One week before the UNLV baseball team’s season opener, the players were busy putting the finishing touches on improvements to Wilson Stadium. The infield has been resurfaced, the dugouts rebuilt and painted, and new turf installed in front of them. But the most notable change heading into the Rebels’ Feb. 18 home opener against Maine is the presence of first-year coach, Tim Chambers.
Chambers, 46, replaced Buddy Gouldsmith as UNLV’s coach in June after spending 11 years at the College of Southern Nevada, where he built the program from scratch into a national power, winning the Junior College World Series championship in 2003. Before that he coached baseball at Bishop Gorman High School from 1991-99, where he won six consecutive Sunset Division titles.
The Rebels finished 29-29 last year, and haven’t had a winning season since reaching the NCAA Tournament in 2005. But Chambers is confident he can carry his success over to UNLV.
“Nobody is going to put more pressure on me than I am,” says Chambers, who was selected from more than 100 applicants for the Rebels job. “And I’ll put the pressure on my coaches, too. In my opinion, there’s no way we shouldn’t win in this town.”
Only 17 of the 27 players Chambers inherited at the start of his tenure remain with the Rebels. There are 12 former CSN players on UNLV’s roster, including 11 who played for Chambers last year, but the coach says there will be no favoritism when it comes to playing time.
“I don’t care if you came with me from CSN,” he says. “I don’t care if you’re UNLV or you’re another junior college transfer, the best players are going to play.”
Chambers was committed to keeping the top local talent in town while at CSN, and his philosophy is no different at UNLV. With this year’s influx from CSN, the Rebels have 18 local players on the roster, up from eight last season. And Chambers has already received commitments from six of the top local high-school players for next year.
But the coach isn’t banking on local talent alone. He also intends to recruit in states such as California, Texas and Florida that have an abundance of skilled players as he attempts to help UNLV reach the College World Series for the first time.
“I think we can get to where we want to go in five years,” he says. “With this [year’s] club, our goal is to win 40 games and get to an [NCAA] regional. And once you get to a regional, anything can happen.”
Following the Rebels’ season-opening four-game series, they will play 15 games in 17 days from Feb. 25 through March 13, which should tell Chambers a lot about the type of team he has this year.
The Rebels are projected to finish fifth in the seven-team Mountain West Conference, with TCU the unanimous choice to win its sixth straight conference championship.
“I like being picked down there,” Chambers says. “It’ll motivate the guys. I think we’re going to surprise some people, though. I think we’re going to be a little better than people think.”
Players to watch: Sophomore outfielder Brandon Bayardi, an all-Mountain West Conference preseason pick, hit .350 last season; senior outfielder Rance Roundy, a Silverado High School graduate, suffered a season-ending injury in UNLV’s first game last year after hitting .364 as a junior; junior right-hander Tanner Peters, the Rebels’ No. 1 pitcher, was 7-5 in 18 games in 2010.
Key home games: vs. Arizona, March 8-9; vs. TCU, March 18-20; vs. BYU, April 14-16.
Tickets: Adults $7, faculty and staff $5, seniors and kids under 12 free.