Mark Wallington, UNLV Athletics
Published Monday, May 26, 2014 | 9:12 a.m.
Updated Monday, May 26, 2014 | 11:30 a.m.
Rebels baseball coach Tim Chambers was stalking around chairs upstairs at the Mendenhall Center on UNLV’s campus. The selection show was about to begin and Chambers, like a few other members of the team who gathered expecting good news, looked occasionally like he might jump out of his shoes if he had to wait any longer.
The selection committee helped him out.
UNLV (35-23) is in an NCAA regional for the first time since 2005. The Rebels are a No. 2 seed in the first group revealed during ESPNU’s broadcast and will play UC Irvine (35-22) in their first game Friday at 2 p.m. in Corvallis, Ore. The region also includes host school and top overall seed Oregon State (42-12) taking on North Dakota State (25-24).
“I felt like we earned it,” Chambers said of the Rebels’ seeding. “Nobody went on the road like we went on the road.”
UNLV’s aggressive scheduling was a big reason the Rebels were able to easily make the field as an at-large selection. Trips to Nebraska, Clemson and Arkansas helped solidify the Rebels’ resume as all three of those teams ended up as Nos. 2 or 3 seeds.
The 64-team tournament is divided into 16 double-elimination regionals, with the winners advancing to the super regionals. Once there, teams compete in a best-of-three series to earn a trip as one of eight teams at the College World Series in Omaha, Neb.
Count starting pitcher John Richy among those relieved to see UNLV’s name pop up on the screen so quickly.
“I was pretty confident we were going to get in,” he said. “I was just anxious to find out where and who we’re going to be playing.”
With Erick Fedde out for the rest of the season, Richy is UNLV’s top pitcher. Chambers said he wasn’t sure, though, whether he would start Richy on Friday or go with Bryan Bonnell and save Richy for a possible Saturday meeting with top-seeded Oregon State.
“We’ve got decisions to make,” Chambers said. “Bottom line is we’re in and if you’re in you’ve got a chance.”
The Rebels’ seed and regional site worked out pretty much as best it could. Staying on the west coast means a shorter travel day and the comfort of remaining in the same time zone.
By comparison, San Diego State, which defeated UNLV on Sunday for the Mountain West tournament title, was shipped to Lafayette, La., as a No. 3 seed. Richy said making a regional — one of his goals since arriving three years ago — helped ease some of the pain from watching the Aztecs’ celebration at Earl E. Wilson Stadium.
“Now it’s time to forget about it and move on,” he said.
This morning was a little moment for the team to celebrate. They cheered at the announcement and took turns filling out the forms and getting sized for their regular-season league title rings.
But now that they know where they’re going and whom they’re playing, they know it’s time to get back to work. Because nobody wants to wait another nine years to do this again and a strong showing would be another step in the right direction.
“We’re trying to get this thing where we’re in a regional every year, not just once in awhile,” Chambers said. “I think we’re on our way.”