Rebels hoping last year’s success carries over to 2014
There are few things more daunting to a team than having to live up to the pressure that’s put on them before the start of a season. Most teams scurry away from questions pertaining to those expectations.
But not UNLV. Not this team. Led by their savvy, experienced head coach Tim Chambers, the Rebel baseball team could not be more eager to show not only Las Vegas, but the entire country that dealing with the pressure of having a successful season is a challenge they look forward to.
Despite their non-conference schedule being as tough as they come, Chambers’ confidence in his ball club trickles down from the veteran seniors to the youngest players. Returning INF/OF Patrick Armstrong, who led the team with a .373 batting average last season, acknowledges that the team couldn’t be more prepared even with a tough schedule.
“We like it,” Armstrong said. “We think we have a shot against anybody, so we’re not intimidated by anyone on the mound.”
The non-conference schedule sees the Rebels playing multiple top-25 teams mostly on the road, including preseason No. 1 Cal State Fullerton. UNLV won 37 games last season, but it wasn’t enough to get the Rebels into the College World Series because their Ratings Percentage Index was too low.
That won’t be an issue this year.
“I promised these kids when I recruited them that we were going to play the top teams in the country,” Chambers said. “That’s what we’re going to do. We may not even have to win 37 games this year to get [into the CWS].”
The talk has been about the Rebels preseason Second-Team All-American Erick Fedde. The right-handed pitcher and unquestioned Ace of this ballclub, Fedde has become the face of the club, but the guys behind him are no slouches.
John Richy, a 6-foot-4, 220-pound RHP, throws in the mid-90’s like Fedde, and has established his role as the No. 2 pitcher in the rotation.
“Richy has stepped up and is competing with [Fedde],” Chambers said. “Both are over 95 miles per hour, but John Richy is pressing him and they both workout together.”
Making a deep run at any level in baseball is difficult without the support of a solid rotation. Outside of Fedde and Richy, the back-end has shown promise and are more than willing to carry the load.
“As a staff, we’re in really good shape,” Richy said. “We’ve got a lot of depth this year with [Kenny] Oakley and [Bryan] Bonnell, our bullpen has a lot of depth as well, so we’re going to be in pretty good shape as far as pitching goes.”
If there’s one thing that may hinder UNLV, it’s the fact the Rebels aren’t a very good power-hitting team.
Brandon Bayardi led the team in home runs last year with 11, but he’s gone. The rest of the team, collectively, hit 13.
“UCLA won the national championship [last year] and they had one extra-base hit in the College World Series,” Chambers said. “I’m more concerned with us executing the short game, but we’re going to hit more home runs than people think.”
All the pressure, all the accolades and all the chatter stops Friday at Earl E. Wilson Stadium as the Rebels open up against Central Michigan.
The Chippewas aren’t a team to be taken lightly. Kent State, a team that made the CWS last season, plays in the same conference and CMU and was picked to win the Mid-Athletic Conference.
Whatever team UNLV faces, the public will be watching. But with a solid pitching staff, a good defense and a fast offense, the Rebels look to make some noise.
And they should feel confident, especially with the success they had last year. Even though the Rebels lost a great deal of talent to the MLB Draft, plenty of talent remains at UNLV.
“I’ve been coaching for 26 years,” Chambers said. “I don’t usually talk this way, but we’re pretty good.”