May 27, 2012
LAS VEGAS, Nev. - Going into their championship game in the Mountain West Tournament Saturday night, the University of New Mexico baseball team didn't know if they'd be facing TCU or San Diego State until about an hour before game time.
With the way the Lobos hit, it wouldn't have mattered either way.
The Lobos (36-22) erupted for 14 runs in the first three innings on their way to a resounding 22-3 victory over San Diego State (26-34) to secure their second straight MW Tournament title and guarantee themselves a third consecutive trip to the NCAA tournament.
UNM set numerous MW Tournament championship game records with their run, hit (26), home run (three), and RBI (22) numbers. They also recorded the most doubles in any MW Tournament game with seven.
"We came out here with a lot of energy, and we were really excited to get the game going," Josh Melendez said. "It showed in the first inning as we put up six runs, and after that we felt real comfortable and kept hitting.
Freshman Alex Real led the way with a career-high and MW Tournament championship game-record seven RBIs. Melendez, who was named MVP of the tournament, finished the contest 3-for-6 with two runs and two RBIs. Kyle Stiner led the team with four hits and Trey Porras scored four runs and drove in four more.
MW Co-Player of the Year DJ Peterson got the scoring started almost right away. Following a single by Ben Woodchick in the first inning he launched his second home run of the tournament deep over the wall in left and into the night.
One batter later Melendez continued his hot play with a double to left center. A double by Porras knocked him home and increased the lead to 3-0. Stiner reached on an error and Porras advanced to third to bring up Real.
With the count at 0-1, Real asked home plate umpire Bill Van Raaphorst for time but it wasn't given, so he calmly remained in the box and smoked a two-run double off the wall in left. Alex Allbritton followed with a bouncing single up the middle to score Real and give the Lobos an early 6-0 lead.
Home runs by Real in the second and Padilla in the third helped extend the Lobos' lead and by then the game was out of reach.
The Aztecs, who defeated TCU 12-11 earlier in the day to earn the right to play the Lobos, scored 11 runs to erase a 14-4 ninth-inning lead against TCU on Thursday, but a similar comeback was not in the cards against UNM.
The Lobos added another run in the fourth and then seven more in the fifth. By then, though, the outcome was all but academic.
The Lobos, who also earned a share of the MW regular-season championship, dominated conference pitching all season and nothing changed during the tournament. They hit .351 in MW play during the regular season and bettered that mark in the tournament as they hit .456 (57-for-125) in their three games. They recorded 18 hits in Thursday's 13-0 win over UNLV, had 13 in their 5-2 victory over TCU on Friday, and pounded out their record 26 against the Aztecs.
Melendez and Stiner led the way with eight hits apiece in the tournament. Porras and Peterson each recorded eight RBIs, and Melendez led the team with seven runs scored.
"It definitely does feel great getting the (MVP) award," Melendez said. "But ... it was a team effort and I'm glad we all got out here and got three wins."
The Lobos are full of special players. They outscored their opponents 40-5 over the three games, and allowed only three earned runs in the tournament, lowering the staff's ERA to 4.38. That is the lowest ERA for UNM since 1977. UNM pitchers also struck out 27 batters and have now recorded 450 Ks this season. That is the second-most in program history, behind only the 469 strikeouts the 1968 team recorded.
This is one of the most complete teams UNM has ever fielded and they have legitimate postseason aspirations.
"I came to New Mexico to build a championship program and to get us to (the College World Series in) Omaha," Birmingham said. "And we're growing. We're getting better."
Having secured their berth in an NCAA regional, now the only question facing the Lobos is where they will open postseason play. UNM will find out when the brackets and regions are released at 10 a.m. (MT) on Monday.
"Next week (at the regionals) I don't think we really need to change anything," Melendez said. "We've been playing well. We just need to stick together and keep playing our game."
Game notes: Peterson is now in fifth in UNM history for total bases in a single season with 174 ... the 36 wins for UNM is seventh-most in program history ... Rudy Jaramillo made his 64th career appearance in the ninth inning, which ranks fifth on UNM's all-time list ... the Lobos have now won seven straight MW Tournament games dating back to last season ... UNM is on a season-high nine-game winning streak.
2012 Mountain West All-Tournament Team
Josh Melendez, New Mexico (Tournament MVP)
Alex Allbritton, New Mexico
DJ Peterson, New Mexico
Austin House, New Mexico
Greg Allen, San Diego State
Jake Romanski, San Diego State
Jomel Torres, San Diego State
Jerrick Suiter, TCU
Derek Odell, TCU
Designated Hitter: Kevin Cron, TCU
Relief Pitcher: Bobby Mares, New Mexico