Waiting for something positive to happen was no longer an option for UNLV sophomore Xavier Scruggs. After four months of frustration, he was poised to end the waiting game.
Scruggs stepped to the plate, jumped on the first pitch he saw and became the X-factor for a team in need of a hero.
His tiebreaking single with one out in the 10th inning helped the Rebels rally for a 6-5 victory over Utah on Wednesday in the first round of the Mountain West Conference Tournament at Wilson Stadium.
"We came out here to make a huge statement," Scruggs said. "I believe everybody had faith and everybody knew we were going to get it done."
Sixth-seeded UNLV (23-34) advanced to meet No. 1 seed Texas Christian (43-12) at 3 p.m. today.
The regular season was littered with close losses and disappointment for the Rebels, but Scruggs said the power of positive thinking pulled them through against the third-seeded Utes.
"Coming in as the last seed, people probably don’t expect too much out of us," he said. "But we know what we’re capable of doing."
The outlook was bleak for UNLV until its three-run eighth inning. Keith Smith hit a two-out RBI double, and Blake Gailen’s two-run single tied the score 4-4.
Ryan Kowalski led off the 10th with a double, and after Smith walked, Gailen moved up both runners with a sacrifice bunt. Scruggs stepped up and lined a single to center off Utah’s Chad Cullers (4-5) to score Kowalski with the go-ahead run.
"I knew I had to try to drive something up the middle," Scruggs said. "My teammates and the crowd was cheering, and I had the adrenaline going."
Efren Navarro Jr. hit a sacrifice fly to drive in Smith for a needed insurance run.
"To win the tournament, you’ve got to win a nail-biter. We got a couple of clutch hits late and the guys battled back," Rebels coach Buddy Gouldsmith said.
Marc Baca (4-3) threw two scoreless innings to get the win, and Adam Moser got a dramatic save, his fifth of the season. Moser allowed one run on two hits and a walk in the 10th, but he struck out Corey Shimada with runners at the corners to end the game.
Scruggs made the score 1-0 in the fifth by ripping an RBI double off the right-field wall. But the Rebels stranded 12 runners through the first six innings.
UNLV junior right-hander Craig Heyer allowed four runs in the sixth. Heyer, who gave up 12 hits in 6 2 /3 innings, ran his pitch total to 108 before Gouldsmith went to the bullpen for senior left-hander Koji Pupo.
"We know we’ve got to win the tournament, and we had to try and stretch Craig out a little bit," Gouldsmith said. "We left all kinds of runners on early and I thought we had several opportunities to distance ourselves."
The Rebels’ top six hitters — Calvin Beamon, Kowalski, Smith, Gailen, Scruggs and Navarro — combined to go 13-for-30 with six RBIs.
"One of the main things Coach emphasized is that we need to flush the first part of the season," Scruggs said. "I think we’ve got a good chance against TCU, believe it or not. Our team is going to be pumped."
UNLV will start junior left-hander Kevin Skogley (3-5) against Horned Frogs ace Jake Arrieta (8-3).
"You couldn’t ask for a better matchup," Gouldsmith said.
• New Mexico 1, San Diego State 0 — Lobos left-hander Bobby LaFromboise threw a six-hitter and struck out six to send the fourth-seeded Aztecs to the losers’ bracket.
The Lobos scored in the first on Matt Hibbitts’ RBI single.
Fifth-seeded New Mexico (27-28) will play No. 2 seed Brigham Young (35-18) at 11 a.m. today.
LaFromboise (7-3) was slightly sharper than San Diego State’s Bruce Billings, who allowed seven hits in a complete-game effort.
• San Diego State 12, Utah 1 — The Aztecs (29-29) extended their season behind a superb start from Steven Hirschfeld, who threw a five-hitter and struck out nine to eliminate the Utes (24-31).
Hirschfeld, a junior right-hander, went 10-0 for the Community College of Southern Nevada last year.UNLV SportsStory Index
TODAY• Brigham Young vs. New Mexico, 11 a.m. • Texas Christian vs. UNLV, 3 p.m. • San Diego State vs. BYU-New Mexico loser, 7 p.m.