BASEBALL Steve Guiremand Top News UNLV — 14 February 2015
Record crowd watches Rebels drop baseball opener

His team had just dropped its season opener to 23rd ranked Nebraska, 2-0, but UNLV coach Tim Chambers still had plenty of reason to smile Friday night.

A record sellout crowd of 3,173 crammed into Earl E. Wilson Stadium to watch the reigning Mountain West Conference regular season champs, shattering the previous attendance record of 2,143 set in 2006 against Texas.

“That’s what I’ve been looking for since I got here,” Chambers said. “In my head I see a butt in every seat.”

Some of those butts waited in line for close to an hour to get food at the snack bar. Worse for some was the fact that the stadium ran out of beer in the third inning.

But on the field, the game pitted two well-coached teams that played in the NCAA Tournament a year ago and will likely be back again later this summer.

“I think we were evenly matched tonight,” Chambers said. “One of 55, I’m not nervous.”

The game, which featured Washington Nationals All-Star outfielder Bryce Harper and members of the Mountain Ridge Little League team throwing out ceremonial first pitches, started on a sour note for the Rebels when starting pitcher Zak Qualls had to leave after throwing just five pitches with an injury to his left (throwing) arm.

Qualls had just gone to a full-count to leadoff hitter Austin Darby when he paced around the mound with his left arm dangling by his side. But what first appeared to be a potentially serious elbow injury may have been more of a bicep strain.

“We’re not sure yet,” Chambers said. “We think it was in the bicep but we’re not sure yet. He’ll see the doc. I won’t speculate because it’s just a guess. I don’t know.”

Junior college transfer Ben Wright was summoned and the right-hander completed the walk to Darby, who eventually scored on a sacrifice fly.

Wright allowed just five hits and one other run in the fifth inning in five outstanding innings of relief. Jack Freedman retired the lone batter he faced to start the sixth and Bryan Bonnell, who had been battling a sore back, came in and pitched 3 2/3 shutout innings, striking out four consecutive Huskers during one stretch.

UNLV finished with eight hits, including two by right fielder Edgar Montes, but failed to capitalize in the fourth inning when it had runners at second and third with nobody out after a booming double to left-center by Montes.

“We didn’t get ‘er done,” Chambers said. “We should have got two runs that inning. Second and third and nobody out. A couple of ground balls and we’ve got two.”

Credit Nebraska starter Chance Sinclair (1-0) for that. He recorded back-to-back strikeouts of shortstop Nick Rodriguez and designated hitter A.J. Hernandez before getting third baseman Payton Squier to fly out to end the threat.

Husker relievers Jake Hohensee and Josh Roeder combined to pitched 3 1/3 hitless innings, striking out seven in the process.

Still, the story of the night was the overflow crowd and the big-time college atmosphere it created.

“It was phenomenal,” Wright said. “You could feel the static in the air. It was a great experience.”

The two teams continue their series Saturday at 2:05 p.m. with the finale on Sunday set for 1:05 p.m.

Check out VIDEO of Harper and Mountain Ridge Little League’s first pitch below:

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