June 4, 2011
TEMPE, Ariz. - The Lobos amazing post-season run came to an end Saturday afternoon when UNM lost another close game to another top-notch opponent, No. 16 ranked Arkansas. The Lobos fell to the Razorbacks in a 3-0 pitching duel.
In what was a do-or-die situation for both teams, the Lobos unfortunately found themselves on the losing end. The magic the Lobos displayed in the MWC tournament a week earlier had suddenly disappeared.
"It didn't turn out the way we wanted it to turn out," Birmingham said. "But, these kids competed and went through the toughest schedule in the country. They competed very well here and I am proud of them."
UNM came into the game ranked No. 4 in the regional pairings, while Arkansas entered in at No. 2 in the Tempe regional. Both teams found themselves in this elimination game due to losses on the previous day. UNM lost to Arizona State 4-2 thanks to a heartbreaking walk-off three run homer. Arkansas lost to Charlotte in an extremely close game, 3-2.
The Lobos had a tough draw against nationally-ranked Arkansas, as the Razorbacks started their ace right-handed pitcher DJ Baxendale. Baxendale entered the game with a 9-2 record, while boasting an ERA of 1.75 in 18 appearances.
Lobos' starting pitcher Richard Olson matched Baxendale pitch-for-pitch in the first inning, but ran into trouble in the second. The Razorbacks were able to take an early 2-0 lead with an RBI double from Jarrod Mckinney and an RBI sacrifice bunt from Matt Reynolds. The second run of the inning could have gone either way. Olson fielded the bunt from Reynolds in front of the mound and fired the ball home, in what seemed to be in time for the out, but home plate umpire David Condon called Arkansas' Mckinney safe.
Olson was able to settle in after the second. The Lobos' lone senior didn't allow another run to the Razorbacks before being replaced by Austin House in the top of the eighth inning. Olson's offense still hadn't provided him with much support, however, as the Lobos continued to come up empty against Arkansas' Baxendale. The Razorbacks remained ahead 2-0 over the Lobos. Olson threw 115 pitches, surrendering just two runs on six hits to go along with five strikeouts in 7 1/3 innings of work.
"It was hot out there," Olson said of the 100 degree heat on the field during the game. "I didn't have command of my fastball through most of the game so I worked with changeups and sliders a lot, which kept them off balance."
"My guy is my guy," Birmingham beamed when talking about Olson. "Ricahrd Olson has competed and represented the University of New Mexico really well. I will miss him."
House gave up the third run in the top of the ninth to the Razorbacks when Arkansas' Bo Bigham punched an RBI single through the left side.
Arkansas took out Baxendale in the ninth after the ace pitcher threw eight innings of four-hit shut-out baseball.
"The guy from Arkansas on the mound was extremely good," Birmingham said. "His pitching performance today was outstanding and I tip my hat to him."
With their season on the line, the Lobos came up in the bottom of the ninth with one last chance to breathe life into their already unexpected postseason run. The Razorbacks decided to hand the ball to relief pitcher Trent Daniel. Daniel was able to strike out the Lobos in order to end the game and end the Lobos amazing postseason run.
The Lobos finish the year with a record of 20-41. Hardly a testament of what they actually achieved this season while having to play such a grueling schedule. Over half of UNM's games were played against nationally-ranked opponents, and the majority of those games were on the road.
The Lobos may have taken their lumps throughout the regular season, but they more than made up for it in the postseason. UNM won it's first ever MWC tournament title this season by sweeping four straight games against the three top-ranked teams in the conference: BYU, Utah and No. 7 in the nation TCU twice. UNM also played No. 10 ranked ASU and No. 16 ranked Arkansas extremely tough, taking each team down to the wire in the NCAA tournament.