CORVALLIS, Ore. – Survive and advance. It’s a common theme for college basketball teams during March Madness. It’s also probably appropriate these days for UNLV’s injury-plagued baseball team.
The Rebels (36-24) managed just two first inning runs and five hits in Saturday afternoon’s NCAA Tournament Corvallis Regional elimination game with North Dakota State. But strong pitching from starter Bryan Bonnell and Brayden Torres made that stand up for a 2-1 victory over the Bison (25-26) at Goss Stadium.
UNLV’s reward? The Rebels now get to play the NCAA Tournament’s No. 1 overall seed in host Oregon State (43-13), which was stunned 14-2 by third-seeded UC Irvine (37-22) in a second-round game on Saturday night, on Sunday at 2 p.m. on ESPN3 in another elimination game. The winner of that contest then comes right back at 8 p.m. to play the Anteaters.
“All we talked about last night and today is let’s make it one more day,” UNLV coach Tim Chambers said. “I don’t want to go home.”
The Rebels jumped out to a 2-0 lead in the top of the first. Leadoff hitter T.J. White singled, advanced to second on a groundout, stole third and then scored on first baseman Patrick Armstrong groundout. Left fielder Morgan Stotts then followed with a home run to left for what would prove to be the game-winner.
“I thought I got it pretty well, but I definitely didn’t think I got it out,” Stotts said. “He left the pitch up in the zone and I happened to run into it.”
North Dakota State, which lost to Oregon State, 2-1, in its opener, cut the lead to 2-1 in the bottom of the first on first baseman Kyle Kleinendorst’s two-out sacrifice fly, which drove in center fielder Tim Colwell, who had doubled.
Bonnell (7-5) settled in after that, spreading three singles and three walks over the next six-plus innings. He was aided by four double plays over a five-inning span.
“I just needed to settle down,” Bonnell said. “In the first inning my heart is always racing. I always want to do well and set a good tone.”
Torres took over in the eighth after Bonnell issued a leadoff walk. The Bison got the potential tying-run to third in each of the final two innings but Torres closed the door both times to register his ninth save.
“It’s nerve racking when the game is on the line every inning, and there is a base runner on seven or eight of the innings I think,” Chambers said. “Anything can happen, especially in the ninth, second and third, little bloop, and the ball game’s over.”
The four double plays produced by UNLV were a season high.