Thursday, Feb. 17, 2011 | 2:05 a.m.
When the UNLV baseball team opens the season Friday with a four-game series against visiting Maine, first-year Rebels head coach Tim Chambers might have an advantage over his coaching counterpart.
College baseball teams are using a new form of aluminum bat this spring, with the change making Chambers’ debut in the Division I ranks feel similar to his past 11 years on the junior college circuit.
The BBCOR bat, an aluminum bat designed to perform like a wood bat, is the new standard for colleges. BBCOR (Bat Ball Coefficient of Restitution) bats are expected to have less pop, producing lower scoring and shorter games.
So, instead of both teams reaching double digits in a four-plus hour affair — the norm for college baseball — games won’t feature as much scoring or as many home runs.
Prior to taking the job at UNLV in June, Chambers led the College of Southern Nevada to a pair of appearances in the Junior College World Series in growing the program into one of the nation’s best. CSN’s Scenic West Athletic Conference is a wood-bat league, giving Chambers plenty of innings of experience in playing small ball — methodically moving base runners into scoring position instead of relying on the long ball.
“The ball still rings when it comes off the bat, but it doesn’t sound like aluminum,” Chambers said. “They sound more like wood. Defending the short game and executing the short game (becomes crucial).”
Chambers’ teams at CSN were always ranked near the top of the national polls. At UNLV, the Rebels were picked fifth out of seven Mountain West Conference teams in a preseason poll by coaches and media.
But that doesn’t change expectations.
Despite what outsiders think, Chambers has confidence that his team will qualify for the NCAA Tournament. Chambers replaces Buddy Gouldsmith, who led the Rebels to a pair of Mountain West Conference titles in his seven-year tenure. The Rebels, however, have had four consecutive losing seasons.
“I wouldn’t be shocked if our club got past the Mountain West Tournament,” Chambers said. “I know that sounds lofty, but our club is good enough.”
Chambers’ first UNLV team has 11 players from his squad last year at CSN, which reached the World Series. Part of the transition was getting the players already on the UNLV roster to buy into his system.
It would be easy to assume Chambers would favor the CSN crew he is already familiar with. But that has been far from the case, he said.
“The best players are going to play. It came together pretty fast once they realized that,” Chambers said.
The Rebels' top returner is sophomore outfielder Brandon Bayardi, a preseason all-league selection who batted .350 last year in starting all 58 games. He had 85 hits, 22 doubles, nine home runs, 57 RBI and had a .584 slugging percentage in his first season.
Chambers said several would receive quality-playing time, with a crew of about 14 who will be part of the regular lineup. Early in the season, the Rebels play 11 games in 14 days, which will give Chambers plenty of chances to give everyone on his roster a look.
Holdovers such senior infielders Richie Jimenez and Hunter Beaty and outfielders Cash Thomas, Rance Roundy and Scott Berke will see significant action. Several players are junior and seniors, with Chambers expecting defense to be a strength.
Returning pitcher Tanner Peters, who went 5-7 with a 4.90 earned run average last year, will start the opener. Left-hander Jesse Garcia will follow, while pitchers such as Joe Robinson, Brady Zuniga and Justin Baca will get quality innings.
“Off of what the returning players tell me, we are a lot deeper with better pitching,” Chambers said. “I know we will be able to catch it. I know our pitching will be pretty good on the weekend. And nobody knows how they will be offensively with the new bats.”
The opener is 6 p.m. Friday, with a doubleheader starting at 2 p.m. scheduled for Saturday. The series finale is 1 p.m. Sunday.