June 3, 2012
LOS ANGELES -The University of New Mexico baseball season came to a disappointing end Sunday afternoon as the Lobos dropped a 7-2 decision to Creighton University in an elimination game in the UCLA regional.
The Lobos finished the season with a 37-24 record, which tied for the fourth-most victories in a single season in school history.
"I have to tip my hat to Creighton," UNM head coach Ray Birmingham said. "(It was a) great job by Creighton. They pitched extremely well ... and made the pitches when they needed to make them."
The Lobos were shut down by Creighton starter Erik Mattingly, who allowed two runs on three hits and three walks in six innings.
"He was around the zone," freshman Ryan Padilla said. "He was hitting his spots. We hit some balls hard, but things just didn't go our way today."
It didn't take long for the Bluejays (28-29) to jump out in front off UNM starter Josh Walker. With one out in the first Nick Judkins and Chance Ross both singled before Anthony Bemboom launched a three-run home run to right for an early 3-0 lead.
The Lobos were held without a hit for the first three innings for the third game in a row, but finally got on the board in the fourth. Ben Woodchick led things off with a double to left center. He advanced to third on a passed ball with DJ Peterson at the plate.
Peterson was eventually hit with a 2-2 pitch to put runners on the corners for Padilla. The Albuquerque-native lined a pitch up the middle to score Woodchick and cut Creighton's lead to 3-1.
But the Bluejays struck right back in their half of the frame with a two-out rally. Brad McKewon worked a nine-pitch walk and Judkins doubled down the right field line. Ross then singled up the middle to score both runners and increase the Lobos' deficit to four.
UNM battled back in the fifth for another run. Alex Allbritton singled with one out. Mitchell Garver smashed a sinking line drive right at Creighton's second baseman that skipped off his glove and into right center for an error. Allbritton advanced to third. He scored on a sacrifice fly to right by Woodchick.
But just like the previous inning, the Bluejays struck back for two more runs with two outs to put the Lobos in a 7-2 hole they couldn't recover from.
"Every time we climbed back on top of the mountain, they kicked us back down," Birmingham said. "That affects you emotionally, especially after an emotional year and a grind and a fight and 61 games."
The Lobos threatened once more in the seventh as their first two men reached safely, but a pop out on a bunt attempt and a double play snuffed the rally.
The Lobos' offense, the strength of the team all season, abandoned them in their two losses in the regional. After recording double-digit hits in their previous 11 games, they managed only five hits in their last two, both losses.
Despite the disappointing loss, the Lobos had a tremendous season. They won their first regular-season Mountain West title since 2000 and won their second consecutive MW Tournament championship. They also reached their third NCAA regional in as many years. Their pitchers recorded the lowest staff ERA since 1977 with a mark of 4.40. They also set a school record for strikeouts with 475, breaking the old mark set in 1968.
UNM's offense was one of the best in the country all season. They entered postseason play with the fourth-best batting average in the nation and led the nation in hits with 728. That total ranked as the sixth-most in school history. DJ Peterson finished the season with 104, which leads the country, and Garver added 101 of his own, which was good for fourth. Peterson's total ranks fourth in a single season in UNM history while Garver tied for sixth-best. Peterson also ranked third in the UNM record book with 182 total bases.
Birmingham was emotional after the game when talking about his five seniors who played their final collegiate game against the Bluejays.
"I lose a group of seniors this year that have been the reason I've won two conference tournaments and a conference championship," he said. "They've made a big impact. The program is growing fast and getting after it. So it's kind of a hard day for me."
Woodchick said it hadn't hit him yet that he had put on the cherry and silver for the final time.
"Not yet," he said. "But it will. We've accomplished a lot over the last four years, especially the last three. It means a lot to have been able to move this program forward like that. It's a positive step."
The UNM program is definitely on the rise. The Lobos return several key contributors including Peterson, a semifinalist for both the Golden Spikes Award and the Dick Howser Trophy, and Padilla, a freshman who finished the year with a .353 average, 19 doubles, five home runs, and 49 RBIs, all of which ranked third on the team.
"Guys like Ryan and the underclassmen can continue to move this program along because it's on the right track," Woodchick said.
Game notes: Juniors Hobie McClain and Bobby Mares each made their team-leading 22nd appearance of the season on the mound for the Lobos Sunday ... the Lobo pitching staff also set school records for most saves in a season (14) and innings pitched (541 2/3).