There are two main reasons above all else why the Nevada Wolf Pack baseball team feels it can fulfill all of its wildest dreams this season.
Bradey Shipley and Tom Jameson.
"When we've had some of our better teams, we've had two guys like that at the top of
our pitching staff," Wolf Pack coach Gary Powers said.
The Wolf Pack, though, hasn't had a dynamic duo, one-two punch on the mound like Shipley and Jameson since it started playing Division I baseball four decades ago. Nevada, which clinched a share of the Western Athletic Conference title over the weekend at Hawaii, opens the conference tournament in Mesa, Ariz., Wednesday evening.
Shipley is first in the Western Athletic Conference with a 2.12 earned run average.
Jameson is right behind him in second place at 2.19. Shipley is 8-4 this year in 14 starts while Jameson is 7-2 in 14 starts. The Wolf Pack, which will open the Western Athletic Conference tournament on Wednesday night (7 p.m.) in Mesa, Ariz., against Louisiana Tech, is 18-10 in Shipley and Jameson's 28 starts combined.
"It's been a great season," said Shipley, who lost a heartbreaking 2-0 decision at Hawaii last Thursday night. "I've matured a great deal this year."
"It's definitely been a good year," said Jameson who went six innings in the 4-2 win in 10 innings over Hawaii last Friday that earned the Pack (31-23, 11-7) a share of the WAC regular season title. "A lot of hard work has gone into it."
Shipley and Jameson are 15-6 combined for a winning percentage of .714. Since joining the WAC in 2001, the Pack has had just four other pitching combos with 15 or more wins in a season. Mateo Miramontes won 10 and Rasner won eight in 2001, Miramontes won nine and Justin Sherman won eight in 2003, and Ryan Rodriguez (11 wins) combined with Tim Schoeninger for 16 wins and Chris Scott for 15 in 2005.
Shipley and Jameson have clearly stepped into elite company in Pack pitching history this year.
No Wolf Pack pitcher with at least 10 starts in a season has ever finished the year with an earned run average under 2.93 (Rod Nettnin, 1990) in Powers' 30 seasons as head coach.
And this year there might be two.
"They have both been awesome," pitching coach Pat Flury said. "I've been so blessed to have both of them."
Put their names together (Tom Bradey) and they sound like a Super Bowl-winning quarterback. Judge them separately and, well, they are the two biggest reasons why the Wolf Pack feels it has a legitimate chance to win the WAC tournament and return to the NCAA Regionals for the first time in a dozen years.
Jameson has pitched six or more innings in 10 of his last 12 starts and has allowed three or fewer earned runs in 11 of his 14 outings. Since Feb. 26 his record has been 7-1.
Shipley has pitched six or more innings in 10 of his last 11 starts and has allowed three or fewer earned runs in all but one of his 14 outings. Three of his four losses this year were by scores of 2-0 (twice) and 2-1.
Although they perform their magic separately on the mound, it's almost as if they've worked together all season long to help the Pack get back to the 30-victory plateau.
The Pack played 14 three-game series this year and never lost in both Shipley's and Jameson's starts on the same weekend. Shipley has opened the Pack's three-game weekend series and Jameson, until recently, has pitched the third and final game of the series.
"Bradey has done a great job of setting the tone for us all year and Tom has been great at stabilizing series for us," Powers said.
Powers, though, has recently moved Jameson to the No. 2 starter's role in order to set up his rotation for this week's WAC Tournament.
"You don't want to risk the possibility of being eliminated in the tournament in two games without having used one of your two main guys," Powers said.
The success of both Shipley and Jameson this year has not been a total surprise.
"I expected to have a good year but not this good," Jameson smiled.
The 6-foot-7 Jameson, after all, is in his third year as a Pack starter after going 12-7 combined his first two years. His breakout game took place his freshman year when he allowed just one hit in eight innings in a 3-1 win over Louisiana Tech in the WAC Tournament.
"I knew I had to keep working this year on the little things to get better," said Jameson, whose father Rich owns the Pack record for career complete games (17). "I had to fine-tune things a little. But other than that I'm the same guy I've always been. I pretty much do the same things that I've done since my freshman year."
The biggest thing Jameson has done this year is consistently take advantage of his 6-foot-7 body. At times he can look to opposing hitters like he's throwing down from the summit of Mt. Rose.
"He's been much more consistent this year," Powers said. "When he's throwing on a downward plane, his ball sinks and he gets a lot of ground balls. In the past he had a tendency to throw standing up too much and his stuff would flatten out."
Jameson is not a strikeout pitcher by any stretch of the imagination. He's fanned just 107 hitters in 239.2 career innings and just 36 in 90.1 innings this year.
"That's not me," Jameson said. "I am not a strikeout guy. I'm a 'Here-it-comes, go-ahead-and-hit-it-and-let's-see-what-happens' kind of guy."
When Jameson is at his best, which is often, opponents are pounding the ball into the ground. His 14.4 outs per nine innings on the ground are second best on the team behind Troy Marks' 15.4.
"He's come a long way as a pitcher," Powers said. "He's matured a great deal."
That maturity was put to the test the past two weeks against San Jose State and Hawaii. Jameson struggled through the first two innings, allowing four runs on seven hits. The past two seasons that would have meant an early exit for the big right-hander.
"I thought I'd be gone by the fourth inning," Jameson said.
Powers, though, gave Jameson the opportunity to find his rhythm. And Jameson was still on the mound with two outs in the ninth inning despite allowing 13 hits as the Pack came away with a 5-4 victory.
He then pitched six strong innings in a game the Pack had to win on Friday in Hawaii.
"I have a lot of faith in him," Powers said. "He's not the same guy he was the last two years."
Shipley has hit the ground running as a starting pitcher. The sophomore right-hander was the Pack's starting shortstop last year as a freshman. Powers and Flury, though, didn't hesitate to throw the talented 6-foot-2, 170-pounder right into the rotation at the start of the year.
"He has a world of talent," Flury said.
And a world of confidence. He went into Powers' office last winter and asked to be the team's No. 1 starter. Powers fell in love with Shipley's confidence and attitude right then and there.
"That showed me he was a competitor," Powers said.
That over-the-top competitiveness did get him into a bit of trouble this year at times.
"I had to battle through a few things this year but that's what baseball is all about," Shipley said. "It's about grinding through things."
One of the things he had to battle through was a hyper personality.
"I'd get upset when the team wasn't scoring runs for me or when a play wasn't made behind me," Shipley said. "I'd let people see I was upset. I had to learn how to not let that stuff bother me, to not show that. That was a problem for me because I was letting it affect my performance on the mound."
It took Shipley less than one full season of pitching at the Division I level to become one of the better college pitchers on the west coast. Shipley, unlike Jameson, is a strikeout pitcher, having fanned 79 in 89.1 innings. His 12 strikeouts against Hawaii are the most in the WAC this season.
Shipley, like Jameson, has also allowed just two home runs all season and opponents are hitting a mere .219 against him (Jameson's opponents are hitting .275).
"Mentally, I've grown so much as the year has gone along," Shipley said. "I think I've made tremendous strides in my maturity and my mental toughness."
The mental side of the game is where Flury, a veteran pitcher of 13 seasons and over 500 games in the minor leagues, comes in.
"He has been great working with us on the mental side of the game," Shipley said. "He's toughened us all up a little bit. He's also helped us with the physical part and our mechanics but he's been great teaching us about what to expect and how to handle things. The mental part is a big part of pitching."
"He's been great in helping me fix all the little things I needed to work on," said Jameson of Flury. "And he helps us with the mental part. He's helped me become more mature as a pitcher."
Flury, a volunteer assistant, is in his second season as the Pack's pitching coach. Under his guidance, the Wolf Pack has a team ERA of 3.96 this year, it's best since 1992 (3.38).
"I've helped them understand why we try to keep the ball down and pound the strike zone," Flury said. "Bradey just needed to throw more strikes. That's why he's been so successful."
Jameson's ERA is down from 4.84 a year ago.
"With Tommy, he's really learned how to deal with adversity this year," Flury said. "He's developed a strong confidence.
"With Bradey, it was about getting him to become more consistent in the strike zone. He had a tendency to run his pitch count up quickly and we couldn't stretch him out. But now he's pounding the zone and he's able to pitch deep in games."
Flury said he had to teach Shipley how to remain calm during games when things around him might not be going as planned.
"That's part of his maturity," Flury said. "Remember, he's a just a sophomore and as a pitcher he's really just a freshman. He's experiencing things for the first time."
With Shipley and Jameson, the Pack is also experiencing a feeling of confidence heading into the postseason that they haven't experienced in a long time.
"You need two pitchers like that if you want a chance to be successful in a tournament," Powers said. "I wish I had three.