Saturday, May 24, 2014 | 10:35 p.m.
There would be no miracle rally tonight, and as a result top-seeded UNLV baseball will play No. 3 seed San Diego State for the third straight day at 1 p.m. Sunday. This time, the Mountain West tournament title is on the line for both teams.
UNLV could have clinched its first tournament title since 2005 with a victory, but the Rebels looked shaky from the start, falling behind in the fourth and allowing 11 hits in a 9-1 defeat that leaves each squad with one loss in the double-elimination tournament.
“They certainly outplayed us, (had more energy) and acted like they wanted it a little more than we did,” UNLV manager Tim Chambers said.
Sunday’s winner earns the Mountain West’s automatic bid to an NCAA regional site.
The Rebels struck first, pushing catcher Erik VanMeetren across the plate in the bottom of the second. SDSU countered with a run in the top of the third and then blew the game open with seven runs over the middle three innings.
The Aztecs’ fourth inning did the most damage. Rebels starter Kenny Oakley allowed four runs on three hits with a hit by pitch, a walk and a wild pitch for good measure. UNLV’s defense didn’t help its pitcher, though.
SDSU center fielder Greg Allen stepped up with the bases loaded and started the rally with a two-RBI single and then advanced to second ahead of VanMeetren’s throw. That toss gave Ryan Muno enough time to run home from third.
The next hit brought Allen in to score, and a late throw toward home plate allowed Tim Zier to easily advance to second, although he would be stranded there.
After Friday night’s comeback, in which UNLV tied the game on a three-run homer in the eighth and then won on a walk-off double, a four-run deficit seemed surmountable. But SDSU starting pitcher Brett Seeburger helped stifle any possible rally in the bottom of the fourth by picking off VanMeetren at first base and then continued to perplex the Rebels’ batters.
Seeburger (4-0) went 8.1 innings, allowing one run on seven hits while striking out six. Oakley was chased after allowing seven runs, six of them earned, in five innings.
Chambers said he didn’t yet know whom he would start at pitcher but added that Thursday starter John Richy could likely appear for an inning. No matter what the Rebels do on the mound, they’re going to have to improve at the plate.
“The bottom line is we’re going to have to swing the bats better than we did,” Chambers said. “We hit some balls good, but two-thirds of the Earth’s covered by water and the other by (Allen).”
UNLV is likely heading to a regional no matter what happens Sunday afternoon. Still, the team that plays like it has the most on the line might be the one that settles this three-game series.
“They think they have to win it to get (a regional). I don’t think we have to win, but certainly we didn’t try to lose the game,” Chambers said. “We don’t want to see a dogpile on our field tomorrow.”