Peter Lockley, NCAA Photos
Sunday, May 25, 2014 | 6:30 p.m.
The moment was straight out of a baseball player’s daydreams.
Bottom of the ninth, tying runner on third with two outs. Full count. Tournament championship and automatic bid to the NCAA Tournament on the line.
The 2014 Mountain West tournament title was essentially decided by a three-game series between UNLV and San Diego State over three days at Earl E. Wilson Stadium. The Rebels took first game Friday, 5-4, in dramatic fashion at the end, then the Aztecs stormed back Saturday with a 9-1 victory to force today’s rubber match. The stage was set for another UNLV celebration, but two walk-off wins in three days was more than the Rebels could muster.
After SDSU closer Michael Cederoth threw that deciding pitch towards home the sequence ended with the Aztecs yelling and jumping on each other, celebrating a 4-3 victory and a second straight tournament win on UNLV’s home field.
“I thought we were going to have a chance to do it again,” said UNLV’s T.J. White, who represented the tying run on third. “… It was close to spinning our way and us being out there instead of them.”
White, who was one of three Rebels named to the all-tournament team, started the inning with a pinch-hit single up the middle that set the table for some drama. White’s mere presence in the batter’s box was enough to amp up the stakes since he had to watch most of the game from the bench after injuring his left wrist in Saturday’s game.
As UNLV kept the game close despite SDSU’s three runs in the first inning and runners on base nearly every inning, White attempted to get loose. White felt good enough to tell coach Tim Chambers that he had one swing in him.
“He made good on his one swing,” Chambers said.
Trailing by one, the Rebels sacrificed White to second base. After a groundout, White advanced to third on a passed ball. He needed 90 more feet.
While the Rebels had to watch the Aztecs celebrate today, both of them should receive good news Monday morning. That’s when the NCAA announces the 64-team field and pool pairings for this year’s regional.
SDSU clinched a spot and UNLV, with an RPI in the top 30, expects to receive a top 2 seed.
“A 4-3 loss should keep us in it,” Chambers said of the 2-line. “That’s the reason we play the schedule we play.”
White’s injury was the latest in a season plagued by them. The biggest, of course, was losing top starter Erick Fedde for the season with a torn ulnar collateral ligament.
Fedde’s absence, plus playing the fourth game in four days, was how reliever Joey Lauria ended up the Rebels’ starter. His first inning had all the makings of a blowout: three earned runs on four hits.
“I was thinking here we go again like yesterday, but Joey really (worked hard),” Chambers said. “He’s a one or two inning guy that came in and kept us in it to let us fight back.”
Lauria’s 5 and 1/3 innings weren’t clean but they were effective, keeping the Aztecs off the board again until they took the decisive 4-3 lead in the top of the sixth. UNLV scored one run in the first on no hits, and then Morgan Stotts tied the game in the fifth on a double that scored two with help from a throwing error.
This isn’t exactly what the Rebels had in mind, limping into the postseason with a handful of injuries and their first back-to-back losses at home all season. But that won’t matter nearly as much when UNLV hears its name called Monday morning.
That has a way of brightening spirits and maybe helping with an injury or two.
“I’ll be ready,” White said. “I’m going to do everything I can to be back and even if I’m not 100 percent I’ll still be playing.”
Said Chambers, “We’ve still got a shot to do something special.”