Niemann shuts down Wolf Pack
RENO – There’s still two more days of this remaining for the University of Nevada baseball team.
Nevada was no match for defending national champion Rice or Jeff Niemann on Friday in a 16-1 loss at Peccole Park. The Wolf Pack came out passive both offensive and defensive and paid the price.
The Wolf Pack could only muster two hits against Niemann and three hits for the game. Carson High graduate Joe Mercer had one of the hits off of Niemann again batting cleanup. Mercer went 1-for-3 with a walk and is now hitting .358 (20-for-56) on the season.
“We created our own demise,” Nevada coach Gary Powers said. “We didn’t play defense when we had our opportunities to help our pitchers out. They took advantage of it. We were way too passive.”
Powers, though, stopped short of saying his team was intimidated. “I don’t know about that. I don’t think we had the right mentality to compete.”
It won’t get any easier for the Wolf Pack (14-15, 1-3 in the Western Athletic Conference). Niemann is a sure first round draft choice and he will be followed by two other likely first round picks on the mound, Philip Humber today and Wade Townsend on Sunday. By contrast, Powers didn’t even know who he was going to start today after Friday’s game.
Niemann used a fastball that reached up to 94 miles an hour to get ahead of Nevada hitters and then toyed with them with his curveball and slider. Niemann allowed one unearned run through seven innings while striking out nine, six coming with Wolf Pack batters looking.
Garrett Pennington pitched two scoreless innings and struck out one, extending the Rice pitching staff’s streak of having at least 10 strikeouts to nine straight games.
“He out-competed our hitters,” said Powers about Niemann. “Good pitchers aren’t going to do it for you. He got two strikes and came right at us with his curveball and we didn’t compete against it.”
Travis Sutton got off to a strong start for Nevada, striking out two in a one-two-three first innings on nine pitches and pitching two scoreless innings. But Rice struck for five runs in the third and six runs in the fourth, although it wasn’t all Sutton’s fault.
Sutton would have likely gotten out of the third unscathed had Nevada turned what should have been an easy double play. Sutton then walked two, forcing in a run and followed by hanging a 1-2 curveball to Adam Rodgers, who sat in his chair and belted a grand slam home run to make it 5-0.
In the bottom of the third, the Wolf Pack scored an unearned run when Erick Streelman reached on a two-base error and scored on Brett Hayes’ single. After Hayes hit, Niemann retired the last 13 batters he faced as Nevada didn’t get a hit until Jacob Butler singled in the ninth.
“We weren’t being aggressive in the count,” Nevada’s Bub Madrid said. “Once he gets ahead, you’re at his mercy.”
About Niemann’s fastball, Madrid said, “It’s easier hitting than the slider he throws.” Madrid promised a different Nevada team would show up today. “We’re definitely going to come out more aggressive.”
Rice’s six-run fourth to take an 11-1 lead was assisted by two errors and highlighted by Chris Colkhorst’s two-run triple. Sutton allowed eight earned runs through four innings.
“We gave them more than three outs in both innings,” said Madrid about the third and fourth. “They’re going to make you pay for it. You’ve got to get your outs when you can.”
Rice (22-6, 9-1) poured it on in the ninth when it scored four runs. The rally was capped by Travis Reagan’s three-run home that made it 16-1.