RENO — Over-aggressive baserunning and five home runs surrendered were too much for the Nevada baseball team to overcome.
After winning the conference regular season title and earning the top seed, the No. 23-ranked Wolf Pack uncharacteristically ran themselves into outs on the base path, killing several rallies, as No. 2-seeded San Diego State held on for a 9-7 win in an elimination game of the Mountain West Conference Tournament at Peccole Park Friday. SDSU (37-21) will face the loser of the New Mexico-Fresno State game, which was rescheduled to this morning because of heavy rain.
“It’s a tough day. Our guys ripped their heart out,” second-year Nevada coach Jay Johnson said. “They threw it out on the field. It was exactly what we asked them to do. I’m very proud of them.”
Nevada (41-15) will now have to wait until Monday morning whether it has done enough with its 41-win regular season. Along with capturing the regular season league title, Nevada swept the conference’s postseason awards and knocked off a pair of 2014 league champions as well as upset nationally ranked Texas Tech early in the season.
“A bad 16 hours does nothing to define this team or change what they accomplished this season,” Johnson said. “They played their hearts out and did everything that we asked of them. I’m proud of them for that.”
The Wolf Pack still had life remaining in the final frame, including the game-winning run on first base.
After Nevada allowed its fifth home run of the game in the ninth inning, the Wolf Pack had the bases loaded with one out and trailing by two. Cal Stevenson, though, fouled out to the catcher for the second out and Trenton Brooks, the MWC Player of the Year, struck out looking on a Mark Seyler fastball to end Nevada’s shortly lived run in the tournament.
“It’s their character,” Johnson said of the team’s resolve and battle in the final inning. “There’s a lot bigger things happening here than kids playing better baseball. It’s their character. It’s who they are. That part is what separated them for the better part of the last year and a half.”
But the ninth inning was one of many opportunities for Nevada as it ran into three outs that hurt rallies. Nevada was aggressive, trying to advance runners an extra base, including a couple rounding third and trying to score.
“We’ve always kind of lived by the MO that when you’re in a game like that, where your backs are against the wall, so to speak, you ramp it up. It’s part of the game,” Johnson said. “The game’s designed around failure. I don’t think, in my opinion, there’s a better baserunning team in college baseball than us. It just happens.”
On Trenton Brooks’ single in the fourth inning, Stevenson ran through Johnson’s stop sign as he rounded third and was tagged out. Instead of runners on second and third with one out, Kewby Meyer popped out with Brooks stranded on second.
Two innings later, aggressive baserunning found Austin Byler out by a couple feet at third after he tried gaining an extra 90 feet on Jordan Pearce’s one-out single. Catcher Jordan Devencenzi grounded out to end the seventh inning with Pearce left on first.
And in what would have tied the game in the eighth, Brooks tried scoring on Meyer’s double off the left-field wall but was thrown out at the plate for the second out. After a walk loaded the bases, SDSU closer Marcus Reyes needed only one pitch to get Byler to ground out at first.
“I don’t remember one time when we struggled getting back into the game,” Brooks said. “Normally, we have our hearts in the game. We’re just trying to get the next guy up and compete.”
Nevada looked like it would avoid a first-inning scare when Seby Zavala flied out on the first pitch after Steven Pallares singled to lead off and France walked. But facing a 2-1 count, Spencer Thornton smacked a double to the left-center gap to give the Aztecs a 2-0 lead.
In the bottom of the first, Byler helped cut into the deficit by singling to right field to drive in Brooks, who reached on a double. Meyer, who walked, stole home on a double steal to tie the game at 2 and then Byler scored on an errant throw from the catcher that sailed into the outfield, giving Nevada its first lead of the tournament at 3-2.
The long ball put SDSU back in front in the third when Danny Sheehan blasted a solo shot to left field on a full count and then Zavala followed with a two-run bomb to straightaway center to give the Aztecs a 5-3 lead. Zavala’s two-run home run knocked starter Evan McMahan out of the game.
Byler added another RBI as he lifted a home run to centerfield on a 2-1 count in the bottom of the third to bring Nevada to within a run at 5-4. With runners on second and third and two outs, Devencenzi grounded out to end the threat.
Nevada retook the lead in the fifth as Pearce smacked a two-run double to the wall as it led 6-5.
The Aztecs, though, came back in the next frame with a solo blast by Andrew Brown off reliever Jason Deitrich. Carson High grad Adam Whitt, the team’s closer, bailed Nevada out of a bases-loaded jam by inducing a 6-4-3 double play to end the sixth.
Whitt ran into trouble in the eighth after pitching a scoreless seventh.
SDSU broke the tie with its fourth home run of the game, a two-run blast from Justin Wylie, which ended Whitt’s night as he was dealt with the loss. Nevada came back with an RBI double from Meyer in the bottom half to trim the deficit to one before Zavala hit his second home run of the game.
“They’re a good team. What are you going to do? They hit five, six home runs,” Brooks said. “That’s tough to overcome. The fact that we were close to overcoming that is a great thing for us. I’ve never played with a team with this much pride and brotherhood. It’s a great feeling.”