Graham, Butler power Wolf Pack
RENO – Freshman outfielder Austin Graham comes to the ballpark each game hoping, not expecting, to start.
If he continues his torrid hitting, he’ll make it almost impossible for Nevada coach Gary Powers not to pencil his name in the lineup from now on.
Graham, who starred at Douglas High, hit what proved to be a game-winning homer in the seventh inning to spark a four-run rally and help the Wolf Pack to a 10-8 victory over Fresno State in a Western Athletic Conference baseball game Saturday at Peccole Park.
The win was Nevada’s (20-17, 6-5) season-high sixth straight. Nevada goes for its second straight series sweep today at 1 p.m., as Ryan Rodriquez opposes FSU’s Brandon Miller.
Graham’s 2-for-4 performance makes him the team’s leading hitter at .367. Pretty impressive for a guy who barely saw the field the first few weeks of the season. He said that he’s never hit this many homers in such a short span of time.
“I feel pretty good,” said Graham, who has homered in three of the last four games. “It’s a lot different than it was at the beginning of the season. I’ve changed a couple of things in my swing. I wasn’t getting my front foot down quick enough, and that’s helped me see the ball better.”
Nevada coach Gary Powers said he’s been happy with Graham’s work ethic and patience.
“This is a result of all the hard work he’s put in,” Powers said. “He bided his time well. He’s worked a lot in the batting cage. He’s starting to become a consistent hitter for us.
“This was a good team win. A lot of different people had to come up big for us.”
Besides Graham, you would have to put right fielder Jacob Butler and reliever Patrick Mason at the top of that list.
Butler, who extended his hitting streak to a career and season-high 14 games went 3-for-5 and drove in three runs to raise his average to .360. He gave Nevada a 1-0 lead in the first with his ninth homer, and tied the game at 6-all with a two-run homer, his 10th round-tripper of the season.
“I’m seeing the ball pretty good,” Butler said. “I haven’t changed much in my swing. “I’ve been a slow starter for as long as I can remember. At the beginning of the year, I was pressing too much.”
Nevada snapped a 6-all tie in the seventh, scoring four times.
Butler doubled and took third on a passed ball. FSU reliever Rudy Quinonez got two quick outs, and the Wolf Pack were in danger of stranding the go-ahead run. Quinonez was pulled in favor of lefty Jason Ball to face the left-handed Joe Mercer of Carson High, who went 2-for-2 to raise his average to .363 and scored three times. On the second pitch to Mercer, Ball threw one to the backstop, allowing Butler to score. Mercer eventually drew a walk. Matt Garza came on and gave up Graham’s towering homer to left to make it 9-6. Carlos Madrid followed with a homer to make it 10-6.
Fresno State scored twice in the ninth off reliever Bryan Johnson, who picked up his first save of the season.
Mason gave the Wolf Pack its second straight solid pitching performance of the series, following on the heels of Travis Sutton’s four-hit, eight-inning effort on Friday in a 20-2 win. Mason scattered five hits and gave up just two runs in six innings of work en route to his fourth win in seven decisions, and admits he’s more comfortable in his new role.
“I was really rocked at the start (of the season),” said the left-handed Mason. “Right now working out of the bullpen I feel confident. I feel more confident coming into situations with runners on the bases. I had to take control of the game; stabilize the game and take their momentum away.”
“Patrick did a nice job,” Powers said. “He gave us a chance to get back in the game and a chance to win. Adam struggled with his control, and then started to do more than he was capable of doing.”
Contact Darrell Moody at email@example.com or 881-1281.