March 2, 2012
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - As the temperature dropped below freezing Friday night at Isotopes Park, the drama increased. Trailing the 16th-ranked University of Oklahoma Sooners by three runs and down to their last out, the Lobos refused to give up. A DJ Peterson bases-loaded single off Oklahoma's 100 mph-throwing closer, Damien Magnifico, drove in two, and pinch runner Chris Nunez scored the tying run on a balk one batter later.
However, in what has become a painful early-season trend, the Lobos couldn't quite pull out the victory. Josh Melendez struck out with Peterson, the winning run, in scoring position, and the Sooners scored an unearned run in the top of the 10th to pull out the 7-6 victory. It is already the fourth loss by either one or two runs the Lobos have been dealt this year. Josh Walker (0-2), a native of Rio Rancho, N.M., suffered the tough luck loss despite only allowing four hits in five innings of relief.
"We didn't give up like most teams would in the beginning of the game," Walker said. "What I respect the most out of this team is we stayed in it, we kept working hard, we fought back, and we had a chance to win it multiple times."
In another disturbing early-season trend, the Lobos found themselves trailing early. The Sooners scored five times in the top of the first inning off starter Sam Wolff thanks to five hits and a hit batter. It was the sixth time in eight games thus far this season that an opponent has scored in the first inning against the Lobos.
"The first innings are kicking our butt, again," UNM head coach Ray Birmingham said.
Despite the quick deficit, however, the Lobos struck back. They scored two unearned runs in the bottom of the frame when Oklahoma first baseman Max White dropped a popup by designated hitter Alex Real, allowing Ben Woodchick and Peterson to score.
The Sooners tacked on one more in the fourth, and the Lobos added one in the fifth, when Melendez drove home Kyle Stiner with a triple. But after that, the temperature continued to cool, and so did each team's bats. With the temperature hovering around freezing, and the wind-chill being in the low 20s, neither team had more than one runner reach base in an inning until the Lobos' rally in the ninth.
Walker's excellent pitching helped keep UNM in the game. On a night when it was hard to even grip the baseball at times, he gave the Lobos five excellent innings while striking out six and not walking a single batter.
"Pitching in the cold has to be just like pitching in the heat," he said. "You got to take it the same way. You got to attack that strike zone. You just got to keep going out there and working hard no matter what the temperature is, no matter what that the conditions are. You got to have the same mindset every time you go out there.
Peterson led the Lobos offensively with three hits, one run scored, and those two clutch RBIs. No other Lobo had more than one hit, however.
Despite the loss, the Lobos proved they can compete with one of the top teams in the country.
"This team can compete with those guys, they just have to grow," Birmingham said. "We had our best hitter up in the ninth inning to win the game and we can't catch a break. It's just little things we're still trying to get on track, but we stood toe-to-toe with OU. I was proud of them."
"We competed as a team this game, rather than at UTSA," Peterson said, referring to the Lobo's series last weekend when they lost three out of four. "(Last week) we didn't play quite as a team, all nine at once, so I felt like this game was a lot better as far team bond and team chemistry, and just playing as a unit rather than playing as a single person."
"It shows the potential of this team," Walker said. "I like what I see."
The teams meet tomorrow, with senior Rudy Jaramillo likely to get the start for the Lobos. The game time has been changed to 4:30 p.m. MT to avoid a conflict with the men's basketball final home game of the season. The series finale on Sunday has also had its time changed to noon to accommodate Oklahoma's travel schedule.