The Nevada Wolf Pack baseball team took a giant step toward its first Mountain West regular season championship on Saturday.
The Wolf Pack cruised past the San Diego State Aztecs 8-5 in front of 605 fans at Tony Gwynn Stadium to take control of first place in the Mountain West. The Pack, 30-9 overall and 15-5 in conference play, is a game ahead of the Aztecs (27-13, 14-6) after clinching the tie-breaker between the two teams by winning the first two games of this three-game series. New Mexico is in third place at 13-7 followed by Fresno State (9-8), Air Force (10-10), San Jose State (3-15) and UNLV (2-15).
The Wolf Pack beat the Aztecs behind another solid performance by starting pitcher Jason Deitrich. Deitrich allowed six hits and three runs without walking a hitter in 6.1 innings to earn his fifth victory (5-2) of the season. Deitrich’s control just might have been the difference in the game as seven Aztecs pitchers combined to walk 10 and hit one batter. San Diego State starter Mark Seyler walked seven and hit one in his four innings of work to fall to 7-2 on the season.
Seyler, who still has one of the best earned run averages for any Mountain West starter this season at 3.32, had walked just 16 hitters in 58.1 innings going into the game.
The Aztecs’ wildness was evident in the performance of Pack hitters Ryan Howell, Austin Byler, Trenton Brooks and Bryce Greager. The four Pack hitters combined to go just 1-for-9 but were on base 10 times on nine walks and one hit by pitch and they ended up scoring five runs.
The Wolf Pack also made the most of its eight hits.
The Pack scored three runs in the third thanks to Seyler’s wildness to wipe out a 1-0 Aztecs lead. Seyler walked Howell, Byler and Brooks to load the bases with one out. Kewby Meyer then made Seyler pay for his lack of control by bringing home two runs with a single. Jordan Pearce also had a sacrifice fly in the inning as the Pack took the lead.
Meyer has been red hot of late with 10 hits in his last 15 at-bats with eight RBI to lift his average on the year to .337. He also has a current 11-game hitting streak. His 32 RBI this year and just two away from his career high of 34 set in his freshman year in 2012.
Another walk to Byler (Byler and Howell each walked three times in the game) started the Pack’s four-run fifth inning off Seyler and reliever Jacob Erickson. Meyer had another RBI single in the inning as did Pearce. Ryan Teel also drove in a run with a double. Teel, who was 0-for-10 for the season through March 27, has gone 5-for-15 over his last six games (since April 2) with two RBI.
The Wolf Pack then got an unexpected power surge in the seventh inning. Jay Anderson hit his first career home run to lead off the inning as the Pack took an 8-2 lead. The senior how has just one career home run in 385 at-bats. Anderson, who went just 1-for-7 from Feb. 21 through April 10 this season, has gone 5-for-16 over the Pack’s last five games and is now hitting .233 (7-for-30) this year and .231 for his career.
The Pack also had something take place that hasn’t happened in four seasons. Leadoff hitter Cal Stevenson, the team’s leading hitter (.367), went 0-for-6 to become the first Pack hitter to go hitless in six official at-bats since Anthony Rosa (who also hit leadoff in the game four years ago) in a 10-6 loss to UNLV on March 5, 2011. The first four (Stevenson, Howell, Byler and Brooks) Pack hitters on Saturday, oddly enough, went just a combined 1-for-13 and are all hitting well over .300 this year. Howell, Byler and Brooks, though, did get on base with a combined eight walks and also scored five runs.
The Aztecs showed some life in the seventh inning, scoring three runs off Deitrich and reliever JoJo Romero. Adam Whitt, who allowed a two-run single to the first hitter (Danny Sheehan) he faced in the seventh, came on to put out the fire. Whitt retired seven of the last eight hitters he faced to record his 13th save of the year, equaling Matt Gardner’s 2012 school record. Whitt, who now has a superb 0.99 ERA on the year in 20 appearances, is also just three saves away from Rick Lagattuta’s school record of 24 career saves.
Whitt has been brilliant all season long. He fanned three without walking a hitter on Saturday and has now struck out 33 this season and walked just four. He has seven strikeouts without a walk over his last 4.1 innings (three appearances).
The Pack is now 13-7 on the road this year after going 14-21 away from Peccole Park last season. Pack head coach Jay Johnson, who was 31-27 last year in his first season, is now the first Pack head coach to win 30 or more games in his first two seasons since Del Youngblood in 1980 and 1981. Johnson is 61-36 in his Pack career and 33-10 over his last 43 games.