, and he kept them off balance all day. My gut told me to leave him in.”
UNLV, which finished with nine hits, scored in the second inning on a throwing error by UNR pitcher Jason Deitrich.
Morgan Stotts singled and stole second to lead off the second, then came around to score after Payton Squier’s perfectly placed bunt forced a high throw by Deitrich that went into right field.
Justin Jones and Dylan Ellis each went 2-for-4 for the Rebels.
The three-game series concludes at 1:05 p.m. today. Junior right-hander Bryan Bonnell (1-1, 5.56 ERA) will start for the Rebels.
Contact reporter Ashton Ferguson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-383-0430. Follow him on Twitter: @af_ferguson.