The UNLV Rebels hosted the Tennessee Volunteers over the weekend with the Rebels winning three out of four games. All three games were highly contested with all three Rebels wins by a run including a 14 inning victory in the series finale. You can check out my notes from the weekend below.
With opening weekend consisting of a four-game set, pitching was at a premium for both squads this weekend. UNLV held the upper hand, thanks in large part to two veteran hurlers who were able to pitch deep into games; RHP Buddy Borden and LHP Mark Shannon. Borden, a junior with a plus fastball scattered four hits over 7.2 IP, striking out nine in the process while Shannon left his usual starting spot in center field for the mound in Sunday’s series finale, yielding one run on two hits while striking out eight along the way.
With one of the youngest rosters in the country, the Volunteers were forced to throw their freshmen into the mix throughout the weekend, evidenced by the fact that eight of the 11 pitchers to toe the mound in the series were underclassmen, including seven true freshmen.
Just two UT pitchers made it to 5.o IP over the weekend. Senior Zack Godley worked his way out of two early jams Friday night with a runner in scoring position in both the first and third innings. However, the second time through for the Rebels provided some offense as UNLV was able to plate three runs in the bottom half of the fourth.
Three of the four games over the weekend resulted in one-run wins. Down 8-7 Friday night in a game that had five lead changes, UNLV was able to shake up junior lefty Dalton Saberhagen for a pair of runs and tacked on one more off Nick Williams to take a 10-7 lead heading into the ninth. UT battled back, scoring a pair of two-out runs before UNLV junior closer Zack Hartman was able to close out the game when A.J. Simcox lined out to first. The Rebels again held off a UT rally in game two of Saturday’s doubleheader, taking a 5-1 lead into the top of the ninth before holding on for the 5-4 win. Sunday’s 3-2, 14-inning marathon marked the fifth longest game in UNLV history and proved the Rebels’ young core of players have what it takes to mentally battle with a team.
The Rebels are in their third year under legendary Las Vegas coach Tim Chambers but are coming off a down season in which they stumbled during conference play en route to an 0-2 showing in the Mountain West Tournament on their home field. Pitching will be crucial if UNLV hopes to end its eight-year NCAA Tournament drought. Chambers should be confident in Friday night sophomore Erick Fedde and junior flamethrower Borden to eat up innings while Mark Shannon is a great weapon to have when you play Arizona State twice and San Diego in mid-week games. Closer Zack Hartman was a freshman All-American in 2011 and has proven that he can handle more than an inning at a time and come back the next day with his top of the line stuff.
Sophomores Joey Swanner and T.J. White bolster a lineup that includes the Mountain West’s biggest power threat in Brandon Bayardi. Swanner came on late last season and proved his speed is too great to not be an everyday player while White slimmed down quite a bit, moved from third to short and added switch-hitting capabilities to his name. Evidence of White’s major off-season workout commitment came in the first inning of Friday’s 10-9 win when he bunted for a single and went on to go 3-for-3 in stolen bases after totaling three in all of 2012.
Opening Weekend Travel
Wilson Stadium was the furthest the Tennessee has opened a season in program history. The Vols traveled to Houston in 2005 for the Minute Maid Challenge, which coincidentally was the last time UT appeared in the NCAA Tournament, advancing all the way to Omaha.