Nobody had to remind Braden Shipley about the importance of Friday night’s Nevada Wolf Pack baseball game against the San Diego State Aztecs.
“I was really pumped up,” the Wolf Pack junior said. “This was big for us.”
Shipley didn’t allow a run in 6.2 innings as the Wolf Pack took the first game of this important three-game Mountain West series with the Aztecs, 7-1, in front of 648 fans at Peccole Park.
“We needed this one,” Shipley said. “They were three games ahead of us in second place. We had to get this one.”
The Aztecs, 22-23 overall and 12-10 in the Mountain West, are now just two games ahead of the Wolf Pack (23-22, 10-12) with eight league games to play. UNLV, which beat Fresno State 4-1 on Friday, is tied with the Aztecs for second at 29-16, 12-10. New Mexico, 11-10 winners over Air Force on Friday, comfortably leads the conference at 28-17, 18-4. Fresno State (15-28, 9-13) and Air Force (13-31, 5-17) trail the Pack.
“This was huge,” said Pack coach Gary Powers, whose team had lost 12 of its last 17 games entering Friday night. “But more than winning, it’s about how you play. And tonight we had a much better approach and did a lot of things right. That’s the important thing. We’re headed in the right direction.”
Shipley earned his seventh victory against just two losses by battling through adversity in every inning. San Diego State had at least one runner reach second base in every inning against Shipley except the third. The right-hander allowed two singles in the third but Pack catcher Ryan Teel tossed out two runners trying to steal second.
“Our defense behind me today was great,“ Shipley said. “They came up big for me.“
The 6-foot-3 Shipley, pitching in front of about 20 major league scouts seated behind home plate, gave up eight hits and walked three. He had to throw 130 pitches before handing a 4-0 lead to his bullpen with two outs in the seventh.
“We probably let him go longer than we should have,” Powers said. “We were trying to milk him that last inning (the seventh). We should have taken him out earlier but he’s a tough kid. He’ll bounce back.”
Shipley threw 88 pitches through five innings and 42 over his last 1.2 innings.
“I just didn’t have good command of my fastball,” said Shipley, who struck out just two. “I don’t really know why. Maybe it was something small in my mechanics or maybe I was overthrowing it a little.”
Shipley, now 17-6 in his Wolf Pack career in 29 starts, got the outs he needed to keep the Aztecs off the scoreboard.
He fanned Tim Zier and got Ryan Muno to bounce out to the mound with a runner on second in the first inning. He got Steve Pallares to roll into a double play with two runners on to end the second. Teel did the heavy lifting in the third and in the fourth Shipley retired Jake Romanski on a grounder to the mound and Brad Haynal on a fly ball to right with a runner on second.
Shipley retired Allen on a grounder to second to end the fifth with two runners on base and he struck out Haynal and got France to ground out to first base with two runners on to end the sixth.
“I didn’t have good command of my fastball but I was able to throw my off-speed stuff for strikes,” Shipley said. “My curveball and change-up were working well the whole night. I was able to throw them in tough situations and get outs.”
Shipley left the game in the seventh with two outs and runners on second and third. Daniel Levine then came out of the bullpen to retire Zier on a grounder to short to end the threat and help Shipley lower his earned run average on the season to 2.49.
Levine allowed a run in the eighth on a solo home run by Muno and Carson High graduate Adam Whitt pitched a scoreless ninth to secure the victory. Whitt hit a batter and walked one but also fanned two and threw 14 of his 24 pitches for strikes.
“Our bullpen did a fantastic job,” Shipley said. “They threw strikes and made big pitches. I really appreciate it.”
Powers also appreciated the effort his No. 1 starter gave him to open the series.
“Anytime you can shut that team down for almost seven innings, it’s a great effort,” Powers said. “He had to battle out there and that’s what he did.”
Brad Gerig also did his fair share of battling at the plate. The Wolf Pack third baseman had three doubles and a triple and drove in four runs. It was Gerig’s three-run, two-out double in the seventh on an 0-2 pitch that broke the game open.
“That was a big two-strike hit,” Powers said. “We needed it, too. He got us going in a couple innings and he drove home some big runs for us.”
Gerig doubled home Brooks Klein in the second inning for a 1-0 lead, tripled and scored on a double by Jamison Rowe in the fourth inning for a 3-0 lead, doubled and scored in the sixth for a 4-0 lead before driving his bases-loaded double to the gap in left-center field in the seventh.
“That was kind of the finisher,” said Shipley of Gerig‘s three-run double. “That one kind of put the game away.”
The Wolf Pack and Aztecs will conclude their series with games on Saturday (1 p.m.) and Sunday (1 p.m.) at Peccole Park.
“This game is an example of the kind of baseball we can play,” Shipley said. “It’s the type of baseball we need to play from here on out.”