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Nevada baseball preview: The goals are getting bigger

T.J. Bruce
T.J. Bruce and the Wolf Pack start the season Friday in Texas. (Nick Beaton/Nevada athletics)

The Nevada baseball team has accomplished a lot since 2000.

It has won three regular-season conference championships.

It has beaten the No. 1 team in the nation.

It has had a 41-win season.

It has developed a first-round draft pick.

What it hasn't done is get to an NCAA Regional. That drought stretched to 18 straight season last year. As Nevada kicks off its 2019 campaign Friday against nationally ranked Missouri State in a tournament in San Marcos, Texas, the goal is simple: get back to a Regional for the first time since 2000.

"I feel like we're not OK with just being Mountain West champions," junior Jaylon McLaughlin said. "Now we want to go to Regionals, go to Super Regionals. That's what everybody wants, and it's time to bring it."

The Wolf Pack is coming off a MW regular-season title last year, an accomplishment that was soured when Nevada failed to win a game in the conference tournament. The team was picked second in the MW's preseason poll this year and will host this season's conference tournament, with the winner getting the MW's automatic berth into a Regional. Despite losing three of its top four hitters, its Friday starter and its closer to graduation, Nevada believes it has what it takes to get back to a Regional.

"Competitiveness and the mentality," sophomore Jake Jackson said of Nevada's strengths. "I've seen these guys day in and day out for the last eight months and every single person has the same competitive mentality. Being strong and going through everything together, I think we've very prepared for what we want to accomplish."

Here is a look at Nevada's 2019 outlook.

Pitching

Nevada lost Friday starter Mark Nowaczewski but returns a solid cast of options to fill out the starting rotation.

Jackson was a freshman All-American last season who went 8-4 with a 5.42 ERA, a number that was bloated as he wore down late in the season. He struck out 77 batters over 84.2 innings and should move into that Friday role.

Dalton Gomez (3-3, 5.07 ERA) is a little lefty who made big strides last season. He's crafty and relies to some degree on his defense after striking out 51 batters in 60.1 innings last year. Ryan Anderson (3-1, 5.86) pitched almost exclusively out of relief last season but is expected to be a starter this year. The lanky lefty from Spanish Springs High struck out 41 batters in 35.1 innings.

Also in the fray is freshman Owen Sharts, a top-100 prospect in last year's MLB draft who opted to go to college rather than turn pro after being drafted by the Texas Rangers.

Closer Keone Cabinian (3.81 ERA, nine saves) has departed, and Nevada might have to go with a closer by committee to replace him. Bradley Bonnenfant (0-1, 2.79), Jordan Jackson (3-1, 4.10), Cooper Powell (2-5, 5.90) and Grant Ford (1-1, 8.42) are all experienced bullpen pieces.

Newcomers Tyler Kennedy, Jake Fenn, Tyler Smith, Josh Congress, Ben Purcell and Shane Gustafson will fight for spots on the staff.

Infield

Nevada returns two key members on the dirt, including reigning MW freshman of the year, Josh Zamora, who also was named a freshman All-American. He hit .355 with a team-high nine homers last season at third base. First baseman Dillan Shrum (.312, seven homers, 46 RBIs) also is back. Zamora and Shrum were both recognized by D1 Baseball. Zamora was listed as the No. 15 third baseman in the nation and Shrum the No. 29 first baseman.

The middle of the infield is more unsettled, although Nevada has options there. Keaton Smith (.226) started 24 games last season and Tyler Bosetti (.271) started 22. Jaylon McLaughlin (.252) started 31 and is expected to split time between shortstop, where he played last season, and center field, where he's practiced this year. Transfer Wyatt Tilley, from College of the Sequoias, also will be in the mix.

Behind the dish is All-MW catcher Kaleb Foster, a Douglas High grad who hit .310 with six homers last year. Spanish Springs High grad Josh Prizina also could see time after redshirting last season. Reno High's Conor Allard (.221) also could see at-bats at corner infield or designated hitter.

Outfield

Nevada lost two starting outfielders, including Grant Fennell, the reigning MW player of the year, and Cole Krzmarzick. They ranked first and second on Nevada in batting average in 2018.

Weston Hatten, a two-way transfer from Washington State, returns after hitting .250 with four homers last season (he also logged 19.1 innings). Daniel Perry (.245) is moving from second base to outfield and McLaughlin also should see plenty of innings in the outfield.

Otis Statum Jr. was highly regarded when he committed to Nevada and is coming off a redshirt season (shoulder surgery) after hitting .122 in 2017. Freshmen Sawyer Jaksick, Julian Boyd and Nick Seamons also should battle for at-bats. Boyd was a big recruit who was drafted in the 26th round by the Chicago Cubs but opted for college.

Schedule

Nevada starts the season with 16 straight games away from home, which is par for the course as weather tends to make early-season games in Northern Nevada dicey.

The Wolf Pack opens its home schedule March 15 against MW rival New Mexico. Nevada hosts defending national champs Oregon State on April 22 and 23. The Wolf Pack also plays Pac-12 programs Utah and Washington State

The conference tournament is May 23-26 at Peccole Park.

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