April 28, 2013
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – These Lobos just refuse to lose.
Trailing 13-7 entering the bottom of the ninth against UNLV Sunday afternoon at Lobo Field, the University of New Mexico baseball team rallied to tie the game and send it to extra innings, where it won on a sacrifice fly in the 10th. It marked the 10th-straight win for the Lobos (27-16, 17-4) and their third-straight MW series sweep.
It was the second-straight Sunday the Lobos rallied in the ninth, as they scored eight to win at Nevada last week 15-11.
“We’ve been doing this a lot lately,” pinch hitting hero John Pustay said. “It’s been a great opportunity for me to be a part of it and help our team win. It doesn’t matter if we’re winning or losing; we’re going to grind it out for nine innings. That’s a big problem for other teams because we’re not scared.”
The ninth-inning rally started when Josh Melendez led off with a walk against the Rebels’ (27-16, 11-10) closer, Andrew Beresford. Melendez advanced to second on an infield single by Luke Campbell. With one out Pustay came up to pinch hit and smoked a double to left center to score both runners and cut the lead to 13-9.
“I’ve been kind of used to the pinch-hitting role the last couple of weeks,” Pustay said. “I’ve become a little more comfortable with it. In the box I’m looking for something I can drive and hopefully score some runs. Today I did and helped us win.”
Pustay has been UNM’s best pinch hitter all season, and he is now 7-for-16 (.436) in that role.
One batter later Pustay was on third when Sam Haggerty came to the plate with two outs. The freshman worked a seven-pitch, full-count walk to bring up All-American DJ Peterson. He was hit by a 1-1 pitch, which brought the tying run to the plate in the form of another All-American: Mitch Garver.
The senior catcher laced a 2-1 pitch up the middle to score two runs and move Peterson to third. The potential winning run was now at the plate in Alex Real.
The sophomore, who had almost been pulled earlier in the game for a better matchup at the plate, drilled an 0-1 pitch to right. It appeared it might leave the yard for a walk-off home run, but it hit the very top of the fence and spun back into play. The double still allowed both Peterson and Garver to score to tie the game.
UNM wasn’t able to score the winning run that inning, however, so the game headed to extras.
Josh Walker came on to start the inning as the seventh Lobo pitcher of the afternoon. He allowed a harmless two-out single to send the game to the bottom of the 10th.
With one out Pustay came up to the plate again, but not before a quick chat with Birmingham.
“I asked him to hit into the opposite-field gap (during his pinch-hit at bat), and he hit it to the opposite-field gap,” the Lobo skipper said. “I asked him to try to hit a home run and, well, he didn’t do that.”
Pustay didn’t homer, but he did the next best thing: he tripled to right-center.
“They left the ball up to me, honestly,” the junior from Colorado Springs, Colo., said. “They left it up right where I like it and I hit it.”
An intentional walk to Ryan Padilla brought up Haggerty. The freshman, who finished 3-for-4, came through.
After attempting a safety squeeze the first couple of pitches, he swung away on a 2-2 pitch and hit a fly ball to right. It was deep enough and Pustay scampered home with the winning run as the Lobos mobbed Haggerty near the first-base bag.
“I was just trying to get something in the air, just get a sac fly, which was probably the easiest way we were going to score him,” Haggerty said. “I got a pitch I could hit. … I felt like I could put a pretty good swing on anything that came in the zone. I wasn’t really worried about it. I’m just seeing the ball well.”
Amazingly it was the 10th time this season the Lobos have scored the winning run after the seventh inning. The win also kept UNM firmly in control in the MW. They own a five-game lead over second-place San Diego St., and a six-game lead over the third-place Rebels.
“There’s a lot of baseball left,” Birmingham said. “It’s fight, scratch and claw. But what’s most important is we have kids all working towards the same goal.”
Haggerty and the rest of his teammates are always confident they can come back, though, no matter what the scoreboard says.
“At any point in the game we feel like we can come back,” he said. “One through nine we’re not worried about it.”
The Lobos jumped on the board in the first. With one out Haggerty reached on an infield single, and Peterson followed with a single to left. Garver then blooped a single down the right-field line to score Haggerty and send Peterson to third.
Real then followed with a potential double-play ball to short, but he hustled down the line and beat the relay through, which allowed Peterson to score. Melendez was next and he singled to center to extend his hitting streak to a career-best 22 games.
Campbell then grounded to UNLV’s shortstop who watched the ball go right through his legs. The error allowed Real to score and gave UNM an early 3-0 lead.
In the fourth the Lobos’ used a two-out rally to get another run. Chase Harris was hit on a full count and stole second. Haggerty reached on another infield single, which sent Harris to third. Peterson then came through with an RBI-single to left to make the score 4-0.
UNLV went on to score 10 of the next 11 runs, however, off the Lobo bullpen. Outside of Walker and starter A.J. Carman, UNM pitchers combined to allow 13 runs on 13 hits, six walks and three hit batters.
“The pitchers who didn’t pitch well today will pitch well the next time out,” Birmingham said. “We’re not going to quit working at it.”
The Rebels cut the lead to 4-1 with a run in the sixth, then they scored four in the seventh to take a 5-4 lead. The Lobos tied it in the bottom half of the frame on doubles by Real and Campbell, but UNLV answered with five in the eighth to take control of the game, 10-5.
As has become their style, though, the Lobos refused to quit. Garver’s bloop double to shallow center in the bottom of the inning scored both Haggerty and Peterson and cut UNM’s deficit to 10-7.
The Rebels rallied again in the ninth and scored three more to put the Lobos in a deep hole, but as the Lobos proved it wasn’t deep enough.
Garver tied with Haggerty for the team lead in hits with three apiece. The senior backstop’s five RBI also paced the club. As a result, Haggery and Peterson, the two men ahead of Garver in the lineup, led UNM with three runs scored each.
The 10-game winning streak is tied for fifth longest in school history, and is the longest since UNM won 12 straight in 1985. The Lobos will take that streak on the road for two mid-week games at Texas Tech Tuesday and Wednesday. Both games will be broadcast live by ESPN Radio 101.7 The Team with Voice of the Lobos, Robert Portnoy, providing the play-by-play.
Notes: There was a scary moment for UNM in the third when shortstop Jared Holley lost a popup in the sun and was hit in the back of the head by the ball while trying to duck out of the way. After lying prone on the turf for several minutes he was able to walk off with some help and his status for the Texas Tech series is doubtful … Harris’ stolen bases was his team-leading 14th … UNLV left 16 men on base and the Lobos left 12 … Real finished 2-for-6 with two runs and three RBI.