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Rebels Force Decisive Game For MWC Title

May 28, 2005

SALT LAKE CITY, Utah - UNLV baseball picked the perfect time to beat BYU for the first time in Mountain West Conference Tournament play as the Rebels downed the Cougars 9-5 on Saturday afternoon to force the two teams to play a winner-takes-all title game Saturday evening.

The top-seeded Rebels had lost their previous four meetings to the Cougars in MWC tournament action, including a 7-2 defeat this past Friday afternoon. UNLV though capitalized on the second-seeded BYU's poor pitching in the sixth inning to notch the win. UNLV improved to 33-27 overall while the Cougars dropped to 39-18-1.

Leading 6-5 heading into the sixth, the Rebels' lead would balloon to four runs in a wild frame as they scored three runs in the inning on just one hit, benefiting from costly BYU mistakes. After two walks, Mike Cruz doubled to drive on run with one out off of Cougar reliever Justin Su'a, who then struggled to find the plate the rest of the inning. Su'a hit Zeke Parraz to load the bases and then walked Ryan Bird on four pitches to give the Rebels another run. Su'a then uncorked a wild pitch that allowed Cruz to score, pushing the UNLV lead to 9-5.

Rebel reliever Matt Wagner made sure the lead would stand, as the right-hander kept the Cougars off the board the rest of the way and in 4.2 innings of work he gave up just one hit. Wagner moved to 5-3 on the year and he will start tonight's championship game.

UNLV jumped out to an early lead, scoring two runs in the bottom of the first on a run-scoring double by Parraz and a RBI single by Bird, who drove in another run with a single in the third for a 3-0 Rebel lead. It was the first time in the tournament that the Cougars trailed.



UNLV starter Koji Pupo was strong in the opening three innings and retired six straight with back-to-back 1-2-3 innings in the second and third and in the third he only needed four pitches to retire the side.

It was in the fourth inning though that the Cougars got to Pupo and the Rebels.

Apana Nakayama led off the inning with a double to right-center field and then he scored on a single by Jeff Hiestand, who moved to second on an interference call. Hiestand scored on a triple by Brandon Taylor and then the BYU knotted the score at three on a ground out by Ben Saylor. Kory Knell gave the Cougars their first lead of the game, drilling a solo home run over the left-field fence that made the score 4-3.

UNLV retook the lead in the next half inning as Justin Tellam led of the inning with a single and two batters later Matt Fry crushed a two-run home run to right to drive in his fourth run of the game. The drive chased BYU starter Matt Jensen who lasted just 3.1 innings, giving up five runs on nine hits.

Like two heavyweights trading jabs, the Cougars counter punched in the fifth when Sean McNaughton hit a solo home run to left that again tied the game, this time at five. BYU threatened to take the lead, putting runners on first and second with one out. UNLV head coach Buddy Gouldsmith went to his bullpen and brought in Wagner, who induced an inning-ending double play to keep the game tied. The Rebels then responded in their half of the fifth, regaining the lead at 6-5 on a RBI double by Tyler Beranek that scored Parraz heading into the costly sixth for BYU.

Bird finished the game going 2-3 with three RBI while Fry was 1-3 with two RBI and a pair of runs scored.

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