The University of Nevada baseball team can take satisfaction -- but at the same time be frustrated -- that it's almost as good as Rice right now.
As it has throughout four meetings with Rice this season, The Wolf Pack gave the Owls, ranked No. 2 in the nation, all it could handle. But Nevada couldn't overcome an 11-2 deficit and fell 13-11 on Friday at Peccole Park. It was the third loss in four games against Rice this year for Nevada.
"We've given up some close games to them," said Nevada's Ryan Strain, who had four hits. "We've had chances to win. When you're down 11-2 to a team like this, you can either quit or keep competing."
Nevada was able to come back because of another excellent effort from its bullpen. After Wolf Pack ace Mateo Miramontes (9-3) was knocked out in the third inning, Bryan Johnson, Darrick Cummings and Ryan Harbaugh combined to hold Rice to two runs over the last 6.1 innings.
"I thought the three guys that came out of the bullpen did exactly what we needed to make a game out of this," Nevada coach Gary Powers said. "I couldn't really have asked for any more of those three guys.
"We're not in this deal for moral victories. Our effort was there for nine innings. I was very proud of these guys. I'm just disappointed that we didn't finish better than we did."
Cummings allowed his first earned run of the season in 9.1 innings of work. Harbaugh was particularly impressive as he allowed one run in four innings.
"I was just trying to get ahead of the hitters," Harbaugh said. "I was just trying to get my fastball over.
"The change was working really well behind it. I was able to get guys off balance."
Strain's RBI double cut Rice's lead to 11-4 in the fourth inning. Nevada's comeback built steam in the fifth off of Rice's Philip Humber (10-1). Humber, one of Rice's outstanding starters, picked up the win and struck out seven, but was touched for six runs, five earned through six innings.
In the fifth, Kevin Kouzmanoff and Jacob Butler each hit solo home runs to bring Nevada to within 12-6. In the sixth, centerfielder Chris Dickerson made a spectacular diving catch in right center field to save a run.
He robbed Matt Ueckert of an RBI extra base hit. Austin Davis, who was at second, took off running understandably thinking the ball would drop and Dickerson went on to turn his catch into an inning-ending double play.
Nevada closed to within 12-10 in the seventh. Chris Gimenez was hit by a pitch, Butler singled and Dickerson and Robert Marcial walked to force in a run. Strain followed with an RBI single, Dickerson scored on a fielder's choice and Kouzmanoff's RBI single made it 12-10.
But Kouzmanoff was playing with a hamstring injury he suffered during Tuesday's 16-5 win over St. Mary's, so Powers pinch ran for Kouzmanoff. The move had a huge impact on the game because Taylor Pullins was hitting in the ninth in Kouzmanoff's spot when Nevada was trying to rally. Pullins struck out.
Powers, though, said he couldn't take a chance with Kouzmanoff, saying he needed him for the rest of the season.
"We needed to not hurt him any more than he was," Powers said. "I don't want to put him in jeopardy as cold as it was."
Enrique Cruz, the brother of San Francisco Giants' outfielder Jose Cruz Jr., hit a home in the ninth to give Rice a 13-10 lead.
Nevada's first two batters reached in the bottom of the ninth when Dickerson singled and Marcial was hit by a pitch. But Nevada could only score one run when Dickerson scored on an error.
Erick Streelman's two-run homer gave Nevada a 2-1 lead in the first. But the lead was short-lived as Rice touched Miramontes for six runs in the second. The rally was capped by a three-run shot by Davis that made it 7-2.
Nevada was hurt by Marcial's error that led to four unearned runs in the third. Marcial couldn't handle a grounder that took a tricky hop and a run scored to make it 8-2. Miramontes then hit Chris Kolkhorst for the second straight time.
Dane Bubela followed with a three-run shot over the right centerfield scoreboard that made it 11-2. Miramontes allowed 11 runs, seven earned, over 2.2 innings.
"It kind of took a bad hop but I should have made the play," Marcial said.
Nevada was hurt by another defensive miscue in the fifth. Rice executed a double steal when Brett Hayes and the runner dead to rights at third, but Kouzmanoff dropped the ball. The play allowed Rice to score a run and take a 12-4 lead.
Kouzmanoff and Butler each had two hits and Hayes added a hit for Nevada.
Game Notes: Any hope that Nevada had of winning the Western Athletic Conference title was virtually dashed with Friday's loss. the Wolf Pack (28-20, 15-6 in the WAC) trail Rice (42-7, 20-2) by four games in the loss column... Jerry Robinson, known as Jerry the "Net Man," said he caught Streelman's homer with his net. Robinson can be seen at every Nevada game on top of his truck behind the left field fence waving his net... It won't be any easier for Nevada. The Wolf Pack will have to face Jeff Niemann (11-0, 1.58 earned run average) today and Josh Baker (8-0, 2.97 E.R.A.) on Sunday.