RENO, Nev. – The University of New Mexico team gutted out a tough 5-4 victory over the Nevada Wolf Pack Friday night to remain tied for first in the Mountain West. UNLV, which is tied with the Lobos, won 6-1 at San Diego State. UNM (34-16-1, 17-8) is seeking its third straight regular-season title.
Josh Walker pitched seven strong innings to earn career win No. 26 and move within one of both the UNM and Mountain West records, while Alex Real hit a three-run homer in support and Aaron Siple drove in the eventual winning run with a sacrifice fly on a foulout in the seventh. It was only the third home defeat in conference play for the Wolf Pack (26-21, 14-11) this season, while it was the 14th win away from Lobo Field for UNM this year.
“That was a great win by our ballclub,” head coach Ray Birmingham said. “We knew it was going to be a dogfight, but we battled the whole way against a very good Nevada team.”
The 14 wins is tied for fifth most in a single season in program history with the 2013 and 2008 teams.
The only damage Walker allowed came on a pair of home runs: a solo shot in the first and a two-run shot in the sixth. Between the first and sixth, though, he allowed just one hit: a double in the second. He threw 58 of his 90 pitches for strikes and allowed just five hits and two walks.
After Nevada’s solo home run in the bottom of the first, the Lobos answered back in the top of the second. Jack Zoellner doubled with one out, and Jered Meek came through with two outs and knocked him in with a single to left.
In the third, the Wolf Pack made a crucial decision that came back to haunt them. Sam Haggerty led off with an infield single to short. Siple moved him to second with his 15th sacrifice bunt of the season. Nevada then chose to intentionally walk Chase Harris to set up a potential double play.
It didn't get one.
After John Pustay struck out swinging, Real hit the first pitch he saw over the fence in left to give the Lobos a 4-1 lead they would not relinquish.
In the sixth, Nevada drew closer on its second home run, but the Lobos again answered immediately. Leading off the top of the seventh, Lane Milligan smacked a double to right-center, and, when the center fielder bobbled it, he advanced to third. One batter later Siple flied one down the left-field line that was too close not to play. The left fielder made the catch, and Milligan tagged and scored standing up.
That extra cushion was required as the usually stout bullpen ran into a bit of trouble in the eighth. Freshman Carson Schneider, who has been phenomenal as one of just two Lobo lefties in the pen, hit a batter with his first pitch and then gave up a single to put men on first and second. Jake Cole was then called on in relief.
He retired his first batter on a sacrifice bunt that moved both men into scoring position. He then walked back-to-back batters on 3-2 pitches to force in a run and move the tying run to third. But he got the next batter to ground into a double play to Haggerty at short, who made a nice stop on a one-hopper to his left, to end the frame and escape the jam. Victor Sanchez then pitched a perfect ninth to earn his ninth save of the season.
Haggerty finished 2-for-4 with a double and was the only Lobo with multiple hits. UNM only recorded seven for the game, but the Lobos still out-hit the Wolf Pack. They also played tremendous defense as they turned three double plays and did not commit an error for the first time since April 20 against Texas Tech. Pustay made a career-high seven putouts in left, and Meek tied a career-high with six assists from second base.
Walker has now thrown a career-high 93.0 innings and has pitched at least six innings in 11 of his 13 starts. He will have a chance to tie Rob Hoover for the UNM record and Kyle Winkler, formerly of TCU, for the Mountain West record next Thursday against Air Force.
In the meantime, though, the Lobos must remain focused on the Wolf Pack. The Lobos now own a three-game lead on Nevada, but their goal is to win the conference. If they win out they will guarantee themselves at least a share of the title. First pitch for Saturday night is scheduled for 7 MT, with Colton Thomson scheduled to get the start for UNM.
Notes: Lobo pitchers did not strike out a batter for the first time since April 13, 2013 … eight of the 13 hits in the game went for extra bases … the school record for away victories is 19, which was set back in 2000 … Haggerty’s double was his six, Zoellner’s was his seventh and Milligan’s was his second.