CORVALLIS, Ore. – For the UNLV Rebels, it was a case of extremely bad timing.
The Rebels caught top seed Oregon State coming into Sunday afternoon’s NCAA Regional elimination game angry and embarrassed after a 14-2 loss to No. 3 seed UC Irvine late Saturday night. And the Beavers, the NCAA Tournament’s overall No. 1 seed, had no choice but to start left-hander Ben Wetzler, the nation’s ERA leader (0.76), who they had hoped to hold until the championship round.
That’s no easy task even for a team with a full roster available. But for the injury-ravaged Rebels, it spelled doom.
Wetzler responded by throwing a complete-game four hitter, striking out 10 in the process, and the Beavers broke open the game with a five-run sixth en route to a 6-1 victory at Goss Stadium.
“He is a whale of a pitcher,” UNLV coach Tim Chambers said of Wetzler.
UNLV, the regular season Mountain West co-champion making its first NCAA Tournament since 2005, finishes the season with a 36-25 record.
“You can’t blame (injuries), but our lineup was jacked up and a mess,” Chambers said. “You try and flip it around and are facing one of the top left-handers in the country and all you have to put in the game is left-handers in some spots. Our lineup was not even close to what it was, but I will not make excuses that that is why we lost.”
Despite the makeshift lineup, UNLV hung with the Beavers early as sophomore right-hander Kenny Oakley held Oregon State to just five singles over the first five innings.
The Beavers finally broke through in the sixth, parlaying five hits and a walk with a key error by third baseman T.J. White into five runs. All five runs were unearned with first baseman Kavin Keyes’ two-run triple to center the big blow.
That was all Wetzler, a former fifth-round pick of the Phillies, needed. UNLV’s only run came on a RBI single by Patrick Armstrong in the bottom of the sixth with the bases loaded and no outs. But Wetzler then struck out Morgan Stotts and got Edgar Montes to ground into a double play to end the threat.
“You have to take advantage of your opportunities,” Chambers said. “We had a shot in the bottom half (of the sixth) and did not get it done.”
Wetzler (12-1) allowed just a single and a walk over the final three innings while finishing off the complete game. He threw a season-high 128 pitches, including 83 for strikes.
“He is just a great pitcher,” Armstrong said. “He puts it wherever he wants pretty much.”
“Last night we weren’t ourselves,” Wetzler said. “We showed up today, and we swang the bat.”
Oregon State (45-13) returned a few hours later to blank UC Irvine, 4-0, and set up a winner-takes-all finale on Monday night for a berth in the Super Regionals against Oklahoma State.