The Nevada Wolf Pack baseball team went from happy to stunned to elated on Sunday afternoon faster than you can say walk-off homer.
“It was an up and down roller coaster,” Wolf Pack coach Gary Powers said.
Make that up and down and up again roller coaster.
The Wolf Pack gave up a 3-0 lead with two outs in the top of the ninth inning to San Diego State at Peccole Park only to beat the Aztecs, 4-3, on a home run in the bottom of the ninth by Brad Gerig.
“It was actually a little weird,” said Gerig, who was given a celebratory face full of shaving cream by teammate Kyle Hunt after the game. “I went up to (third base coach Buddy Gouldsmith) and asked him if I could swing at the first pitch. We’ve been taking that pitch so I thought I better ask him. He just told me, ’I don’t see any reason why not.’”
Gerig almost jumped out of his shoes, sending the first pitch in the bottom of the ninth inning from San Diego State reliever Bubba Derby over the left field fence. It was just Gerig’s second home run of the year and it ended with all of his teammates mobbing him at home plate.
“I got a few punches in the ribs,” Gerig smiled. “A couple guys got me good. But that’s OK. I’ll survive.”
The Wolf Pack’s chances at finishing in second place in the Mountain West also survived quite nicely thanks to Gerig’s timely blast. The Pack (24-23, 11-13) won two of three games this weekend against the Aztecs and are now just two games behind second place San Diego State (23-24, 13-11) and UNLV (30-17, 13-11) with six league games to play.
“We are so jacked up,” said designated hitter Austin Byler, whose single to right field gave the Pack a 3-0 lead in the fifth inning. “We needed this one because we’re fighting for second place. This was a huge weekend for us and so is next weekend (three games against UNLV at Peccole Park starting on Friday).”
The Wolf Pack made things a bit more dramatic on Sunday than Powers would have liked. Starter Tom Jameson went eight innings and allowed just four hits and no runs before turning a 3-0 lead over to closer Michael Fain in the top of the ninth.
Fain gave up a home run on his first pitch to Brad Haynal and a line drive single to Tyler France on his third pitch as the Aztecs suddenly had the tying run at the plate with no outs faster than you can say blown save.
Fain, though, seemingly found his groove, striking out Mitch Bluman and Steve Pallares for the first two outs of the inning. The freshman then walked Evan Potter after getting ahead in the count 0-2 to bring up leadoff hitter Matt Munoz with the tying runs now on base.
Munoz promptly drilled Fain’s 2-1 pitch to the gap in right-center field to score both France and Potter to tie the game at 3-3 and stun the crowd of 436.
“He (Jameson) had thrown 118 pitches,” said Powers, explaining his decision to pull his senior starter after eight strong innings. “He had done his job. He pitched superbly.”
Jameson never allowed more than one baserunner from the second through the sixth inning and got Jake Romanski to foul out to first baseman Brett Jones with two runners on base to end the eighth.
“We’re trying to build a pitching staff here,” Powers said. “You can’t ask your starters to go nine innings all the time. Everybody has their role.”
Fain recovered just in time after Munoz’s clutch double to get Greg Allen on a grounder to short to end the ninth inning and preserve the 3-3 tie.
“Mike just needs to keep going,” Powers said. “He’s saved us nine times this year. He’ll be better down the road because of this.”
Jameson understood the decision to put Fain in the game.
“At first I was going to go back in but then there were two quick outs (in the bottom of the eighth) and we just thought it would be best to come out then,” Jameson said. “I’m confident in our bullpen to do the job. It didn’t happen today but that’s just how the game goes sometimes.”
Jameson spent the top of the ninth inning pacing the dugout with his right shoulder packed in ice. “It was tough watching,” he said. “But there’s nothing I can do. At the start of the inning we were all excited and into it and then all of a sudden it was like, ‘Whoa, what just happened?’ But then Brad came up and everyone was happy again.”
Gerig, who had three doubles and a triple in Friday night’s 7-1 series-opening win over the Aztecs, had struck out twice and bounced into a double play in his first three at-bats on Sunday.
The junior third baseman from Roseville, Calif., though walked up to the plate in the ninth inning with a ton of confidence.
“I just wanted to end this thing right there,” he smiled. “On Friday, I was squaring the ball up and everything was real easy for me. My family was there that night and I just think I came to the park the next day trying to do the same thing. I think I was just swinging too hard.”
He certainly didn’t tone it down in the ninth against Derby.
“I just went up there swinging as hard as I could,” Gerig said. “It’s crazy.”