UNLV opens baseball season with major Las Vegas presence

Updated February 14, 2019 - 6:20 pm

Many UNLV players competed against one another in youth baseball, creating bragging and talking points that exist to this day.

A pitcher remembers striking out a rival batter; the hitter recalls a home run off the same pitcher.

That’s what happens when 17 Las Vegas Valley players make up the Rebels’ roster, the rivalries never having truly disappeared, former antagonists now wearing the same uniform.

“I’ve got a few memories that stick pretty well, but (some teammates) like to say that never happened or they don’t remember,” senior third baseman Dillon Johnson said with a smile. “It sticks pretty well in my head.”

Johnson, who went to Silverado High, said the back-and-forth is all in good fun, and the players will be of one mind when the season opens with a three-game series beginning at 6:05 p.m. Friday against Seattle at Wilson Stadium. The Rebels are coming off a 35-24 record, a 15-victory improvement over the 2017 season.

Mountain West coaches picked the Rebels fourth, but Johnson and junior shortstop Bryson Stott insisted this team has greater promise.

Stott, especially, embodies that hope.

He has made five preseason All-America teams and the Golden Spikes Award watch list. Stott batted .365 last season and led the nation with 30 doubles.

“I’ve got to step more into a leadership role this year, (be) more vocal,” Stott said. “I’ve always been the kind of leader that, ‘I want you to do what I’m doing and follow my lead.’ ”

Stott, who went to Desert Oasis, is one of the 17 who honed his baseball skills on valley fields. He knows as well as anyone else the talent the area produces.

“We’ll talk about, ‘Remember that one time we went to Lake Havasu (Arizona) and we played in the championship,’ ” Stott said. “Or we’d go to California and always play those guys. Having that little rivalry, we still talk about it all the time. It’s not like we really forgot about our past.”

UNLV coach Stan Stolte has made recruiting locals a priority, and because of the area’s rich talent, he often competes with Power Five schools. He coaches a program that has appeared in 11 regionals, and he talks up the advantage of players being able to perform in front of their families.

“We’re not going to get them all, we know that, but there are plenty of good baseball players in the state of Nevada,” Stolte said. “It’s just so tough nowadays. Some kids are committing in the ninth grade, the eighth grade, and we’re going to have a hard time getting a ninth-grader from Southern California to commit. So it’s essential that we get the local kids and they come here, develop and play well.”

Johnson understands the appeal of wanting to stay home.

“I can remember coming to UNLV games with my dad and thinking it was the coolest thing ever watching these Division I baseball players,” he said. “You get a little older and realize maybe I actually have a chance to go play for UNLV one day. Things worked out, and I’m here now. A bunch of local guys are here, and I think they enjoy it, too, because playing not only for our family and friends but the community and everybody in the city, I think it’s awesome.”

More Rebels: Follow at reviewjournal.com/Rebels and @RJ_Sports on Twitter.

Contact Mark Anderson at manderson@reviewjournal.com. Follow @markanderson65 on Twitter.

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