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Wolf Pack stuns Fresno State with ninth-inning power

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There is something special going on at Peccole Park this spring.

“Oh, yeah, definitely,” smiled Nevada Wolf Pack outfielder Brad Gerig. “It doesn’t matter what the score is, whether it’s 20-10 or whatever. We just approach it the same way and never give up an at-bat.”

The Wolf Pack, it seems, also rarely gives up a game at Peccole Park.

Gerig’s two-run home run in the ninth inning on Saturday tied the Fresno State Bulldogs at 8-8 and two batters later Bryce Greager won the game, 9-8, with another home run in front of a delirious crowd of 525.

The Wolf Pack, now 13-3 at Peccole Park this season, won two-of-three games this weekend over the slumping Bulldogs and now finds itself tied for second place in the Mountain West with UNLV. The Pack, which has won eight of its last 10 games, is now 21-16 overall and 13-8 in the Mountain West. Fresno State, which has lost 14 of its last 18 games, fell to 19-21, 8-13.

The Wolf Pack and Bulldogs are two teams headed in opposite directions right now. Fresno State has lost its last five Mountain West three-game series while the Wolf Pack has won its last four.

“It’s not like we don’t celebrate when we win,” said Gerig, who had four hits and three RBI. “But we stay humble. We know anything can happen and we don’t want to lose focus.”

The Wolf Pack, which gathered at home plate and piled all over each other after Greager’s game-winning home run, definitely knows how to celebrate. This is a team, after all, which takes a team photo after every victory.

“The two days we just had are very special,” Wolf Pack coach Jay Johnson said, referring to consecutive 9-8 walk-off victories over Fresno State on Friday (12 innings) and Saturday after a series-opening 20-10 loss on Thursday. “These types of things don’t happen all the time. So I want our players to enjoy the moment. If anything, this will help motivate them to keep their nose to the grindstone and keep working.”

Both Gerig and Greager had a very clear picture in their minds on what they wanted to accomplish in the ninth inning.

“It was a fastball middle up and I just wanted to try to yank it,” said Greager, who now has two home runs this season. “But it didn’t matter what pitch it was. I was going up there trying to crush it.“

Greager, who entered the game in the seventh inning as a pinch-hitter with the Pack trailing 8-1, scored three runs, was hit by a pitch, singled and homered in three at bats.

He had scored just four runs all season entering the game.

He had a simple approach against Fresno State reliever Jimmy Lambert.

“I was just trying to hit it as hard as I could,” said Greager, a junior from Fountain Hills, Ariz.

The only question after Greager made contact with Lambert’s first pitch was whether or not the line drive would clear the left field fence.

“I wasn’t sure it would,” said Greager who added that he had never won a game with a walk-off home run at any level before Saturday. “And I definitely didn’t want to be that guy standing on first after hitting the ball off the wall. But as I was approaching first I saw it cleared the fence.

“It was an awesome feeling.”

Gerig upped his average on the season 22 points to an even .300 with his four-hit performance.

“That’s my second big homer,” said Gerig, who hit a walk-off home run last season to beat San Diego State at Peccole Park. “The count was 3-1 so in my mind I was sitting fastball and I got it.”

The senior from Roseville, Calif., now has three home runs this season. Trenton Brooks, who singled with one out in the inning, scored ahead of Gerig on the home run.

“The conditions clearly favored the offense today,” said Johnson, referring to a steady wind that blew out over the left field fence all afternoon and once blew the hat off the head of Fresno State starter Tim Borst.

Wind or no wind, Johnson is happy with the way his team is improving with the bat. The Pack scored 28 runs in the three games against Fresno State and has averaged eight runs a game over its last eight Mountain West games, winning seven of them.

“Our guys are steadily improving on offense,” Johnson said. “We are starting to swing at our pitches and we’re crushing mistakes. There are so many good foundation building blocks being created now.”

Borst went seven strong innings on Saturday and allowed just two runs. Lambert then proceeded to throw the game away, allowing seven runs in just 1.2 innings. The 6-foot-1, 160-pound feshman righthander tossed 38 pitches and allowed six hits (including two homers and a triple) and walked one. Lambert was also on the mound in the eighth inning when the Pack’s magic began to take form.

With Fresno still leading 8-2, Wolf Pack outfielder Kewby Meyer came to the plate with the bases loaded and two outs. Meyer then drilled a line drive to left-center field that somehow got past the center fielder for a triple. Shortstop Ryan Dobson’s relay throw then got past third base, allowing Meyer to also score on the play. Fresno State, which had an 8-2 lead with just four outs to go, suddenly was clinging to an 8-6 lead.

“Nobody gave up,” Greager said.

The Wolf Pack started Mountain West play this season at 1-4, losing three games at Fresno State to open the league season. The Pack has now gone 7-1 in its last eight Mountain West games to climb right back into championship contention. New Mexico leads the conference at 14-4.

“We knew after last weekend when we swept San Diego State that we were building something special,” said Greager, who got a towel full of shaving cream rubbed in his face by teammate Kyle Hunt after the game. “We got a lot of confidence from that.”

Johnson is well aware that nine conference games remain on the schedule before the all-important conference tournament May 21-25 in Las Vegas.

“I try not to get caught up in looking at the standings and things like that,” Johnson said. “The reason we are where we are now and why we have enjoyed some success is our players’ ability to stay in the moment and focus only on what is staring them in the face.

“That‘s what we did (Friday). We came out here for a 1 p.m. practice (before a 6 p.m. game) because we wanted to get that 20-10 game out of our system and focus back on the game that night. That’s what this team has done best this season. It has stayed focused.”

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