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Nevada baseball ready for Mountain West's 'bullies' in tournament opener

Nevada baseball
Nevada baseball opens the Mountain West Tournament against Fresno State on Thursday. (John Byrne/Nevada athletics)

The Nevada baseball team is ready for the "bullies" of the Mountain West.

So says the team's leading hitter, Jaylon McLaughlin, a junior outfielder who will lead No. 4-seeded Nevada against No. 1 seed Fresno State on Thursday at 6:30 p.m. at Peccole Park in the first round of the Mountain West Tournament. That follows a 2 p.m. game between No. 2 San Diego State and No. 3 UNLV. The winner of the tournament gets the MW's automatic bid into the NCAA Regionals.

“They’re playing their roles," McLaughlin said this week of Fresno State. "How their coach treats it is they’re the bullies. So they’re playing their game the best they can, and I think if we play our game the best we can nobody can beat us. We showed that against Oregon State. If we can do that against them, we can do that against anybody.”

McLaughlin and the Wolf Pack spoke to the media earlier this week about the tournament as Nevada looks to win its first conference tournament in its 17th attempt in such an event. Here are a handful of the best quotes from the media session.

MW Tournament top quotes

Quote: “It’s a chance to be 0-0 and build off the season. I thought we did some good things, did some things not so well. But it’s a clean slate, everybody is 0-0 and it really should be about the next three days and possibly four days and who can do the best in that short time period.” – Coach T.J. Bruce

Context: Nevada swept San Jose State in its final MW series and then watched San Jose State and Air Force knock each other out in the final weekend of the regular season to give the Wolf Pack a spot in the four-team field. Nevada was 14-16 in MW play this season, but like Bruce said, it's 0-0 come tournament time.

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Quote: “There’s two folds to it. Yeah, you have a chance to rest your guys, but then you’d fear the rhythm of playing. But I think our guys needed a little break. We go at it pretty good with what we demand of them. I thought it was good to get off our feet a little bit and you have to work on checking out like you do checking in. We checked out for two days and came back Friday and Saturday and Sunday was an off day before getting back at it.” – Coach T.J. Bruce

Context: Nevada did not play the final weekend of the regular season, so it will have gone eight days without a game before the Fresno State tilt. That gives Nevada a chance to get some rest, and starting pitcher Ryan Anderson said his arm feels fresher, but baseball is a rhythm sport, so it will be interesting to see how sharp the Wolf Pack is.

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Quote: “We think our strong-suit is our bullpen. We think we can match up with a lot of people out of the bullpen. Our starters did a really nice job of lengthening out their starts (against San Jose State) and putting us in a position to win. I told those guys that stuff is over with. Build off it and learn from it, but now it’s go time for a whole new season.” – Coach T.J. Bruce

Context: If Nevada can get a "quality start" out of its starting rotation (defined as six-plus innings and three runs or less) it should be in a good spot given how strong its bullpen is. Relievers Grant Ford (5-1, 2.74 ERA), Bradley Bonnenfant (6-3, 3.74), Shane Gustafson (2-0, 3.58) and Cooper Powell (1-0, 3.95 ) have been excellent out of the pen.

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Quote: “For me, no. For other people, maybe. As I told them, we have to be able to play with a chip on our shoulder. We got in and they have be excited about getting in and enjoying the process. It’s playoff baseball. Playoff college baseball is really an exciting time. We just have to enjoy the process of it. It’s going to be a fun time.” – Coach T.J. Bruce

Context: This was in reference to Nevada going in as a lowest seed this year rather than the highest seed last year and whether there was a different feeling with the team. The No. 4 seed has never won the MW Tournament.

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Quote: “(Fresno State's) Ryan (Jensen) is going to pitch for a long time. There’s no question. He’s going to be a top-40 pick, I imagine. He’s grown over the years, but I think our guys stepping into the box are just as talented. We can’t make it so much about Ryan Jensen, Fresno State, San Diego State or any other opponent. We have to make it all about us and focus on what we can do. We know what Jensen is and he knows what we are, too. It will be chess match seeing each other so recently, but we’ve both grown in the last three weeks and I will be a good test for us.”

Context: Jensen is 10-1 with a 3.09 ERA and more than one strikeout per inning. In conference games, he's been even better: 7-0 with a 2.51 ERA. Jensen allowed three runs in seven innings in his only start against Nevada this season.

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Quote: “They’re really aggressive. They have good hitters one through nine. You can’t take any batters off. Even the nine hole is going to be a good battle. You just have to keep on your toes and keep the ball down and hit your spots and you should be all right.” – Pitcher Ryan Anderson

Context: Anderson is referencing Fresno State's offense. The Bulldogs led the MW in runs per game (7.02) and also was first in ERA (3.75). That's usually a good combo.

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Quote: “It would make my whole college career, just knowing I was on one of the teams that broke that streak would be unbelievable. If we could do that, that would make my whole three years here worth it.” – Pitcher Ryan Anderson

Context: The Spanish Springs High graduate on what getting Nevada to its first NCAA Regional since 2000 would mean to him. Nevada has reached a Regional four times in its history.

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Quote: “It’s important in double elimination to start off with a win. Anytime you start with a win in a double-elimination tournament, it gives you the best route. You save pitching. You can also play with lineups and play with your pitching staff moving forward.” – Outfielder Wes Hatton

Context: Beating Fresno State in the opener would be huge for Nevada. If the Wolf Pack loses its opener, it'd have to win four games in three days without a loss to earn that Regional berth.

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Quote: “I don’t think we’re an underdog at all. As long you get in, that’s the goal and anything can happen. There is no pressure. There is no expectation. I think guys can play more free that way as well.” – Outfielder Wes Hatton

Context: Nevada, not an underdog.

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Quote: “I feel like we’ve played one inning at a time. I feel like we’re buying into what Coach is saying more than we have in the previous times, just taking it one inning at a time and treating it like Game 7 of the World Series each inning rather than just playing the whole nine. Going pitch to pitch like we’ve always talked about is the best thing to do.” – Outfielder Jaylon McLaughlin

Context: McLaughlin is talking about what Nevada has done well in its four-game win streak heading into the tournament. That four-game winning streak is tied for the longest of the season for the Wolf Pack.

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Quote: “I think so just because it’s playoffs, but the better you can treat it like another day of playing baseball, another day of competing, it should be fine. It’s going to be a little shell-shock to the freshmen because it’s two games and if you lose two games your season is done. Just being against the ropes is very fun to me. I like it. But seeing how the freshmen respond, the new guys, should be cool.” – Outfielder Jaylon McLaughlin

Context: McLaughlin discussing whether postseason games feel different than regular season games.

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Quote: “Anybody who throws in the upper-90s is very good, but with everything it’s his confidence. .... I’m looking forward to it. I think our team is looking forward to it. We want to show we can go against that guy and beat him. We should be ready.” – Outfielder Jaylon McLaughlin

Context: McLaughlin is talking about facing Jensen, a potential first-round pick in this year's draft (more likely he'll go in the second round).

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