ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. –The University of New Mexico baseball team made the first night game at Lobo Field one to remember.
Behind right-hander Drew Bridges and a potent offense, the Lobos (3-2) defeated Northern Illinois (0-5) 12-0 in its home opener Friday night in front of 894 fans, the largest crowd home crowd since UNM returned to Lobo Field last season.
“That’s what would have happened had we not had a fog out in San Diego,” UNM head coach Ray Birmingham said referring to Bridges’ start last weekend that was cut short by weather. “He pitched downhill. That’s what he does. He pitches downhill with late movement for strikes. The Lobo way is to pound the zone, and our kids did a great job pitching tonight.”
Bridges was simply phenomenal, shutting out the Huskies over six innings with a career-high eight strikeouts. He allowed five hits, all singles and all on the ground, with two walks.
“It was nice to get in a rhythm, make some adjustments and let my defense work a little bit,” said the 6-foot-4 sophomore from Fruita, Colo. “Compared to last year, (I’ve had) tremendous growth. Going into last year I didn’t really know how to make certain adjustments. Through the fall (pitching) coach Dan Spencer did a great job showing me the little things to make my outings smooth.”
Bridges wasn’t the only one to set new career marks Friday. Jered Meek set a career high in RBIs and Jared Holley tied a career mark in RBIs (two) and set a new high with four hits. Also, Matt Villalobos, who was a position player in 2013, made his pitching debut and hurled a scoreless eighth with a strikeout, and Tyler Gibson also made his collegiate debut on the mound in the ninth and struck out the side.
Just as important as the results were, Birmingham was also pleased with who produced.
“Eight New Mexico kids got in the lineup today,” he said. “What they did today on the mound – (Taylor) Duree, Villalobos and Gibson – was impressive.”
Duree, Villalobos and Gibson combined to pitch three innings of relief with the only base runner coming on a dropped third strike.
UNM got on the board early and often, scoring in each of the first four innings. It started with a two-spot in the first. Sam Haggerty got the inning started with a one-out bunt single. He then showed excellent base running skills by going first to third on a flared single to left by Chase Harris. Harris promptly stole second to put two men in scoring position for Alex Real.
The Lobo catcher smashed a ball to the hole between third and short. The Huskies’ shortstop made a diving stop but had no play as Haggerty scored and Harris moved to third. John Pustay drove Harris home with a sacrifice fly to left, giving the Lobos a 2-0 lead.
“When we score in the first it takes a lot of stress, a lot of pressure off you as a pitcher,” Bridges said. “We’ve always been successful hitting and it’s great to have that.”
UNM added three more in the second on an RBI single by Jared Holley, a fielder’s choice by Haggerty and a triple by Harris. In the third the Lobos got another pair on an RBI groundout by Meek and a run-scoring double by Holley. That made it 10-0 and put the game out of reach.
Two more runs in the seventh finished the scoring as the Lobos outhit NIU 16-5.
“The goal of Lobo baseball is always to lead everybody in hitting,” said Harris, who finished 3-for-5 with a run and two RBIs. “Everybody’s buying in and doing what Coach B is preaching. We had a couple big hits down the right-field line, and Holley is doing a great job in the nine-hole turning the order over. Everybody’s doing their part and it feels great. Today felt a little bit like last year.”
Holley finished 4-for-5 with a double, a run scored and two RBIs. Padilla finished 3-for-5 with two doubles, a triple, and two runs scored, but was the only starter not to record at least one RBI. Haggerty led the team with three runs scored and four players recorded two RBIs. Every starter reached base except for Siple, who nearly had a bunt single while attempting to sacrifice in the second.
“We worked really hard on going the other way yesterday and they executed today,” Birmingham said. “And it’s going to get better. We’re not close to where we expect to be, where we hope to be, and you have to remember we lost a lot of talent last year. It’s going to get better every day.”
The Lobos continue play in the Lobo Invite Saturday as they host Missouri St. at 4 p.m. The Bears are coming off a wild 9-8 win over Northern Illinois Friday afternoon. MSU had held the Huskies to a single hit and was leading 9-0 entering the bottom of the ninth when NIU rallied. Trailing by one with the bases loaded and two outs, the Huskies only needed a base hit to complete a wild comeback. It was not in the cards, however, as a popup to second base ended the game. MSU and NIU will meet again Saturday at noon.
Junior lefty Colton Thomson will start on the mound for the Lobos in the late game. Fans can watch a live stream of the game at www.golobos.com or listen to the game on ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM. Fans are reminded that due to the men’s basketball game at 8 p.m., parking for baseball will be limited to the Baseball South dirt lot south of Lobo Field. As a way of saying thank you, admission will be FREE to all fans attending either game Saturday.
Notes: Bridges’ previous career high in strikeouts was four at Nevada last April 19 … Holley’s previous career high for hits was three, which he had accomplished four times previously, most recently vs. Columbia in the Fullerton Regional last season … Holley is now hitting .474 on the season, best on the team … Lobo pitchers struck out 12 Huskies and walked only two.