Fresno State freshman Jimmy Lambert found that Division I baseball was not quite as easy as he made it look in his first start when allowing one run in 5 2-3 strong innings, which is something that Kevin Viers, Taylor Ward and Derick Velazquez could have told him.
All three had growing pains a year ago, but the at-bats and innings they logged proved beneficial Saturday in a 5-3 Mountain West victory over Nevada at Beiden Field -- a win that has the Bulldogs off to a 2-0 conference start for the first time since 2010.
Trailing 2-0 in the third, Viers drove in the tying run with a two-out single to right. Ward followed with a single that pushed the go-ahead run across the plate.
Then in the seventh with the score tied, Viers came up with the bases loaded and drilled another single to right to put the Bulldogs ahead for good and make a winner of Velazquez, who worked his way out of trouble in the ninth to complete three innings of work and pick up the win.
Viers, the Bulldogs' first baseman, was down 1-2 when he delivered the winning run, which is telling. As a freshman, he hit .251 in 195 at-bats with an on-base percentage of .302. He had more strikeouts (50) than hits (49), as did Ward and Brody Russell as freshmen.
How often was he comfortable at the plate in a two-strike count a year ago?
"Not once," Viers said.
"It helped big time, and then we worked a lot in the fall, everyone did, on two strikes because that's where most of our at-bats are. So now we're all pretty comfortable with two strikes and everything. You just work through it, practice it. We all pretty comfortable, we don't really mind if it gets to two strikes. We can work the count and still get our pitch."
That is what Viers did, working and waiting for the pitch he thought he would get from Nevada right-hander Colby Blueberg, the third Wolf Pack pitcher.
"It was scouting," Viers said. "(Coach Mike Batesole) told me he was a sinker guy, so you have to stay down there longer, his curveball is pretty sharp and he throws in the low 90s.
"It got to two strikes, which was fine. I stuck with my swing and found a hole."
Chris Mariscal drove in the Bulldogs' fifth run with an RBI single in the bottom of the eighth, that one, too, on a 1-2 pitch.
Fresno State (5-2) scored four runs when there were two outs and three when the hitter was down in the count -- Trent Woodward had a RBI single in the third at 0-1, Viers and Mariscal were 1-2.
"(Viers) and Taylor Ward have just done a phenomenal job since last May, going out in summer ball, using those 150 at-bats to find that -- and then to actually put it to use on game day, that's another level," Batesole said. "It's early, but they've shown they can do it on game day."
Lambert did, as well.
But after a hard-luck 1-0 loss at UC Irvine in his first start, he struggled a bit more against Nevada (2-5, 0-2). He gave up six hits, walked two and needed 95 pitches to get into the fifth, but was there with a 3-2 lead and one out from exiting with a chance at his first D-I win.
But with two outs and a runner at second, he walked Austin Byler and after getting ahead of designated hitter Brad Gerig 0-2, gave up an RBI single on a 3-2 pitch.
"You want to give him every opportunity to do it, but, hey, those two hits, the leadoff hit up the middle, that pitch was shin high, and the pitch that knocked him out of the game, that was a good pitch. Give that guy credit. Those pitches that he made were good pitches, but they hit them," Batesole said.
"There's not much room for error if you're a starting pitcher at this level, especially in league games. They're like sharks. They sniff it out."
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