Stevens: Lobos Edge TCU 4-3; Bring on Utah!
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  05/25/2011
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

May 25, 2011

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Lobo Baseball - At the Mountain West Tournament
Tony Gwynn Stadium - San Diego, Calif.
Lobos 5, Brigham Young 4 (11)
Wednesday: Lobos 4, TCU 3
Thursday: 8 p.m. (MT) Lobos vs. Utah
TV: All games live on MountainWest Sports Network - The Mtn.
Radio: Lobo games live on ESPN Radio 101.7 (FM) The TEAM
GoLobos.com: GameTracker, Game Recap, Box Score

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobo.com

Is the Murderers' Row schedule that Lobo Coach Ray Birmingham slapped on his young Lobos finally paying off? So far, the results in the Mountain West Conference Tournament are screaming a resounding, "Yes."

But just barely.

The Lobos scratched out a dramatic three runs in the top of the eighth inning to take a 4-3 lead over the No. 7 ranked TCU Horned Frogs and then allowed TCU to load the bases with no outs in the bottom of the ninth. UNM used a bang-bang 4-6-3 double play to send the Frogs spiraling into the losers' bracket.

The 4-3 win pushes the Lobos into the finals of the winners' bracket where they will meet Utah at 8 p.m. (MT) Thursday. TCU drops into the elimination bracket to play Brigham Young. UNM beat BYU 5-4 Tuesday in 11 innings.

"How about those Lobos," Ray Birmingham told the MountainWest TV announcers after the game. "These young kids have played this kind of team all year long. It's just do the simple things and we'll get this thing done."

It was simple things that did in the No. 1 seed Frogs. They gave up two runs to UNM in the eighth on a two-out error at short. They failed to execute in the ninth with the bases loaded and no outs.

The Lobos' also had some jitters in the bottom of the final frame. The first TCU runner reached base after striking out, when the third strike (wild pitch) went to the backstop. TCU then bunted back to UNM reliever Bobby Mares, who had time to make the throw to second. A sliding Frog knocked the ball out of shortstop Alex Allbritton's glove. TCU bunted again and DJ Peterson launched a throw to first that was high and wide.

TCU had the bases jammed with no outs. TCU then flew out short to right field, and hit into a double play - Kyle Stiner to Allbritton to Trey Porras -- to end the game.

"This is what we played for all year, to get to this point and beat some teams," said Birmingham, whose Lobos need the MWC title and the automatic bid in order to return to the NCAA postseason. "We need to learn to beat these teams and build a little confidence."

The Lobos were swept in the regular season by the hard-hitting Utes, but the wins over BYU and TCU have to have the Lobos loose and ready for the winners' bracket finale. The No. 6 seed Lobos only need to punch out a two-game win streak in order to grab the MWC tourney title. Ditto for Utah, the only No. 6 seed to ever win the MWC tourney (2009).

The Lobos entered the top of the eighth inning trailing 3-1 and left with a 4-3 lead - getting the final two runs off an error charged to the TCU shortstop.

UNM's Ben Woodchick led off with a double and was pushed to third on a single to the left side by Peterson. Luke Campbell floated a pop up over second base that dropped in and scored Woodchick. UNM had Peterson on second and Campbell on first with no outs.

Lobo Mitch Garver laid a soft bunt down the third base line to push Peterson to third and Campbell to second. One out. TCU walked Jacob Nelson to load the bases to set up force plays and a possible double play.

TCU's Trent Appleby got two quick strikes on UNM's Allbritton and got the strikeout with an inside breaking pitch. Appleby lost the mound to Stefan Crichton, who came in with a solid 2.14 ERA. Crichton did his job by getting UNM's Porras to hit a hard grounder to the TCU shortstop, Taylor Featherston.

The play was far from routine, but the Frog infielder booted the ball and the error allowed UNM to scored two runs and take a 4-3 lead. It was probable that TCU would not have had a play on the ball with the Lobos running with two outs. But the error did allow two Lobos to score instead of one.

TCU drops into a pitching staff's nightmare - the losers' bracket. BYU stayed alive Wednesday with a 5-1 elimination-game win over UNLV. Utah advanced thanks to Ute freshman Trey Nielsen, who hit a three-run double and a grand slam to get all seven of the Utes' RBIs.

The Lobos reached the scoreboard first against TCU, taking a 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning. Stiner opened the frame with a single and was bunted down to second by Woodchick. Stiner scored with two outs when Garver lashed a single into left field.

TCU evened the scoreboard a 1-1 in the bottom of the first. Jantzen Witte doubled to right center and scored on a two-out single by Joe Weik.

The Lobos had a nice opportunity to plate some runs in the fourth inning when Jacob Nelson, Allbritton and Porras each stood on a bag with one out. TCU escaped the jam when Logan Lippert struck out looking and Stiner grounded out to second.

TCU also had a good threat in its half of the fifth, and used five singles to push in two runs. A big play for UNM was Garver throwing out a Horned Frog trying to steal second. TCU left the inning up 3-1 with four innings to play.

TCU was robbed of a run in the bottom of the seventh when UNM's Peterson went deep behind the third base bag to backhand a hard, chopping grounder. The freshman ripped a long throw to first to get the third out for UNM. TCU had a runner on third on the play.

UNM is now 18-39 on the year. UNM had eight hits to ten for TCU. The Frogs had four errors to two miscues for UNM.

Senior Richard Olson got the start for UNM and pitched a solid five innings with six strikouts, allowing nine hits and three earned runs. Mares took over the mound in the sixth and got the win, allowing one hit and no TCU runs. Campbell was the only Lobo with a multi-hit game as he went 2-for-4 with an RBI and a run scored. The other two Lobo runs went down as unearned off the TCU shortstop's error.