A lesser team would have crumpled under the eighth-inning adversity Fresno State faced Wednesday in its opening game of the Mountain West Conference baseball tournament.
The Bulldogs blew a three-run lead to fall behind sixth-seeded UNLV but answered with two in the bottom of the inning to pull out a 6-5 victory at Peccole Park.
In the bottom of the eighth, freshman Torin Goldstein came off the bench to deliver a score-tying single, and on Taylor Tempel’s ensuing base hit, pinch-runner Jesse Medrano avoided the tag of catcher Erik VanMeetren to score the deciding run.
For Goldstein, it was only his 15th at-bat of the season — and obviously his biggest one.
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“We talked about this last week at our place, that I’m going to be the guy to come in at the bottom of the lineup and I’m going to be the guy to come through for our team,” Goldstein said. “I got a chance to do it today, and it came out in our favor.”
Third-seeded Fresno State (30-26) advanced in the winner’s bracket to play second-seeded San Diego State at 3 p.m. Thursday today.
Until UNLV’s comeback in the top of the eighth inning, the game belonged to Fresno State pitcher Jimmy Lambert and catcher Taylor Ward. Lambert two-hit the Rebels through seven innings, leaving with a 4-1 lead. Ward produced a pair of two-run hits and led the Bulldogs by going 3 for 4.
“The key to the whole thing was that Jimmy was so good for seven,” said Fresno State coach Mike Batesole, who originally planned to start junior Jake Shull. “He kept us ahead and that allowed us to make a couple of mistakes late in the game.”
Lambert breezed through the first five innings, allowing just one base runner. He exited after seven innings with the Bulldogs leading 4-1.
“Some crazy stuff happened at the end of the game, but we pulled through, and it feels good,” Lambert said.
Lambert said his two-hit performance was his best of the season.
“Game 1 of the tournament, we definitely needed this win,” Lambert said. “You don’t want to go to the losers’ bracket and have to play eight straight games or whatever we have to play.”
However, the bullpen couldn’t hold the lead in the eighth.
“Jimmy was sitting on 105 pitches and we were going to let him go back out, but after that long inning, we changed our mind,” Batesole said.
After Lambert’s departure, Tim Borst struck out Dylan Ellis to start the eighth, but the next five Rebels reached base. RBI base hits by Joey Armstrong, Joey Swanner and VanMeetren tied the score at 4. The Bulldogs’ second reliever of the inning, Garrett Mundell, balked on a pick-off move to first, sending Swanner home with the go-ahead run.
Mundell made sure there wasn’t a Rebels comeback in the ninth, striking out the side to earn his third win in five decisions.
After leaving four base runners in the first four innings, the Bulldogs broke through to score twice in the fifth. Ward’s two-out double over left fielder Swanner’s head brought home Tempel and Korby Batesole.
Two errors gifted a run for the Rebels in the sixth inning. Bartesole bobbled a ground ball by Joey Armstrong that moved Nick Rodriguez to third base. Rodriguez came home when hard-charging right fielder Austin Guibor dropped a short fly ball by Swanner. But the Bulldogs still had time to tag out Armstrong between first and second bases to prevent a bigger rally.
Ward provided more breathing room for the Bulldogs in the seventh, stroking his second two-RBI hit of the afternoon. His base hit to center field scored Ryan Dobson and Tempel to make the score 4-1.
“You need your big guys to step up in big games,” Batesole said. “He takes such good, patient at-bats. We knew they were going to come out and pump breaking balls in there, and he’s been doing a really good job all year of staying back. “
Two-out base hits by Ward and Kevin Viers in the opening frame provided Fresno State with its first scoring opportunity. But Kenny Corey was retired on a swinging bunt to end the first.
The Bulldogs ran themselves out of a two-out rally in the second. With Brody Russell on second base, Dobson hit a liner that third baseman Austin Anderson gloved on the bounce, but Russell over-ran third base and was thrown out at the plate.
Fresno State also threatened in the third, but UNLV starting pitcher Ben Wright fanned Viers with Guibor on third base. Guibor started the rally with a one-out double to right-center, then advanced to third on a groundout.
The Bulldogs have won eight of their past nine games and defeated UNLV (25-30) for the seventh time in seven tries.
▪ Five Bulldogs were named all-conference — seniors Mundell and Tempel along with junior Ward made the first team while junior Shull and sophomore Guibor were on the second.
▪ Today: 3 p.m., Fresno State vs. San Diego State at Peccole Park in Reno