Austin Byler summed up the current state of the Nevada Wolf Pack baseball team.
“It seems every time we go out there we see somebody at their best,” the Wolf Pack third baseman said.
San Francisco Dons’ freshman left-hander Thomas Cox was certainly at his best on Tuesday afternoon at Peccole Park. The skinny 6-foot-3, 168-pounder allowed just two hits and a run in six innings in beating the Wolf Pack 4-1 in front of 401 fans.
The Pack hit the road for a three-game series at UNLV starting today at 6 p.m.
“He just kept throwing the ball down and away and down in the zone,” said Wolf Pack coach Gary Powers, whose struggling team has now lost four games in a row to fall to 17-15. “He just keeps doubt in your mind as a hitter and you can’t hit like that.”
The Wolf Pack, who used nine pitchers against the Dons, was full of doubt against Cox. The freshman, making his first start of the year, allowed just two base runners in his six innings. The only Pack runners to solve Cox were Byler on a two-out double in the fourth and Brad Gerig on a leadoff single in the seventh. Gerig later came around to score the Pack’s only run on a single by Brooks Klein off Dons’ reliever Logan West.
“Against a guy like that you have to use the other field,” Byler said. “A soft-throwing lefty like that, who is always around the zone, you have to go the other way. I should have gone the other way more often.”
Byler was the only Pack hitter to hit the ball hard consistently against Cox. He was robbed of a possible extra base hit by first baseman Brendan Cruikshank in the first inning on a hard-hit ground ball down the line and he doubled in the fourth in his only two at-bats against the freshman.
“I think it’s more mental than physical against a guy like that,” Byler said. “You go up there and try to do too much instead of just going up there and being yourself.”
Cox, who struck out four and didn’t walk a hitter, threw 55 of his 73 pitches for strikes. Just four Pack hitters hit a ball to the outfield. Hugo Hernandez flew out to center in the second and fifth innings. Byler doubled to right-center in the fourth, Ryan Teel flew out to right field in the fifth and Gerig singled to center in the sixth.
“He was spotting the ball up real well, using the outside corner,” Byler said. “And we kept going up there trying to pull the ball.”
That strategy usually resulted in a ground ball right at someone. Cox got 11 ground ball outs. Dons’ second baseman Jason Mahood had five assists and shortstop Josh Miller had four assists in Cox’s six innings.
“This game is tough enough when you are going well,” Powers said. “But when you are struggling, it’s even tougher. When things don’t go well you go up there trying to do more and more and you end up doing less and less.”
The Wolf Pack, which lost at San Francisco 7-1 on March 19, has scored just six runs combined during its four-game losing streak. They have also scored one run or fewer in four of their last six games.
“If I had the answer I’d fix it,” said Powers. “This game is so much of a mental challenge every single day. When things are going like this, you have to wipe out what just happened in your mind and go back to basics. You have to go up there and try to use the middle of the field, see the ball as deep as you can and go with the pitch the other way.
“You can’t try to go up there and create something scientific. It’s not that complicated. It’s not science. You have to keep it simple. Right now we’re up there fighting ourselves. We’re being too aggressive and getting ourselves out. You just have to relax and let your skills take over. But when you are struggling the last thing you can do is relax. That’s why this game is so tough.”