The Nevada Wolf Pack baseball program was at a crossroads after the 2011 season.
The team had just suffered through a frustrating 24-31 season, losing its first nine games and never really digging itself out of a hole that swallowed up the season before it really even started.
And, to make matters worse, its three best hitters (Brian Barnett, Brock Stassi, Nick Melino) weren’t coming back for the 2012 season for various reasons and three of its better starting pitchers (Stassi, Jeremy Cole and Mark Joukoff) were also gone.
The Pack baseball program was in jeopardy of falling into a deep sleep.
Coach Gary Powers, though, wasn’t ready to slip quietly into a career-ending hibernation. If nothing else, the disappointment of 2011 only served to reinvigorate him. Powers, who saved the program from extinction when he took it over in 1983, did it once again after 2011.
Powers and his staff at the time — assistants Buddy Gouldsmith, Chris Pfatenhauer and Pat Flury — did an incredible job of rebuilding the Pack baseball program with one of the best recruiting classes in school history heading into the 2012 season.
The class of 2012 newcomers helped turn the program around immediately as the Pack went 32-25 last year and won the Western Athletic Conference regular season championship.
As good as that recruiting class was, it could have been even better.
Two of the best players Powers and his staff signed heading into 2012 never showed up on campus. Pitchers Brady Dragmire of Sacramento and Nick Valenza of Scottsdale Ariz., were drafted in June in the major league amateur draft and decided to take six-figure bonuses instead of coming to Nevada in 2012.
Dragmire, a 6-foot-1 right-hander, got $250,000 from the Toronto Blue Jays after getting drafted in the 17th round and Valenza, a 5-foot-10 left-hander, got $140,000 from the Seattle Mariners after getting picked in the 18th round.
The two, who each have a fastball in the 92-94 mph range, have spent the last two seasons in the minor leagues instead of teaming up with current Pack players Bradey Shipley, Tom Jameson and Tyler Wells to form one of the best college baseball pitching staffs in the nation.
Add Valenza and Dragmire to the list of 2012 newcomers and, well, you have one of the greatest recruiting classes in Wolf Pack history for any sport.
But even without those two talented pitchers, the newcomers Powers and his staff brought to northern Nevada starting with the 2012 season turned the program back around and have filled Pack baseball supporters with thoughts of returning to the NCAA Regionals for the first time since 2000.
“It’s as good a group of guys that we have brought in here in a long, long time,” Powers said just a month after the 2011 season ended. “This is as good an incoming class as we’ve had in some time. My assistants have done an excellent job. This is a special group.”
He was telling the truth.
A closer look at the newcomers who infused life and energy into the Wolf Pack baseball program starting in 2012 . . .
- BROOKS KLEIN: The Las Vegas native (Sierra Vista High) spent the 2010 and 2011 season playing in Carson City for Western Nevada College. He has become the Wolf Pack’s best hitter. As a junior in 2012 Klein hit .335 with eight homers and 42 RBI and also drilled 16 doubles and six triples. He’s picked up this season right where he left off in 2012. After nine games this year the right fielder is hitting .343 with six runs scored, two doubles, two triples and five RBI.
- AUSTIN BYLER: Byler came to the Pack as a true freshman out of Peoria, Ariz., where he was a lifetime .533 hitter at Sunrise Mountain High. The 6-foot-3 third baseman, who chose the Pack over Arizona, plays with a never-ending energy. Last year as a freshman he hit .276 with four homers and 22 RBI and seems intent on improving all those numbers as a sophomore. He is hitting .323 this year with a double, two triples and three RBI.
- JAY ANDERSON: Anderson hit .286 as a freshman in 2012 with five doubles, five triples, 19 RBI, a team-high 36 runs scored and 10 stolen bases. This year the former southern California high school football standout running back (Bishop Amat High) has played in just five games with only two starts but has already shown an increased maturity at the plate with four walks in just nine plate appearances. His on base percentage of .444, despite going 0-for-5 so far (with two runs scored), is even higher than his impressive .376 of a year ago.
- KEWBY MEYER: The Hawaii native is simply a pure hitter. The left-handed first baseman hit .324 a year ago with nine doubles, two triples and a homer to go along with 34 RBI. This year his power has already doubled with two home runs this past weekend at Peccole Park. He’s hitting .346 with six RBI out of the two hole and has struck out just once in nine games.
- BRETT JONES: Jones came to the Pack as a junior i 2012 out of Fresno City College He had a strong debut Pack season, hitting .299 with 10 doubles, a homer and 17 RBI. The first baseman/designated hitter could become one of the Pack’s top run producers before the year is over. This year he has played in just four games with one start and has gone 2-for-6 with a walk.
- KYLE HUNT: Hunt stepped right in as a freshman out of Mission Viejo, Calif., last year and started at shortstop. He provides a steady glove and speed on the bases. He hit .246 last year hitting at the bottom of the order with eight doubles, two triples, a homer and 19 RBI to go along with nine steals. This year he’s struggled a bit, going 3-for-21 (all singles) but he’s shown an ability to contribute in other ways with a sacrifice bunt, sacrifice fly and getting hit by a pitch. Most importantly, he’s made just one error in eight games.
- RYAN TEEL: Teel played behind starting catcher Carlos Escobar last year as a freshman out of Tustin, Calif., and drove in five runs in 41 at-bats on a .244 average. This year he’s taken over for Escobar (now in the Chicago Cubs organization) and is hitting .200 (4-for-20) with three doubles and four RBI. He’s also been reminiscent of another great Pack catcher of the past (Corky Miller) by getting hit with three pitches already. He also has eight assists in eight games (six starts) this year.
- TYLER WELLS: The sophomore left-hander has started 2013 with two outstanding starts. He has not allowed a single run over 11.2 innings and is already 2-0, beating Kansas and Northern Illinois. Wells, from Maxwell, Calif., battled through elkbow problems last year as a freshman (he had surgery after the year) and was 3-5 with a 6.42 ERA over 16 games and a dozen starts. Once he tones down his control issues (42 walks in 73.1 career innings) he has a chance to be one of the top left-handers on the west coast.
- BARRY TIMKO: Timko, from Serra High in San Bruno, Calif., is one of the most valuable and important pitchers on the Pack staff. The spot starter and left-handed reliever has done a solid job so far. He was 4-0 last year as a freshman with a 4.91 ERA over 18 games, two starts and 25.2 innings. This year he is 0-1 with an 8.10 ERA in three games and one start, allowing just four hits in 6.2 innings. His only college loss came on Tuesday when he turned in a solid starting performance, allowing three runs on four hits in five innings while striking out four. He also seemed to fix his control problems with just one walk.
- COLBY BLUEBERG: Blueberg, out of Carson City, has one of the livliest arms on the staff. As a raw freshman in 2012, he pitched in 22 games in relief, striking out 23 in 23 innings with 10 walks. He was 1-3 with a 5.09 ERA and looked like the closer of the future. He’s battled through adversity this year so far, with an 8.10 ERA in four games, allowing eight hits in 3.1 innings. All eight hits, though, have been singles.
- KODY GORDEN: Gorden got into 16 games as a junior transfer from Western Nevada College in 2012 and had an ERA of 6.28 over 14.1 innings, all in relief. He, too, battled control issues with 13 walks. He’s gotten into just two games this year and has allowed three hits, a walk and three runs in 1.2 innings. The 6-foot-1 Gorden, though, will be counted on to become an important situational lefty moving forward.
- DANIEL LEVINE: Levine was 0-2 last year with a 5.87 ERA over 10 games and four starts. He got hit a round, allowing 29 hits in just 15,1 innings while striking out 11 and walking eight. The Southern Nevada native, now a senior, is an important, experienced right arm. Levine has gotten into two games this year and has allowed a run on four hits in 1.1 innings.