Pack wins, alone in first in WAC
For the Nevada Appeal
RENO – The Nevada Wolf Pack is all alone on top of the Western Athletic Conference baseball standings.
“It feels good,” Pack coach Gary Powers said after a 5-4 victory over the San Jose State Spartans Saturday afternoon at Peccole Park. “But we still have a lot of baseball left to play.”
Powers’ Pack, though, are right where they want to be with four games remaining in the regular season. The Pack leads the WAC at 9-5, just ahead of Sacramento State (10-7), Hawaii (8-6), New Mexico State (8-7), Louisiana Tech and Fresno State (both 6-9) and San Jose State (5-9). Each team will play 18 league games with six of the seven teams qualifying for the WAC tournament in Mesa, Ariz., May 23-27.
The Wolf Pack, now 29-21, also secured a winning season with the victory through the postseason.
“To finish first would be huge for us,” said Matt Gardner, who got the final out in relief of starter Tom Jameson for his school-record 11th save of the season. “But the league is very tight right now and we know we have to keep grinding away.”
Nobody battled his way through Saturday’s game harder than Jameson. The senior right-hander allowed four runs (all earned) on seven hits through the first two innings but somehow still found himself on the mound with two outs in the ninth inning.
“It was a struggle, that’s for sure,” said Jameson, who earned the victory to improve to 7-2. “I was thinking I was going to be out of there by the fourth inning.”
Jameson, though he seemed to be in trouble every inning, found a way to blank the Spartans from the third inning through the eighth on just four hits.
“I finally found two pitches that were working,” said Jameson, who walked one and struck out one and threw 105 pitches before leaving with two runners on base and two outs in the ninth. “Those first couple innings all I had was my fastball and that wasn’t even working most of the time.”
Jameson, who found his split-finger fastball along about the third inning, was helped along by three double plays in the first three innings.
“The whole day was a battle for me,” said Jameson, who had gone seven consecutive starts before Saturday without allowing more than two earned runs.
Third baseman Garrett Yrigoyen made an outstanding play toward the line for the first out in the third inning. Shortstop Kyle Hunt ended the fifth inning with a runner on second with a nice play behind the bag and did the same to end the seventh. Catcher Carlos Escobar also helped Jameson by throwing out a Spartan runner trying to steal second in the eighth. Jameson also helped his cause in the eighth by throwing a runner out at second on a sacrifice bunt attempt.
“That was really a gutsy effort,” said Powers of Jameson. “No doubt about that.”
Jameson didn’t allow more than one base runner in an inning from the fifth through the eighth and was one out away from his second complete game of the year in the ninth before allowing two singles.
“Baseball is a funny game that way,” Powers said. “In the past he might not have recovered from a start like that. But he has really matured.”
The Wolf Pack scored a pair of runs in the third inning on a two-run single by Kewby Meyer to cut the Spartans lead to 4-2. Run-scoring singles by Escobar and Jay Anderson tied the game at 4-4 in the sixth.
The Pack pushed across the go-ahead run in the seventh on singles by Meyer, Yrigoyen and Brooks Klein off hard-throwing reliever Zack Jones (now 3-4).
“He throws pretty hard,” said Klein of Jones, whose fastball was clocked on Saturday at around 95 miles per hour. “He’s one of the hardest throwers we’ve seen this year.”
The Pack, though, didn’t have any problems making contact against the Spartans reliever. Jamison Rowe also doubled off Jones in the eighth.
“It’s a lot of fun when a guy is challenging you like that,” said Klein, who had three hits to lift his average to a team-best .352.
Klein’s single gave Jameson a chance for a victory and the 6-foot-7 right-hander didn’t argue when Powers came to the mound to remove him from the game with two outs and two runners on base in the ninth.
“No, it was time,” Jameson said. “I wanted to finish it but I knew it was time. I just said to (Gardner), ‘Pick me up. ‘ And that’s what he did.”
Gardner was coming off a disastrous performance on Tuesday when he failed to protect a six-run lead with two outs in the ninth inning in an eventual 9-8 win over UC Davis.
“I put that in the past,” Gardner said. “But it was good to get out there. I was hoping they would put me out there on Friday (in a 4-1 win over the Spartans). I live for those high-intensity situations.”
Gardner retired San Jose State’s Caleb Natov on a ground ball to Meyer at first base for the final out. Meyer, though, moved to his right to field the ball and the left-hander first looked to end the game with a force out at second. But he changed his mind and threw to Gardner, covering first, narrowly getting Natov for the final out.
“I didn’t know what he was doing,” said Gardner. “I kept yelling at him, ‘I’m here, I’m here.'” I’m glad he threw it to me.”
Gardner now owns the Wolf Pack record for saves in a season with 11, ahead of Rico Lagattuta (1995) and Tyler Graham (2010) at 10. He is also second in school history in career saves with 17, behind Lagattuta (24 from 1993-96).
“The ninth inning is my inning,” Gardner said. “I understand why they keep rolling our starters out there in the ninth because they’ve been doing a great job but I always want to be out there.”
The Wolf Pack, which will wrap up their regular season with three games at Hawaii starting on Thursday, will conclude their three-game series with San Jose State on Sunday at 1 p.m. The seven active seniors on the roster — Joe Kohan, Troy Marks, Jayson McClaren, Bryan Suarez, Tim Culligan, Gardner and Yrigoyen — will be honored before the game.