Baseball: Powers wins 900th game
April 18, 2012
Matt Gardner wasn’t going to let this historic moment pass without something to remember it by.
“Of course,” smiled the Nevada Wolf Pack relief pitcher. “I’m the biggest clown on the team so I had to do something.”
Gardner and a few of his teammates grabbed a bucket of ice and leftover sports drink and moved to the corner of the dugout and out of sight with the Wolf Pack about to put the finishing touches on a 10-5 victory over the San Francisco Dons and Gary Powers’ 900th career coaching victory.
“We kind of creeped over to the corner there behind him,” said Gardner of Powers. “And after the game we let him shake a few people’s hands before we went out and got him.”
Jayson McClaren fanned USF’s Matt Chavez to close out the victory in front of 472 fans at Peccole Park. Gardner and his teammates then went to work, dousing Powers with ice and sports drink.
“It was cold,” said Powers, who seemingly shook off his back one ice cube for each one of his 900 career victories.
“We figured he would be in a good mood so this was a good time to get away with doing something like that,” Gardner said with a smile.
Powers, now in his 30th season as Wolf Pack head coach, had plenty of reasons to smile after beating the Dons. The victory gave the Pack a four-game winning streak and improved their record to 20-16. The other reason is that Powers is now just the 21st active coach with 900 or more Division I victories (47 coaches have won 1,000 or more in college baseball history).
“Other people have made a bigger deal about this than I have,” Powers said. “My focus has always been on winning championships and it still is. But I am happy for this program and all of the athletes and coaches who have been a part of these 900 wins. It’s a testament to the players, their hard work, their competitive spirit and how they’ve gone out and played as a team.”
Powers, a Douglas High and University of Nevada graduate, is now 900-721-5 in his career for a winning percentage of .555 since taking over the Pack program in 1983. Those 900 victories, though, didn’t come without a tremendous amount of patience and faith by the Nevada athletic department in Powers’ ability to coach and build a program. Powers, after all, had a record under .500 (234-239-2) after nine full seasons without a league title or a regional appearance.
Since the start of the 1992 season, though, Powers has gone 666-482-3 (.580) with four first-place finishes and four regional appearances.
“He means everything to this program,” said second baseman Joe Kohan, also a member of the team in 2009 when Powers won his 800th game. “He’s the axis on which everything revolves.
“That many wins is a good indication of his dedication to this program and how much work he’s put in. He built this program into what it is today.”
The Pack had to sweep Louisiana Tech last weekend and beat USF in order for Powers to get his 900th win before the team takes off for three road games at Sacramento State starting on Friday.
“It’s not about me,” Powers said. “This is not about 900 wins for me. It’s about the program. And coaches don’t win games. Players win games.”
Almost every member of the current roster contributed to victory No. 900 as Powers used 22 players to beat the Dons.
Brooks Klein broke the game open with a grand slam in a seven-run sixth inning as the Pack rallied from a 4-1 deficit. Bradey Shipley drove in a pair of runs on a bases loaded walk and a safety squeeze bunt and Tommy Niebergall had a pinch-hit two-run single.
Kewby Meyer went 3-for-3 with two triples, Jay Anderson had a pair of hits, scored a run and drove in one, Garrett Yrigoyen had two hits and Carlos Escobar scored two and picked a runner off second base.
Powers also used seven pitchers to get through the non-league mid-week game. Troy Marks started and allowed four runs in 2.1 innings but six relievers (Daniel Levine, Barry Timko, Bryan Suarez, Elliot Van Gaver, Sean Prihar and McClaren) combined to allow just one run over the final 6.2 innings.
“That’s how this team has to play to be successful,” Powers said. “Everyone has to contribute. There is still a lot of room for improvement. But the best is yet to come for this team.”
Powers was presented a commemorative home plate signed by the entire team after the game by athletic director Cary Groth and the entire team posed for a post-game picture with Powers. It was a ceremony that seemed to touch the head coach.
“We go through a lot together as a team,” Powers said. “Maybe I sometimes expect them to be better than they are capable of being but that’s just the way I am. I feel I owe that to them.”
The Wolf Pack is playing this season under a cloud that this might be Powers’ final season. Powers, who signed a one-year contract after a disappointing 24-31 season in 2011, has said that he will sit down with Groth after the season to discuss his future as the Pack coach.
Powers’ biggest message to his team, though, has always been to focus on the challenge immediately in front of them. And this young team, which features five or six freshman and sophomores in the starting lineup, has responded to their head coach by never spending as much as one day under .500 so far this entire season.
“He expects you to work hard and play hard and respect the game,” Kohan said. “He’s a tough coach to play for but he’ll teach you the game and he’ll teach you a lot about life. And he’ll make you a better man.”
Anderson, a freshman, is in his first season with the Wolf Pack. He doubled in a run in the second inning and singled in the seven-run sixth.
“He’s our leader,” said Anderson of Powers. “He expects a lot from you. Yes, he’s a strict coach but he’s not too bad. If you mess up, you’ll hear about it but as a player that’s what you want. He’s always coaching and teaching.”
Klein, a junior transfer from Western Nevada College in his first Pack season, said Powers has already had a positive influence on his career.
“He’s been a motivating factor for me,” Klein said. “He’s never satisfied. There’s always something to work on with him and that’s what I like about him. There’s no question he’s one of the greatest coaches in the country.”