Updated April 15, 2018 - 6:26 pm
The first two-thirds of Sunday’s game against Air Force mirrored UNLV’s baseball season to this point.
A hot start by the Rebels followed by mid-game troubles.
They then scored six runs in the last four innings to beat the Falcons 10-7 at Wilson Stadium — a rally the Rebels will need to duplicate down the stretch as they fight to make the NCAA tournament.
UNLV (26-12, 9-6 Mountain West) still likely won’t get an at-large bid to an NCAA regional with a strong finish, but could establish momentum going into the conference tournament May 24-27 in San Diego.
The Rebels are second in the conference, but well behind UNR, which is 14-4 in league play (20-13 overall). After home games against Portland on Tuesday and Wednesday, UNLV faces Mountain West opponents over its final 15 games.
“We still think we can win it,” Rebels coach Stan Stolte said. “There are four or five teams that can win it, but our next two weekends are at New Mexico and at San Diego State. So we could be well out of it by then or sitting real pretty. These next two weeks are huge.”
The Rebels were in great shape for an at-large regional bid after starting 20-3 and with a national ranking as high as No. 19 by Collegiate Baseball. They have since gone 6-9, and taking two of three games from Air Force (15-21, 8-10) was the Rebels’ first series victory since March 16-18 over the Falcons.
“We needed this one,” said UNLV first baseman Nick Ames, who went 3-for-5 with four RBIs, a home run and a double on Sunday. “We dropped a couple of tough ones in the past few weeks. It’s good to get this, and I think we’ll have some momentum going forward.”
UNLV’s RPI was in the 20s for much of the season, but the Rebels went into this series No. 40. They are No. 48 in the updated recent rankings by WarrenNolan.com, a system that is close to what the NCAA uses for its RPI calculations.
“I believe the RPI in our league is going to keep bringing us down,” Stolte said. “Even last week, we beat Arizona State, a Pac-12 team, by eight runs and we lost four spots. There’s no explanation for it, but we’ve just go to keep winning and can’t worry about that.”
Against Air Force, UNLV scored four runs in the first inning. Starter Trevor Horn pitched four stress-free innings, then retired the first two batters in the fifth. But Horn and the Rebels ran into trouble as Air Force rallied with three runs that inning and four in the sixth to take a 7-6 lead.
UNLV got the advantage back for good in the sixth inning when Dillon Johnson singled with one out and then Kyle Isbel hit a line-drive home run to right field to go in front 8-7.
It was the kind of confident play the Rebels had to have after giving up the lead, and what they will need over the next month or so.
“I have full faith in our team, and we showed it early (this season),” Ames said. “As you saw today, we were able to grind one out and get a win.”