College baseball’s regular season was wrapped up this past weekend. Now, the Mountain West squads prepare to descend on Beiden Field in Fresno in order to begin the conference tournament, the winner of which will earn a berth in the NCAA tournament and entertain dreams of a trip to Omaha.
Local writers in each of the six communities were gracious enough to provide insights on their teams ahead of the tournament. Mark Anderson of the Las Vegas Review-Journal covers the UNLV Rebels, who earned a first-round bye in the tournament that begins on Wednesday, May 22. UNLV being the No. 2 seed will play the highest seed who wins on Wednesday, possible opponents are San Diego State, Nevada or host Fresno State.
1. Is Buddy Borden the best pitcher in the Mountain West? What kind of a pitcher is Borden?
I can't give you an accurate assessment of Borden because I haven't seen him pitch this season. He is the guy, and we mostly have covered the Sunday games. I will say that he has been UNLV's best pitcher and probably the best in the Mountain West.
2. The Rebels had a much better experience in non-conference play than within the Mountain West. Are there any reasons for this that you have seen? Is there a discrepancy in record and observation?
That was mostly true, but now UNLV is probably playing its best baseball. The Rebels ended the regular season winning nine of their last 11 games.
3. Brandon Bayardi’s and Patrick Armstrong’s numbers suggest a very good combination in the 3 and 4 spots of the lineup. What are each player’s offensive strengths?
Armstrong and Bayardi are really good at not trying too hard to pull the ball, which is why they have high averages for players with power. They also don't try to hit home runs, but let the power come naturally with their swings. Armstrong really is an amazing story. I'm writing about him for next week.
4. The preseason poll saw the Rebels picked to finish fifth in the conference, but they’ve done enough to earn a first-round bye for the tournament, though they were a distant second to New Mexico. Are they closer to the Lobos in overall talent or the rest of the field?
The second-place finish has surprised [head coach Tim] Chambers. He thought his team was a year away from contending. UNLV isn't far from New Mexico. The Rebels absolutely blew two games against the Lobos, and they certainly have the pitching to give them a chance to win any game.
UNLV, however, has struggled on the back end, and New Mexico has pulled out many games this season in the late innings. I do like UNLV's chances against New Mexico, but the Lobos obviously are head and shoulders above the rest of the conference when it comes to hitting.
5. If UNLV does not win the tournament, do you think the team has done enough to earn an at-large NCAA bid?
I don't think so. Perfectgame.org doesn't even have UNLV on the bubble, so that's troubling from the Rebels perspective. But Chambers think his team has a chance, especially if it plays well in the conference tournament. He might be right, but I think UNLV needs to enter the tournament with the mindset it has to win.