BEHIND THE PLATE: Wolf Pack baseball becomes relevant

It’s been almost two decades since a baseball team dominated competition off North Virginia Street in Reno.

Matching the program’s best start in school history, the Wolf Pack have already amassed double-digit wins this season as they travel to in-state rival UNLV this weekend for a three-game series with a chance to climb in the country’s Top 25 ranking. Nevada already has more wins (11) than the men’s basketball team (nine) and with a sweep of the Rebels, its win total would equal the basketball and football teams combined.

Wow.

This team is legit and thanks mainly to Jay Johnson, in his second season at the helm after replacing Gary Powers. Nevada has already notched a top-10 win this season against Texas Tech, swept a conference rival (Fresno State) at home and nearly nabbed a road win at Stanford in Palo Alto.

The team’s biggest weapon this season is at the plate, where the Wolf Pack leads the nation in home runs and also have the country’s home run leader on the team. Nevada hasn’t been shutout in its 12 games.

The Wolf Pack are putting together a special season, much like the 2010 football team that upset Cal and Boise State before beating Boston College in the Kraft Fight Hunger Bowl. This team is built on blasting the ball and with Peccole Park sitting high above sea-level, don’t expect a drought at the plate anytime soon.

One area of concern, however, rests on the hill.

Nevada’s starting pitching has been bruised of late but the bullpen has been able to bail them out on demand. Nevada gave up six runs to UC Davis this week after surrendering 12 to woeful Pacific in extra innings over the weekend.

But there shouldn’t be any cause of alarm because the Wolf Pack have been able to stop any bleeding with an experienced bullpen saving games. And it’s that experience in close games that will benefit Nevada later in the season and, possibly, into the NCAA regional. Nevada’s already 4-1 in one-run games this season.

The team seems destined to rack up more than 30 wins this year, which should put Nevada into the NCAA Regional even if it doesn’t win the conference. Playing in a decent Mountain West Conference helps Nevada’s chances but if it can continue piling on the runs like this past weekend, then the pitching will be able to afford giving up four or five runs from its starters.

Nevada returns home next weekend for a three-game series against New Mexico as the Wolf Pack look to improve on their 7-0 record at Peccole Park. The attendance has been great this season and some credit can go to the unusually warm weather.

But something special is definitely taking place in Reno this spring and for a change, the attention from baseball fans could be more directed at the Wolf Pack than their professional counterpart playing downtown.

Thomas Ranson can be contacted at lvnsports@yahoo.com.

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