If the University of Nevada baseball team exceeeds preseason expectations, maybe it will make the NCAA Tournament this year.
The Western Athletic Conference's six coaches have picked Nevada to take third in the WAC behind defending national champion Rice and Fresno State. Brett Hayes, last year's WAC Freshman of the Year and a Freshman All-America, was picked as the preseason WAC Player of the Year.
Nevada will also have several Carson Country players this season and two - Carson High graduates Joe Mercer and Owen Brolsma could be in line for considerable playing time.
Despite winning 30 games and finishing second in the WAC behind eventual national champion Rice, the Wolf Pack didn't make the NCAA Tournament last season. Rice has been picked in virtually every major poll to repeat as national champions.
Rice received 25 points and all five first place votes from the WAC's other five coaches. Fresno State edged Nevada for second with 19 points to the Wolf Pack's 18. Hawai'i was picked fourth, San Jose State fifth and Louisiana Tech sixth.
The preseason all-WAC team included five Rice players: senior outfielder Chris Kolkhorst, senior outfielder Austin Davis, junior shortstop Paul Janish, junior starting pitcher Jeff Niemann and junior starting pitcher Wade Townsend. Niemann was picked as the preseason Pitcher of the Year after posting a 17-0 record with a 1.70 ERA last season.
Nevada had four players make the team: junior outfielder Chris Gimenez, junior outfielder Jacob Butler, senior first baseman Erick Streelman and sophomore catcher Brett Hayes. Hayes ranked second in the WAC last season in batting (.365) and RBI (63). He also hit eight home runs and stole eight bases.
Mercer, a senior, transferred from Arkansas Little-Rock. He was picked as a draft and follow player by the San Francisco Giants in the 2001 Major League draft. Mercer is a leading candidate to be the team's designated hitter.
He could also see time as catcher where Nevada has great depth. Along with Hayes, Nevada has Baker Krukow, who played with the Carson Capitols. Krukow, a redshirt freshman, missed all of last year with an injury.
Mercer is also competing with another former Carson Capitol, Bub Madrid, for playing time at third base. Brolsma, a freshman, was a standout catcher at Carson High, but will be used as a relief pitcher where he's contending to be the team's closer.
Galena High's Brandon Evans, a redshirt freshman left-handed pitcher, will also compete for playing time on the mound. Others on Nevada's roster are Galena's Warren Whitley, a reserve freshman infielder, and Douglas High's Austin Graham, a reserve outfielder.