Nevada likes its chances at home |

Nevada likes its chances at home

Appeal Sports Writer

RENO – Nevada has been playing some of its best baseball of the season in the last three weeks, and is tough to beat at Peccole Park.

That’s why the Wolf Pack has an outstanding chance to win the Western Athletic Conference Tournament which gets under way today at 11 a.m. with three games scheduled. The winner of the tournament gets the WAC’s automatic bid into the NCAA Tournament.

Nevada, seeded second, plays Hawai’i tonight at 7. Conference champion Fresno State kicks off the tournament at 11 a.m. against Sacramento State, and third-seeded Louisiana tech faces fourth-seeded San Jose State.

Nevada, which won 12 of its last 17 games, was 21-6 this year on its home field.

Nevada coach Gary Powers is the first to admit that playing at home is an advantage because his team is playing in front of what is expected to be a partisan crowd, the players can sleep in their own beds and they have confidence playing on their home diamond.

“It’s huge,” Louisiana Tech coach Wade Simoneaux said when asked the advantage of hosting a tournament. “I’d love to be playing at our home field. You are used to the surroundings, climate and field conditions. Nevada is really good on their field. They know when to take chances on balls. Our guys didn’t know whether the ball would scoot or stick when they were out there. Some of our guys overran the ball when it was in the gap.

“If I had to pick somebody (to win) besides us, I’d have to take them. They play really well at home. There are four teams that could win this tournament (Nevada, Tech, Fresno State and Hawai’i). It all has to do with pitching. It’s who can piece it (pitching) together for three or four days in a row.”

This is certainly a different Nevada team that enters the tournament this year.

The Pack has plenty of balance offenseively with six of its nine starters hitting .300 or better, and a seventh at .297. It’s a team that manufactures runs more than it did last year when power-hitting Shawn Scobee was in the lineup. It’s also full of players who have fared well in whatever roles Powers has asked them to play.

“It’s a totally different team,” Powers said. “It executes well and takes advantage of run-scoring opportunities. We get a runner on second, we find a way to move him to third so he can score on a groundball. Last year we had one guy hit 20 homers and drive in 80 (Scobee). Our field plays differently. It hasn’t been just one or two guys this year. Everybody has been contributing.

“We haven’t had as many distractions. I think we have been playing together more. The kids care about one another. We haven’t had to overcome things (trouble) from the inside. We’re all on the same page.”

Shaun Kort (.398), Terry Walsh (.374) and Konrad Schmidt (.364) have been the biggest power guys, combining for 18 of the 28 homers in the starting line-up along with 120 RBI. The other six starters combined for 10 homers and 138 RBI.

As Powers said, however, the rest of the starters have had their moments. Jason Sadoian (.297) has settled into the leadoff spot, and both David Ciarlo and Jason Rodriguez have delievered some big hits in the last three weeks of the conference season.

Nevada is also in better shape from a pitching point of view than it was a year ago. Last year, Nevada went into the tournament with two proven starters – Tim Schoeninger and Ryan Rodriguez – and when it got to the semis there simply wasn’t enough pitching to get by Fresno State and Hawai’i (for a second time).

This year, Rodriguez has posted a respectable 8-6 record and an ERA under 4. Save for a brutal first inning last weekend against San Jose State, Rodney Scurry had pitched well in two of his previous starts, including a win over Hawai’i, and Kyle Howe has won his last two starts, including a win over Hawai’i.

Nevada has to be confident entering today’s game based on its three-game sweep of the Rainbows in Nevada two weeks ago. Nevada outscored Hawai’i 19-10 in the three-game series, averaging 10 hits a game. Nevada won four of the six contests against Hawai’i this season.

Hawai’i has some dangerous hitters of its own in Kris Sanchez (.364), Justin Frash (.357) and Brandon Haislet (.330).

The Rainbows have three solid starters in Ian Harrington (7-7), Matt Daly (5-2) and Marc Rodrigues (9-3).

Here’s a capsule look at the other five teams in the tournament with conference stats only for Louisiana Tech and Sacramento State, and full stats for the rest of the teams:

Fresno State (17-7, 1st place)

Coach: Mike Batesole

Probable starters: C Dan Grubb (.268, 3 HR, 22), 1B Alan Ahmady (.303, 7 HR, 25 RBI), 2B Erik Wetzel (.353, 0 HR, 30 RBI), SS Todd Sandell (.280, 6 HR, 26 RBI), 3B Tommy Mendonca (.280, 9 HR, 34 RBI), LF Steve Susdorf (.353, 11 HR, 63 RBI), CF Brian Lapin (.323, 4 HR, 43 RBI), RF Loren Storey (.330, 7 HR, 35 RBI), DH Ozzie Lewis (.291, 7 HR, 35 RBI).

Starting pitchers: Clayton Allison (9-4, 4.45), Justin Wilson (7-5, 3.20), Brandon Burke or Tanner Scheppers.

Nevada (15-9, 2nd place)

Coach: Gary Powers

Probable starters: C Konrad Schmidt (.364, 8 HR, 46 RBI), 1B Shaun Kort (.398, 5 HR, 47 RBI), 2B David Ciarlo (.270, 3 HR, 32 RBI), SS Chris Siewert (.282, 2 HR, 29 RBI), 3B Jason Rodriguez (.307, 2 HR, 31 RBI), LF Terry Walsh (.374, 5 HR, 27 RBI), CF Jason Sadoian (.297, 16 RBI), RF Mike Hale (.305, 16 RBI), DH Baker Krukow (.312, 3 HR, 24 RBI).

Louisiana Tech (14-10, 3rd place)

Coach: Wade Simoneaux

Probable starters: C Matt Combs (.152, 0 HR, 3 RBI), 1B Albie Goulder (.397, 7 HR, 21 RBI), 2B Drew Bunting (.327, 6 HR, 22 RBI), SS Dennis Winn (.389, 5 HR, 13 RBI), 3B Courtney Jones (.261, 3 HR, 14 RBI), LF Brian Rike (.370, 9 HR, 28 RBI), CF Adam Cobb (.264, HR 8 RBI), RF Jericho Jones (.268, 0 HR, 7 RBI), DH Brandon Hudson (.329, 2 HR, 17 RBI)

Starting pitchers: Dylan Mosely (3-2, 4.43), Luke Burnett (3-4, 5.26), Ryan Rupert (3-2, 6.80)

San Jose State Spartans (11-13, 4th place)

Coach: Sam Piraro

Probable starters: C Justin Santich-Hughes (.263, 19 RBI), 1B Sonny Garza (.266, 21 RBI), 2B Marcus McKimmy (.337, 6 HR, 41 RBI), SS Kyle Bellows (.337, 4 HR, 44 RBI), 3B Karson Klauer (.267, HR, 17 RBI), LF Chris Balatico (.357, HR, 26 RBI), CF Brian Yocke (.358, 11 RBI), RF Donato Giovanatto (.358, 6 HR, 51 RBI), DH Ryan Angel (.302, 6 HR, 42 RBI).

Starting pitchers: Scott Sobczak (5-2, 4.13), Steven Vidal (5-4, 5.08), Loren Moneypenny (3-10, 5.22)

Hawaii Rainbows (11-13, 5th place)

Coach: Mike Trapasso

Probable starters: C Landon Hernandez (.294, 2 HR, 23 RBI), 1B Kris Sanchez (.364, 10 HR, 63 RBI), 2B Jon Hee (.337, 20 RBI), SS Eli Christensen (.325, HR, 22 RBI), 3B Justin Frash (.357, 3 HR, 34 RBI), LF Derek DuPree (.285, 18 RBI), CF Brandon Haislet (.330, 4 HR, 38 RBI), RF Kevin MacDonald (.285, HR, 13 RBI), DH Vinnie Catricala (.304, 2 HR, 25 RBI).

Sacramento State (10-14, 6th place)

Coach: John Smith

Probable starters: C Travis Kirkman (.241, 0 HR, 3 RBI), 1B Gabe Jacobo (.363, 6 HR, 16 RBI), 2B Gary Johnson (.232, 0 HR, 2 RBI), SS Patrick Cummins (.215, 0 HR, 4 RBI), 3B David Fores (.313, 3 HR, 12 RBI), LF Ryan Blair (.314, HR, 7 RBI), CF Tim Wheeler (.352, 5 HR, 19 RBI), RF Montana Dye (.329, 5 HR 19 RBI), DH Wes Oberlin (.333, 0 HR, 2 RBI).