Gardner seals win for Pack
April 14, 2012
RENO – Matt Gardner refused to allow history to repeat itself.
“Yesterday (Friday afternoon) obviously was a tough one for me,” the Nevada Wolf Pack reliever said after nailing down Saturday’s 7-4 victory over the Louisiana Tech Bulldogs at Peccole Park. “This one was much better.”
Gardner entered Friday’s 3-2 victory over the Bulldogs with a 3-0 lead to start the ninth inning. He proceeded to walk the first two hitters and was promptly taken out of the game by coach Gary Powers.
“I was in there trying to throw the ball 105 miles an hour,” said Gardner of his wild 11-pitch effort on Friday, “when I can only throw it 85-88.”
Powers went right back to Gardner with the game on the line on Saturday.
“That’s his job,” Powers said. “He’s earned that respect from me.”
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It was like Friday afternoon all over again as Gardner entered the game to start the ninth inning with a three-run lead (this time 7-4). And the first two Bulldogs hitters — Bre’Shon Kimbell and Austin Hedges — were also the first (and only) hitters Gardner faced on Friday.
“After (Friday’s game) I sat down with Coach Buddy (Gouldsmith) and we watched some film and I straightened out a few things I was doing wrong,” Gardner said. “It made a big difference.”
This time Gardner fanned Kimbell to start the ninth. He did walk Hedges but recovered nicely by striking out Kyle Arnsberg and getting Justin Gordey to bounce out to shortstop to end the game.
“I just tried to throw 85-88 and stayed within myself,” Gardner said. “If that’s the type of pitcher I am, then that’s what I have to do.”
The Pack closer now has eight saves this season and 14 for his two-year career. Just two Pack pitchers (Rico Lagattuta with 10 in 1995 and Zac Basch with nine in 2003) have ever had more saves in a season and just two (Lagattuta with 24 and Luke Drakulich with 15) have ever had more in a career.
“As many times as he goes out there, there are going to be days when it’s just not meant to be,” Powers said. “(Friday) was just one of those days. He just wasn’t the same guy he normally is.”
Powers said the difference between Gardner on Friday and Saturday was simple.
“He wasn’t out there trying to throw the ball through the backstop,” Powers said.
The Wolf Pack, which will concludes its three-game series against the Bulldogs today at 1 p.m., has now won two games in a row to improve to 18-16 overall and 3-2 in the Western Athletic Conference. The Bulldogs fell to 17-18, 1-4.
“We had to do some nice things to hold the lead and win this game,” Powers said. “We did that and that was nice to see. We had to make some good pitches to hold them off again.”
Tyler Wells went 6.2 innings for his third win of the year against three losses. The freshman left-hander allowed eight hits and four runs (three earned) while striking out three and walking four. Powers lifted him after he walked Arnsberg to load the bases with two outs in the seventh inning. Colby Blueberg came on to end the threat by striking out Gordey.
Beau Bayliss hit a two-out, two-run home run in the fourth inning off Wells that gave Louisiana Tech a 3-0 lead. The Pack left-hander was seemingly in trouble in every inning but the second when he retired the Bulldogs in order on just seven pitches. He walked a hitter in the first, third, fifth and seventh innings, hit one in the fourth inning and allowed two hits in the sixth.
“He (Wells) did a nice job but he was his own worse enemy, walking guys and giving up two-out runs,” Powers said.
The Wolf Pack had a two-out rally of its own in the fourth inning to cut the Bulldogs’ lead to 3-2. Catcher Carlos Escobar drilled a two-run, two-out double off the left-center field fence to score Austin Byler and Garrett Yrigoyen.
The Pack then took a 5-3 lead with three runs in the fifth off Louisiana Tech starter Phil Maton. Jay Anderson and Kyle Hunt opened the inning with singles and Tommy Niebergall followed with a run-scoring bloop double to left field. Kewby Meyer broke a 3-3 tie later in the inning with a two-run ground ball single down the line past third base.
Escobar, who had three hits and three RBI, also drove in a run with a two-out single in the seventh inning for a 6-4 lead. Niebergall ripped his third double of the game to drive in Jamison Rowe in the eighth for a 7-4 lead.
“I just found the line,” said Niebergall of his double that stayed inside the first base line to score Rowe. “I was just reacting to the inside pitch and I turned on it.”
Niebergall, who now has five doubles in his last nine at-bats on Friday and Saturday after getting just one in his first 27 at-bats this season, had three hits to up his average to .361 (13-for-36).
“We feel good about winning these first two games of this series but we also know the job is not done,” Niebergall said. “We have to come out again (on Sunday) with the same mental approach.”