Baseball: Wolf Pack win second straight | NevadaAppeal.com

Baseball: Wolf Pack win second straight

JOE SANTORO
For the Nevada Appeal

The Nevada Wolf Pack baseball team is finally on a winning streak.

The Pack, which lost its first nine games this season, won its second in a row on Friday, beating the Pacific Tigers, 10-6, at Peccole Park in front of 397 fans.

“On Tuesday (a 3-2 victory at UC Davis) we got great pitching and today (Friday) we swung the bats,” Pack coach Gary Powers said. “When you score runs like we did today it just makes it easier on everyone.”

Powers, in his 29th season as Pack head coach, is now 74-32 against Pacific in his career.

“Hitting is contagious,” said Powers of a Wolf Pack offense that produced 14 hits. “When you score some runs it takes the pressure off everyone.”

The Wolf Pack, now 2-9, put the game away with three runs in the bottom of the eighth, breaking open a close (7-6 Pack lead) game.

Hugo Hernandez singled to start the inning and Nick Melino walked with two outs to keep it alive. Pinch-runner Jamison Rowe scored on a fielder’s choice off the bat of Brian Barnett and Garrett Yrigoyen followed with a two-run triple for the 10-6 lead.

Matt Gardner, who has not allowed an earned run over 5.2 innings and five appearances this year, pitched a scoreless ninth inning to secure the victory.

Relievers Mat Keplinger, Tyler Rogstad and Gardner combined to pitch the last two innings and didn’t allow a run. Jayson McClaren allowed three runs and four hits in three innings to pick up his first victory of the season.

“All those guys did a nice job,” said Powers of his bullpen. “We’re starting to develop some depth on our pitching staff.”

The Wolf Pack starters are also starting to round into shape. Jeremy Cole made his second start of the year and went four innings. The 6-foot right-handed senior allowed three runs (two earned), eight hits and three walks in lowering his earned run average this year to 4.63.

“He’s starting to get back in shape,” Powers said. “He still doesn’t have his command yet but by the time conference play starts (April 15 at Fresno State) he’ll be ready to go.”

Cole allowed two runs in the fourth as Pacific broke a scoreless tie. The Pack, though, responded immediately with five runs of their own in the bottom of the fourth to take a 5-2 lead.

Brock Stassi opened the inning with his first home run of the year. Nick Melino, Barnett and Yrigoyen all followed with singles. Michael Turay brought home Melino with a sacrifice fly and Carlos Escobar drove in Barnett with a single. The fourth run of the inning scored as freshman Braden Shipley grounded into a double play.

Pacific, now 3-9 on the year, took a 6-5 lead with four runs off Cole and McClaren in the fifth. The Pack, though, responded immediately once again with two runs in the bottom of the fifth to take a 7-6 lead. Melino singled and later scored on a wild pitch and Escobar, who is now hitting .375 (9-for-24), doubled in a run in the inning.

“That was huge,” said Powers of the way the Pack took the lead right back twice. “That shows a lot of character to get those leads back.

“The key was that we weren’t down by eight runs like we seemed to always be those first nine games. We were only down one and two runs.”

Cole blanked Pacific over the first three innings. The only other time this season the Pack starting pitcher had pitched three shutout innings to start the game was Tuesday at UC Davis by Timothy Culligan.

It’s no coincidence, Powers said, that those two games ended up in victories. Over the first nine games — all losses — the Pack allowed an average of 4.7 runs in the first three innings.

“It makes a big difference when you’re not out of the game by the second inning like we were in a lot of those games,” Powers said.

The heart of the Pack batting order — Stassi, Melino and Barnett — were a combined 5-for-11 with six runs scored. Stassi is now hitting .222 this year, Melino is at .293 and Barnett is hitting .214.

“They are starting to take a little pressure off themselves,” Powers said. “We talked about that. They were going up there trying to hit an eight-run home run every time up. Now they are more relaxed and not trying to do too much.”