‘Prove them right’: UNLV baseball embraces high expectations
UNLV baseball was chosen as the preseason Mountain West favorite, but after a heartbreaking end to last season, the Rebels know they still have everything to prove.
Junior left fielder Austin Kryszczuk spent the offseason waiting for this moment. For the past eight months, he and the rest of the UNLV baseball team have been forced to reckon with the way last season ended.
The Rebels had a successful campaign, storming to the Mountain West regular-season title for the first time since 2014, and they entered the conference tournament as the No. 1 seed.
Then, everything collapsed. UNLV was upset by Air Force, the eventual champion, 5-2, before falling against UNR 7-3, eliminating the Rebels from the Mountain West tournament.
Just like that, the most successful UNLV baseball season in almost a decade was done.
“It sucked,” Kryszczuk said. “We don’t want to feel that again.”
UNLV returns to the diamond for the first time since that disappointment at 6:05 p.m. Friday, when it welcomes the University of the Pacific to Earl E. Wilson Stadium for the start of a three-game series to open the 2023 season.
The Rebels are once again expected to be a contender for the conference title. Coach Stan Stolte’s squad was picked to finish first in the preseason poll by the Mountain West coaches for the first time in program history as UNLV tries to return to an NCAA regional after a nine-year absence.
“It’s nice,” said Stolte, who signed a four-year contract extension in September. “But as long as I’ve been here, the team that’s picked to win it has not ever won it. We’ve got to prove them right for a change.”
Stolte, entering his seventh season with the Rebels, said last year had an unfortunate ending to a fantastic season. UNLV ran into difficult pitching matchups in both games, and while Stolte said his team came ready to play, he admitted the Rebels were simply not the better team in both games, something Kryszczuk echoed.
“We just ran into two teams that were super hot at the time,” Kryszczuk said. “It’s baseball. It happens. Anybody who steps on the diamond can win that day. I think that’s the great thing about this game.”
Stolte returns a strong veteran core in the middle of his lineup. Kryszczuk, a junior from Centennial High School, is one of four returning players who hit over .300 in 2022, and his 12 home runs rank first among all returners. Kryszczuk, senior second baseman Edarian Williams from Rancho and junior center fielder Rylan Charles were all chosen as preseason All-Mountain West selections.
Kryszczuk and Stolte said the lineup is more athletic and versatile than last season’s. The Rebels are less reliant on timely home runs, and they will also be better defensively.
However, if 2022 taught Stolte and the Rebels anything, it’s that UNLV will only go as far as its pitching allows. Veteran starter Josh Ibarra, who led the Rebels’ starters in strikeouts and ERA, and reliable reliever Hayden Nierman are both gone, giving some of UNLV’s younger arms a chance to step up.
Left-handers Josh Sharman and Noah Mattera each made 11 starts in 2022, while right-hander Noah Beal also emerged as an option late in the season. Sharman, a junior from Desert Oasis, said the pitching staff has emphasized throwing strikes and trusting the defense.
Sharman said it would be a dream come true to help lead the Rebels back to an NCAA regional.
“This is the year,” he said. “We have the talent. We have the mindset, and we’re just ready to go at it this year.”
Contact reporter Andy Yamashita at firstname.lastname@example.org. Follow @ANYamashita on Twitter.
UNLV baseball schedule
Friday vs. Pacific, 6:05 p.m.
Saturday vs. Pacific, 1:05 p.m.
Sunday vs. Pacific, 12:05 p.m.
Tuesday at Arizona State, 6:05 p.m.
Feb. 24 UC San Diego (at San Diego), 6 p.m., Tony Gwynn Memorial Tournament
Feb. 25 vs. Hawaii (at San Diego), 1 p.m., Tony Gwynn Memorial Tournament
Feb. 26 vs. UC Irvine (at San Diego), 10 a.m., Tony Gwynn Memorial Tournament
Feb. 27 vs. Washington State (at San Diego), 12 p.m. Tony Gwynn Memorial Tournament
March 1 vs. Grand Canyon, 2:05 p.m.
March 3 vs. San Diego State, 6:05 p.m.
March 4 vs. San Diego State, 1:05 p.m.
March 5 vs. San Diego State, 12:05 p.m.
March 7 at Oklahoma, 1 p.m.
March 8 at Oklahoma, 11 a.m.
March 10 at Cal Poly, 6 p.m.
March 11 at Cal Poly, 4 p.m.
March 12 at Cal Poly, 10 a.m.
March 14 at Arkansas, 4 p.m.
March 15 at Arkansas, 4 p.m.
March 17 at UNR, 6:35 p.m.
March 18 at UNR, 4:35 p.m.
March 19 at UNR, 1:05 p.m.
March 21 at California Baptist, 2:05 p.m.
March 24 vs. Fresno State, 6:05 p.m.
March 25 vs. Fresno State, 1:05 p.m.
March 26 vs. Fresno State, 12:05 p.m.
March 28 vs. Arizona State (at Las Vegas Ballpark), 6:05 p.m.
March 31 at Air Force, noon
April 1 at Air Force, 11 a.m.
April 2 at Air Force, 11 a.m.
April 6 vs. UNR, 6:05 p.m.
April 7 vs. UNR, 6:05 p.m.
April 8 vs. UNR, 12:05 p.m.
April 10 at Loyola Marymount, 6 p.m.
April 11 at Loyola Marymount, 2 p.m.
April 14 at San Jose State, 6:05 p.m.
April 15 at San Jose State, 2:05 p.m.
April 16 at San Jose State, 12:05 p.m.
April 21 vs. California Baptist, 6:05 p.m.
April 22 vs. California Baptist, 1:05 p.m.
April 23 vs. California Baptist, 12:05 p.m.
April 25 at Creighton, 4:30 p.m.
April 26 at Creighton, 1 p.m.
April 28 at San Diego State, 6:05 p.m.
April 29 at San Diego State, 6:05 p.m.
April 30 at San Diego State, 1:05 p.m.
May 5 vs. New Mexico, 6:05 p.m.
May 6 vs. New Mexico, 1:05 p.m.
May 7 vs. New Mexico, 12:05 p.m.
May 12 at Fresno State, 6:05 p.m.
May 13 at Fresno State, 3:05 p.m.
May 14 at Fresno State, 1:05 p.m.
May 18 vs. Air Force, 6:05 p.m.
May 19 vs. Air Force, 6:05 p.m.
May 20 vs. Air Force, 12:05 p.m.
May 25-28 Mountain West Tournament