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UNLV doesn’t make NCAA baseball tournament field

The UNLV baseball team won 36 times this season. The Rebels captured the Mountain West regular-season title by three games with a 21-9 record.

Stan Stolte was named the league’s Coach of the Year.

Santino Panaro was the co-Freshman of the Year.

Rylan Charles, Austin Kryszczuk and Hank Zeisler were named first-team all conference.

And yet when the NCAA Tournament’s Field of 64 was announced Monday, the Rebels (36-22) were nowhere to be found.

Welcome to the life of a one-bid league.

College baseball isn’t unlike several sports in which RPI reigns supreme and those of Mountain West teams struggle to keep up with Power Five sides.

UNR posed a Mountain West-best RPI of 82; UNLV sat at 115.

It didn’t help that the Rebels went 0-2 at the conference tournament in San Diego last week with losses to eventual champion Air Force and UNR. Didn’t help that they were swept by the Falcons — who will play in an NCAA regional for the first time in 53 years — late in the season.

“You win a 30-game conference on the West Coast and think you should be in the postseason,” Stolte said. “It’s tough from that standpoint. You see all the hard work the kids put in.

“At the same time, we knew we had to win the conference tournament to get in, and yet the right team won both games. We just didn’t play well enough.”

UNLV was an offensive machine, leading the NCAA in hits (702), doubles (142) and batting average (.331). The Rebels scored 530 runs, drove in 490 and had a ridiculous on-base percentage of .415.

There long has been a discussion among league coaches about awarding the automatic NCAA berth to the regular-season champion.

But some have balked at the notion, holding out hope that a conference tournament would generate multiple bids. That last occurred in 2014, when the Rebels earned an at-large invitation.

“I prefer the conference champion could go, and not just all of a sudden this year,” Stolte said. “By sending the (tournament champion) you’re basically sending the team that plays best for one weekend and not for 10 weekends. Air Force was clearly the best team last week, but the idea of (multiple berths) just hasn’t played out like many would have hoped.”

Review-Journal sports columnist Ed Graney can be reached at egraney@reviewjournal.com. Follow @edgraney on Twitter.

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