It’s been the kind of baseball season at UNLV where just about anything can be expected.
Give up one hit, but it’s a two-run homer that loses the game. Lose coach Tim Chambers for part of the season to back surgery. Watch the lights go out while hosting a ranked team.
The Rebels haven’t handled adversity well this season.
Not, at least, until Tuesday night and Wednesday morning.
UNLV rallied from four runs down to beat No. 5 Arizona State 7-6, scoring three runs in the seventh inning to take the lead and one in the eighth. The victory completed a game that began Tuesday night, but was suspended when a bank of lights went out at Wilson Stadium.
The victory came at just the right time for the Rebels (13-18), who ended a seven-game skid.
“To get that losing streak over with, especially against a top-five team like this, it’s honestly incredible,” UNLV right-hander Blaze Bohall said. “I think we’re going to get rolling.”
The Sun Devils were the highest-ranked team UNLV has beaten since an 8-6 victory over No. 3 Cal State Fullerton in 2003. That UNLV team won the Mountain West regular-season and tournament titles before getting eliminated by host Arizona State in a regional, beginning a seven-game series winning streak for the Sun Devils.
Arizona State (21-9) appeared on its way to another victory, scoring four runs in the second inning to take a 5-1 lead. The score was 5-2 in the bottom of the third when UNLV loaded the bases with one out.
That’s when the game was suspended, and when play resumed, the Rebels scored one run in the third.
But Arizona State didn’t build on its cushion, with five UNLV pitchers allowing four hits and no runs in a six-inning stretch. Eight Rebels pitchers took the mound in the game.
“That strategy worked today because that’s a very sound hitting team we did that against,” UNLV interim coach Stan Stolte said.
The offense awakened in the seventh. Two runs scored on Arizona State third baseman David Greer’s throwing error after Morgan Stotts put down a perfect bunt, tying the game at 5. Two batters later, A.J. VanMeetren waited on a fastball and jumped on it for a double to score Stotts and give the Rebels a 6-5 lead.
UNLV picked up another run in the eighth for a 7-5 edge when Joey Swanner worked the count full. Knowing a fastball was coming, he sent the pitch deep to right field for a sacrifice fly.
“ASU, they’re too good to have just a one-run lead,” Swanner said. “We’ve seen it happen to us numerous times.”
That would turn out to be an especially crucial run after the Sun Devils scored with two outs in the ninth and put runners at first and second. But Bohall got out of the jam and earned his first save by inducing a come-backer to the mound from Joey Bielek.
In a season in which so much has gone wrong for the Rebels, they finally prevailed in a game that could have easily gone the other way.
Swanner called beating Arizona State “the turning point of the season. We needed this, and we can hopefully keep it rolling.”
The Rebels’ season still comes down to late May and the Mountain West tournament. UNLV next plays a three-game series at Ohio State beginning Friday.
“I think guys are starting to get confidence and buying into what we’re doing,” said VanMeetren, who went 3-for-4 with two doubles and two RBIs. “So with that, who knows how far we can go? We’re a talented team. It was nice to see. People are getting confidence in what we’re doing. We’re starting to play behind each other and with each other as a team.”
Contact Mark Anderson at firstname.lastname@example.org or 702-387-2914. Follow him on Twitter: @markanderson65.