May 27, 2011
Lobo Baseball - At the Mountain West Tournament
Tony Gwynn Stadium - San Diego, Calif.
Friday: Lobos 4, TCU 2
Up Next: 10:30 a.m. (MT) Monday; NCAA Selection Show (ESPN)
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
SAN DIEGO, Calif. -- It was unlikely, unexpected, and even uncharacteristic of what the Lobos had produced on the field most of the season. But for the Lobos wearing the Cherry & Silver, the Mountain West title was a vision and a dream they focused on with the unbending resilience of youth steeled by the "Why not?" attitude of a veteran coach.
And they did it - mowing down Brigham Young, TCU, Utah and TCU again, 4-2 Friday night in the Tony Gwynn Stadium.
There probably won't be any Lobo tears shed Monday during the 2011 NCAA Selection Show because there is no suspense, no questions and no doubt about the Lobos' future. Coach Ray Birmingham's pups made it easy on him.
The Lobos are going to the NCAA Tournament with a locked-in bid and the tears of joy already have been shed in San Diego.
"We stuck together, believed to the end, and climbed the mountain top," said Birmingham. "I couldn't be prouder of them."
The amazing New Mexico Lobos, a young team slapped down throughout the season by a grueling, Marquis de Sade schedule, rolled undefeated through the 2011 Mountain West Baseball Tournament - twice slapping down the mighty TCU Horned Frogs.
UNM's 4-2 win over TCU Friday night in San Diego handed the No.6 seed Lobos their first MWC title plus the league's automatic NCAA bid. The only suspense in Monday's selection show will be where the Lobos open postseason play and against what team.
The Lobos might not have been the best team in the Mountain West during the regular season, but there was no question which team was the class of the league in San Diego. And it was do-or-die for UNM at the MWC finale. The Lobos' record in regular season play would not have produced an at-large bid. UNM takes a 20-39 mark into the NCAA bracket.
Where did these magical Lobos come from? UNM limped into the tourney riding a seven-game losing streak and coming off a three-game whipping by TCU. The Lobo team that rallied for an NCAA charge in Tony Gwynn Stadium was focused, clutch and pitching the ball like a staff you might see in Yankee Stadium.
"I was worried the schedule might take away their confidence," said Birmingham. "It took time for them to figure some things out, but now these guys know they can compete with anyone. They just beat TCU, so they can pretty much beat anybody."
The Lobos have a long list of heroes in this title run, but maybe you start the list with the UNM arms: Rudy Jaramillo, Richard Olson, Gera Sanchez, Austin House, Jake McCasland, Alexis Garza, and Bobby Mares.
The Horned Frogs' team the Lobos beat Friday was a Top Ten team that had pounded out 31 hits in two days in the losers' bracket. TCU reached the title game with a 14-1 pounding of Utah. TCU had 18 hits against the Utes. The Frogs pounded BYU 12-5 on Thursday.
UNM's House was simply amazing Friday. Two years ago he was bouncing around the halls at Albuquerque's La Cueva High and Friday night he was throwing smoke in the MWC title game and shutting out the No. 7 ranked team in the nation for six innings.
The Lobos probably squeezed more innings out of House than they expected. Mares took the mound in the eighth after TCU scored two off House in the seventh to cut UNM's lead to 4-2. House left the game giving up a single earned run while scattering eight hits with nine strikeouts.
Mares held TCU to one hit in four innings in UNM's 4-3 win over TCU on Wednesday. The Frogs threw a two-out scare at Mares in the ninth inning, but again failed to score on Mares and UNM stormed the field as MWC champions with one foot on that long road to Omaha. The final out was a long fly to centerfield that produced the expected dog pile in the infield.
The new season and the new hopes that come with postseason tournaments produced an NCAA party crasher named Lobos.
"It was insane," said Lobo Kyle Stiner of the postgame celebration. "You didn't know where you were with all those guys on top of you.
"We showed all year we could compete with anybody. We kind of proved it this whole week. Whatver Coach B (Birmingham) does, it's working."
Stiner and Trey Porras were outstanding at the plate vs. TCU as each Lobo had two hits, one RBI and each scored a run. UNM had eight hits to nine for TCU. Austin got the mound win for UNM.
The Lobos struck first against TCU with a little help from the Frogs. Kyle "Beep" Stiner led off with a single and was pushed to second by a Ben Woodchick bunt. Stiner went to third on a TCU error and scored off that bag on a passed ball.
New Mexico scored two more in the second to go up 3-0. Alex Allbritton got a one-out double and scored on a Trey Porras single. Stiner slapped a single up the middle of the infield with two outs to score Porras.
The bottom of the second was huge for the Lobos and revealed the type of clutch pitching that got UNM into the MWC title game. The Frogs had the bases loaded with one out. UNM helped TCU jam the bases with an error by Austin House, a balk, a passed ball and a walk. House struck out two straight Frogs to pull himself out of the jam with no runs.
Peterson, who was hit by a pitch on the wrist in the win over Utah, led off the third with his 31st double of the season. Peterson later got caught in a run down, but the fielder's choice put Campbell on first. He went to third on a long single by Garver. Campell scored on a wild pitch into the dirt that skipped away from the TCU catcher. The Lobos left their half of the third up 4-0.
The Frogs finally reached the board in the seventh inning. TCU got two singles which put Frogs on second and third. A grounder to short took a nasty bounce and skidded off Allbritton into left field. Both TCU runners came in and UNM left the inning up 4-2. "You knjow TCU can hit," said Stiner. "They play all parts of the game, but they can really hit. That was one part of their game we needed to shut down and we did it."
Mares replaced House in the eighth. TCU massaged a runner to third in the eighth with two outs. Mares got a strikeout to end that inning. Mares got two quick outs in the bottom of the ninth and then walked two Frogs to bring the winning run to the plate.
Birmingham strolled out to the mound and had a long take with his reliever. The coach left Mares on the mound and he produced the long fly to center that ended the game and extended UNM's season.
2011 MOUNTAIN WEST ALL-TOURNAMENT TEAM
MVP - DJ Peterson, Fr., 3B, New Mexico
Dane Nielsen, Sr., 2B, BYU
Luke Campbell, Jr., LF, New Mexico
Austin House, So., RHP, New Mexico
DJ Peterson, Fr., 3B, New Mexico
Cody Smith, Fr., CF, San Diego State
Josh Elander, So., C, TCU
Kyle Von Tungeln, So., CF, TCU
Joe Weik, Sr., 1B, TCU
Trey Nielsen, Fr., 3B, Utah
Designated Hitter - Jacob Nelson, New Mexico
Relief Pitcher - Bobby Mares, New Mexico