RENO — Nevada Wolf Pack baseball coach Jay Johnson isn’t afraid at all to put a game in the hands of his Carson Connection.
“Everyday,” smiled Johnson after a 5-2 victory over the Air Force Falcons on Saturday in front of a crowd of 684 at Peccole Park. “They are the best thing on our team right now. One of the hardest things to have in college baseball is a great bullpen and those guys give that to us.”
The Carson Connection is Wolf Pack relievers Colby Blueberg and Adam Whitt. The Carson High graduates combined to shut out the Falcons over the final four innings on Saturday, allowing just one base runner on a harmless two-out single in the ninth.
“I know if we get a lead going into the sixth or seventh inning that we are not going to lose a game with those two guys sitting back there in the bullpen,” Johnson said. “I can’t say more about a guy than that. That’s how much I believe in them.”
Blueberg threw just 11 pitches in three innings on Saturday and got nine outs on 10 strikes. He retired the side in the eighth on three pitches.
“Coach (Dave) Lawn (the Wolf Pack pitching coach) always tells us that he’ll buy us a steak dinner if we ever get a three-pitch inning,” Blueberg said with a smile. “So he owes me a steak dinner.”
Blueberg almost earned three steak dinners. He had to throw just four pitches in both the sixth and seventh innings. He faced just nine hitters in his three innings and retired seven of them on just one pitch. The other two — Jake Schomaker in the sixth and Spencer Draws in the seventh — hit the second pitch.
“That last inning (the eighth) I just threw three straight fastballs and got three outs,” smiled Blueberg. “I just thought, ‘This is too easy.’ I just wanted to go out there, see the zone and pound it.”
Whitt had to throw just eight pitches in the ninth to record his fifth save of the year. He threw five of them for strikes and allowed just one hit.
“Just pound the zone,” Whitt said. “That’s the biggest thing. All we want to do is get ahead of the hitters and make them hit it at someone. You saw what Blueberg did today. He was amazing.”
The 6-foot, 185-pound Blueberg now has a 0.87 earned run average (two earned runs allowed in 20.2 innings) over 13 appearances.
“I’ve never had a year like this in my life,” Blueberg said. “Hitters get in a zone where the ball looks as big as a beach ball. Right now I’m out there on the mound and the catcher’s glove looks so big. I feel I can’t miss.”
The 6-foot-3, 205-pound Whitt now has a 3.32 ERA over 21.2 innings and 13 appearances. Over his last nine appearances and 10.2 innings he’s allowed just one earned run.
“It’s a good feeling right now with me and Blueberg,” Whitt said. “I know he’s going to go out there and do the job and I have a lot of confidence I’ll do the same.”
“We’ll sit down there in the bullpen and if we look up in the fifth inning and we’re winning Whitt will look at me and say, ‘OK, go shut them down for two or three innings and I’ll get the rest,’” Blueberg said. “We have a special bond.”
Whitt and Blueberg have been teammates ever since they were Little League All Stars. The two were then teammates for four years at Carson High and are now in their third year together at Nevada. Blueberg is a junior and Whitt is a sophomore because he red-shirted his first season at Nevada in 2012.
“We’ve always been together,” Blueberg said. “I have pictures with him when we’re 9-years-old where I’m the shortstop and he’s the pitcher.”
“It’s been this way with us ever since we were little,” Whitt said. “I can’t remember a year when we didn’t play together.”
Blueberg entered the game in the sixth inning with the Wolf Pack holding onto a slim 3-2 lead. Evan McMahan got the final out in the fifth inning in relief of starter Barry Timko and ended up getting the victory, thanks to Blueberg and Whitt.
The Pack, which beat Air Force 5-1 on Friday as starter Michael Fain tossed a complete game, took a 2-0 lead in the first inning on a pair of RBI doubles by Kewby Meyer and Trenton Brooks. Kyle Hunt scored on a wild pitch in the third inning for a 3-1 lead.
The Pack, 11-11 overall this season and 5-6 in the Mountain West, later scored a pair of runs in the seventh on singles by Jay Anderson and Hunt and a pair of RBI groundouts by Austin Byler and Meyer to up the lead to a more comfortable 5-2.
That was more than enough cushion for Blueberg and Whitt.
“Both of those guys could pitch everyday if we need them,” Johnson said. “They are great conditioning guys who work hard in the weight room and I know they’ll bounce back quickly. The best thing about Blueberg’s (11-pitch) outing for me is that I know I can go back to him (Sunday) if I need him.”
That’s exactly the way Blueberg and Whitt want it.
“I want the whole team to know that when we go out there on the mound that it’s going to be a done deal, that we’re going to do the job,” Whitt said.
Johnson knows that as well as anybody.
“They are tremendous competitors,” Johnson said. “They are always begging me to put them in the game. That’s the way I like it.”
The Wolf Pack and Falcons will conclude their three-game series with a 1 p.m. game on Sunday at Peccole Park. Air Force, now 4-17 overall and 1-7 in the Mountain West, has lost 11 games in a row and 14 of its last 15. The Pack, 5-1 at home, has won five of its last seven overall and eight of its last 12.