For all the hard-hit balls that have landed in gloves and not safely for hits this young baseball season, maybe UNLV was due one of these types of plays.
Danny Higa provided it with a soft roller that initially looked like the third out of the eighth inning, but he hustled down the line and beat the throw as T.J. White scored the go-ahead run.
Closer Zack Hartman then survived a one-out, bases-loaded jam in the top of the ninth to secure a 4-3 victory over Cal State Bakersfield on Tuesday before 1,072 at Wilson Stadium in the Rebels’ home opener.
“We’ve hit a bunch of balls on the screws, and we’re just not finding the holes,” UNLV coach Tim Chambers said. “But I’m happy with the way we’re playing.”
UNLV (4-4) has opened the season alternating wins and losses, which doesn’t bode well for today’s 2 p.m. home game against the Roadrunners (4-4), the finale for the brief series.
But the Rebels went 1-7 in Tuesday games last season — that’s the day the front-line starters don’t take the mound — so perhaps this victory is a good sign.
If nothing else, it appears this will be a season of close games because half of the ones UNLV played so far have been decided by one run.
UNLV’s bullpen pitched well enough to give the offense a chance against Bakersfield. Buddy Borden, Jesse Garcia (1-1) and Hartman allowed one run during the final 6 1/3 innings, stranding nine runners over that stretch. Bakersfield left 11 runners on for the game, including three in the ninth.
Hartman, who last season had eight saves and a 2.35 ERA, allowed three consecutive singles with one out in the final inning. But then he induced a popout and game-ending groundout to first base to record his first save this season.
“I bear down and say, ‘You’re going to get through this and don’t really worry about it,’ ” Hartman said. “Honestly, I don’t even think there are bases loaded. I got a couple of bases loaded this year, and I got out of both of them.
“I think the fact that my head isn’t going everywhere … helps the situation.”
UNLV was forced to rally from a 3-2 deficit to put Hartman in position to close out the game.
Scott Tomassetti singled in Mark Shannon with one out in the sixth to tie it.
Two innings later, White led off with a double, advancing to third on a groundout. After Tomassetti walked with two outs, Higa delivered the soft grounder to short.
“Out of the corner of my eye, I thought the third baseman had it the whole way,” Higa said. “I saw him pull off, and knowing that the shortstop was going to get it, I kind of knew I had time to get there.”
When shortstop Walter Wells III fielded the ball, Higa beat his throw to first, allowing White to score the game-winner.
“We beat into their heads that any time we have a ground ball or fly-ball popup, we’re going to get down the line and we’re going to press the defense to make them play it,” Chambers said. “Hats off to Danny that he broke out of the box and went hard.”
Contact reporter Mark Anderson at email@example.com or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.UNLV — 4
C.S. BAKERSFIELD — 3
KEY: Danny Higa’s infield single in the eighth inning scored T.J. White with the winning run.
NEXT: UNLV vs. Cal State Bakersfield, 2 p.m. today, Wilson Stadium