Big-time series against New Mexico on deck
Something was different at UNLV’s practice on Wednesday.
As media from all over town were around snapping pictures of Erick Fedde and holding interviews with head coach Tim Chambers, there was a look of confidence on the faces of every player.
This doesn’t sound like something typical of a team that’s in the midst of a five-game losing streak and coming off of a weekend in which they were swept by last-place Air Force.
The Rebels (25-15 overall, 13-8 Mountain West) were swept by the Falcons (15-25, 5-13) for the first time since 1970 this past weekend, and by the sound of things, one could never tell.
“It happens,” said third baseman T.J. White. “It’s a long season and we knew we’d hit a patch like this eventually. We’ll be fine.”
UNLV hasn’t waivered all year. When swept at Tennessee, the Rebels won six in a row and nine of their next 10. After back-to-back losses at San Jose State and Cal State Fullerton, UNLV won 10 of its next 13.
But never once this season have the Rebels been on a losing streak like they face now. Never, during any one loss out of their previous 12 have they lost first place in the Mountain West.
“It’s disappointing,” Chambers said. “To be honest, though, the coaches were the ones pouting more about the losses than the players. My boys’ faith never once wavered in one another.”
One reason the Rebels may be struggling as of late are the riggers of an arduous schedule. UNLV has played one home series since March 25 and only four home series’ all year.
The stretch of nine straight road games, traveling from West to East, taps into anyone’s ability to play effectively, Chambers acknowledged.
“We don’t want to make that an excuse,” he said. “We’re tired, but we went into Air Force thinking it’d be an easy win, coaches included.”
The Rebels had arguably their best offensive series of the year against the Falcons. Nine different players recorded multiple hits in the three games, including a team-high of 43 to Air Force’s 39.
The Falcons were red-hot coming into the three-game stanza with UNLV, having won five out of their last six. With the sweep, they now have won eight of their last nine, yet are still nowhere near contention in the conference.
During the Rebels’ five-game skid, they lost sole possession of first place in the conference. That honor now sits in the familiar hands of New Mexico. Before its loss to Air Force, UNLV was a half-game back of the Lobos for first.
The Rebels now sit four-and-a-half games back. They get a chance to right the wrong, however, as their next series at Earl E. Wilson Stadium this weekend is against those very Lobos.
New Mexico is scorching hot right now, peaking at exactly the right time. The Lobos have won nine in a row and 12 of their last 13. UNLV took the series from New Mexico in the Lobos den March 7-8, with its sole loss coming in the bottom of the 12th inning of game three.
“It’s a huge series,” said starting pitcher Bryan Bonnell. “We know what’s on the line and so do they. If we can win two or even sweep, we’ll be right back in it.”
The starting pitching, despite giving up 31 runs over three games, has never been more confident.
The Rebels would like to sweep, but with a remaining schedule that includes Clemson (twice) James Madison, Arizona State, San Diego State (series) and Nevada-Reno (series), just winning the series’ in each of those will ensure a postseason berth.
UNLV’s Ratings Percentage Index, which opened up at No. 13, still sits in the top-30 (No. 30), and securing victories in the majority of those games will only increase the RPI.
Since the slide, UNLV dropped out of the Baseball America rankings from its No. 20 spot, but rankings are the last things on the team’s mind.
“We’re going to come in to the game ready, pitch well and hit well,” Bonnell said. “New Mexico is in for a rude awakening.”