Though UNLV didn’t play a complete baseball season last year, the Rebels played a tough one.
One that coach Stan Stolte said provided valuable experience leading into this season, which begins at 11:05 a.m. Saturday with a three-game series against UNR at Wilson Stadium.
UNLV went 6-11 last year against the likes of Alabama, Texas Tech, Creighton and Houston before the COVID-19 pandemic shut down the season.
“We could’ve played an easier schedule and been probably 12-6,” Stolte said. “We got the experience of being on the end of what we need to do to get to that level. It was good to see, and I know we made up ground. We’ve got some good kids who can compete at that high level against the better teams in the country.”
This year’s schedule is heavy on Mountain West play, with 36 of the scheduled 40 games against league opponents. That doesn’t include last weekend’s four-game series against New Mexico State, which was canceled because of a positive COVID test in the Aggies’ program.
Conference coaches picked UNLV to tie New Mexico for third in the Mountain West. San Diego State was picked to win the league and Fresno State to finish second.
UNLV made the past two conference tournament title games, but is still looking to break through.
“We’ve got some depth built up,” Stolte said. “We can overcome injuries, overcome guys getting drafted and so forth. I feel we’re definitely going to be that every year, competing for conference championships.”
If the Rebels make a strong run at the conference title, hitting likely will put them in that position.
They return nine of their top 10 hitters from last season. UNLV hit .280 as a team, with three returning players at better than .300.
Two position players — junior catcher Eric Bigani and sophomore second baseman Edarian Williams — were selected to the preseason all-conference team. Bigani batted .394 with 14 RBIs in 17 games last season. Williams has a career .328 average with 36 RBIs in 73 games.
The Rebels need to improve on their 5.02 ERA from last year. Senior right-hander Chase Maddux (1-0, 2.59 ERA) and freshman left-hander Josh Sharman (2-1, 4.13) are the top returning starters.
“We’re not going to be a power-armed staff,” Stolte said. “We’re going to throw a lot of strikes. We’re going to throw a lot of young kids out there on the weekends. I think as the season goes, we can develop good enough to where we can compete for the championship.”
Opening series: UNR, Wilson Stadium, 11:05 a.m. and 3:05 p.m. Saturday, 11:05 a.m. Sunday
Preseason pick: Mountain West coaches picked UNLV to tie New Mexico for third in the conference
Last season: 6-11 before season ended because of COVID-19 pandemic
Top returning hitter: Eric Bigani (.394, 14 RBIs)
Top returning pitcher: Chase Maddux (1-0, 2.59 ERA)