Lobo Baseball To Honor Senator Pete Domenici At Season Opener
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  02/19/2008
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Feb. 19, 2008

UNM Game Notes vs. Eastern Michigan Get Acrobat Reader

Up Next For Lobo Baseball
Games #1-4 • vs. Eastern Michigan
Friday, Feb. 22 • 3 p.m.
Saturday, Feb. 23 (DH) • 12 p.m.
Sunday, Feb. 24 • 12 p.m.
Isotopes Park • Albuquerque, N.M.

Live Stats, Audio and Video: www.GoLobos.com, All-Access

Against Eastern Michigan: This will be the third meeting between the Lobos and Eagles. The two teams split a pair of games in Lubbock, Texas, in 1996.

New Mexico (0-0)
1B Kevin Atkinson, Jr.; 2B Mike Brownstein, Jr.; SS Scott Gracey, So.; 3B Matt Hibbitts, Sr.; LF Dane Hamilton, Jr.; CF Max Willett, Jr.; RF Brian Cavazos-Galvez, Jr.; C Drew McDonald, Sr.; DH Rafael Neda, Fr.
Pitching Rotation: Fri. Bobby LaFromboise, L, Sr.; Sat. G1 Stephen Smith, R, Sr.; Sat. G2 Willy Kesler, R, Jr.; Sun. TBD

Eastern Michigan (0-0)
1B Steve Bradshaw, Sr.; 2B Josh Ivan, Sr.; SS Jim Gulliver, Jr.; 3B Kyle Rhoad, Jr.; LF Michael Boyd, Sr.; CF Jeff Davis, Sr.; RF Aaron Powel, Jr.; C Andrew Marshall, So.; DH Matt Skirving, Fr.
Pitching Rotation: Fri. Sean Hoffman, R, Jr.; Sat. G1 Kevin Sikora, L, So.; Sat. G2 Jake Stapf, R, Fr.; Sun. Bobby Henderson, L, Jr.

Series Record (1-1)
Home: 0-0; Away: 0-0; Neutral: 1-1
2/24/96 Lubbock, Texas W, 6-5
2/25/96 Lubbock, Texas L, 20-11

Up Next: The Lobos will host Texas Tech on Wednesday, Feb. 27. Game time at Isotopes Park is set for 3 p.m.


• Birmingham Era Begins ... An new era in Lobo Baseball begins on Friday when first-year head coach Ray Birmingham puts his first team on the field. Birmingham is no stranger to baseball in New Mexico. The 52-year old from Hobbs spent the past 20 years coaching in the southeast corner of the state - 2 years at College of the Southwest and 18 years at New Mexico Junior College

• LaFromboise and Hibbitts Named Preseason All-MWC ... LaFromboise, a left-handed pitcher from Downey, Calif., returned to the Lobos for his senior season after turning down a 14th round draft offer from the Arizona Diamondbacks. LaFromboise, also a 2008 Brooks Wallace Award candidate, earned all-MWC first team and all-MWC tournament team honors in 2007. He finished fourth in the league in ERA (3.35) and strikeouts (74). The all-tourney recognition came on the heels of a six-hit, complete-game shutout of San Diego State on May 23. LaFromboise also earned MWC Pitcher of the Week honors twice in the 2007 season (Feb. 19 and March 26). Hibbitts, a utility player from Portland, Ore., brings a 13-game hit streak into the 2008 season. Hibbitts is the Lobos' top returning hitter after spending last season primarily as the designated hitter and the back-up to MWC Player of the Year Jordan Pacheco at second base.

HONORING THE PAST ... From a pitching hill to Capitol Hill, Senator Pete Domenici is no stranger to success. Domenici, who will participate in pre-game ceremonies at Friday's University of New Mexico baseball home opener, went from throwing heat to signing legislation, representing the state of New Mexico all the while.

Born in Albuquerque on May 7, 1932 to Italian immigrants, Domenici is the only son of five children. As a youth in Albuquerque, he worked at his father's wholesale grocery business.

Domenici is a 1949 graduate of St. Mary's High School and a 1954 University of New Mexico alum. Domenici played baseball for the Lobos under George Petrol in the 1950s, going 14-3 his senior year and earning all-conference honors.

After college, Domenici signed a baseball contract to pitch for the Albuquerque Dukes. After one year with the then-Brooklyn Dodgers farm club, Domenici went from the diamond to the classroom to teach math at the junior high level.

In 1958, Domenici earned his law degree from the University of Denver and returned to Albuquerque to enter private practice.

Elected to the Albuquerque City Commission in the mid-1960s, Domenic served as the city's equivalent to mayor. In 1972, he ran for the U.S. Senate and has stayed there since, currently serving in his sixth six-year term. He plans on retiring after this term, which expires in January 2009.

As the longest serving senator in the history of New Mexico, Domenici is more concerned with bills than balks these days, and has tackled issues ranging from energy security to fiscal responsibility in the federal budget. It is safe to say his 36 years serving as a New Mexico senator is his greatest stat of all.

PUTTING THE STUDENT IN STUDENT-ATHLETE ... Following the Fall 2007 semester, five Lobo baseball players were named to the UNM Dean's List, along with 22 others named to the UNM Honor Roll.

Fall 2007 Dean's List
Anderson School of Management - Bobby Moore; College of Arts and Sciences - Clinton Cox; University College - Bret Fanning, Daniel Grubbs, Mark Rockey

Fall 2007 High Honor Roll (3.50+ semester GPA)
Quentin Andes, Mike Brownstein, Clinton Cox, Fret Fanning, Gabriel Flores, Scott Gracey, Daniel Grubbs, Dane Hamilton, Matt Hibbitts, Brian Hill, Ian Hollick, Chad Itokazu, Bobby Moore, Derek Pilkington, Mark Rockey

Fall 2007 Honor Roll (3.00-3.49 semester GPA)
Eric Baalman, Newel Beauchamp, Ryan Escarcega, Brett Haggerty, Brandon Hewett, Willy Kesler, Anthony Martinez, Drew McDonald, Tim McGuire, Rafael Neda, Adam Skelton, Coty Wilson

BASEBALL AMERICA MWC PRESEASON ... Three Lobos were named to Baseball America's Mountain West Conference Preseason Team - P Bobby LaFromboise, 2B Matt Hibbitts, and C Drew McDonald.

RED CROSS UNIT ... Senior third baseman Ian Hollick will miss the Eastern Michigan series with a wrist injury. Hollick is the Lobos only senior three-year letterwinner and has played in 165 games for UNM.

2008 Season Preview
written by Laura Rasmussen, UNM Athletics Media Relations Student Assistant

When it comes to the 2008 New Mexico baseball team, potential just about sums it up. This year's Lobo squad, with new head coach Ray Birmingham at the helm, has all the makings to surprise. Although the 2008 season is looking bright, Birmingham is by no means blinded by the fact that his team is a work in progress.

After spending 18 seasons at New Mexico Junior College in Hobbs, Birmingham brings with him a mentality and energy as remarkable as his 818-328 overall coaching record and 2005 NJCAA national title. That mentality and energy is no better expressed than in his views toward his team.

"There are no superstars on our team. There is no one piece more important than the other piece. Everybody is going to do something to help us win. Work ethic and being prepared to win is huge. It's a team deal and every piece is important. Nurturing a culture of `us' is a big thing. Us and we."

Birmingham's strategy for success and improvement, which is attainable after last year's Lobos finished the season 28-30 overall and 12-12 in the conference, is to approach each game prepared and focused on more than just winning.

"You don't go play and say I am looking for a `W'. You do things the right way, as in commitment, hard work, loyalty, enthusiasm, and unselfishness. You do all those things right and you have a real good shot of getting that `W'."

Despite losing senior star slugger Daniel Stovall and All-American Jordan Pacheco, as well as solid starters Matt Foote and Jay Russell, the Lobos welcome back seven starters and seven pitchers. The strong senior class of nine, led by Bobby LaFromboise, Matt Hibbitts, Drew McDonald, and Ian Hollick, will help guide the growth and challenges of the upcoming season.

"Senior leadership is essential and they are committed. They realize this is it and they are going to give it their all. They are very important to be the spark and they deserve a good season."

Twelve of this year's 16 newcomers are transfer players, six of which will take the mound and three of which are slated to see consistent play in the field - Kevin Atkinson (1B), Brian Cavazos-Galvez (OF), and Mike Brownstein (SS).

"I'm excited. I think we've got a chance to do something pretty special. These guys have worked hard. The thing that worries me is we don't have a lot of depth at defense. The schedule is a concern, the intensity of games. If we can pitch and I can get them to score some runs, then I think we have a shot. Attitude is a big part, too."

The backstop for the Lobos is senior Drew McDonald, who started 46 games behind the dish last season for New Mexico. McDonald is reliable with a career .988 fielding percentage, committing just five errors last season in 321 total chances. McDonald is also a steady force on offense ranking fifth on the team in RBIs last season with 38 and finishing with a .275 batting average.

"We have a veteran in Drew McDonald and we have an outstanding freshman in Rafael Neda," says Birmingham of his catching corps. "He has a chance to be real special and we will bring him along as the season goes."

Neda is a recruit out of Tucson, Ariz., who earned All-American and All-State honors for Amphitheater High School.

Around the horn looks to be solid for the Lobos, despite losing Stovall and Pacheco on the right side of the diamond.

This season's double-play duo will consist of junior transfer Mike Brownstein at shortstop and a combination of junior Dane Hamilton and senior Chad Itokazu at second.

Brownstein brings with him a swift defense and the potential to be an offensive catalyst. He batted .291 in 54 games at Pima Community College in 2007.

"He is a great hitter and a great base stealer," says Birmingham. "Look for him to set school records for stolen bases."

Hamilton made 23 starts last season, amassing a .297 average in 64 at-bats. This season looks to be one of continued offensive and defensive growth.

As for Itokazu, he performed last season as an infielder, playing in 21 games, and a reliever on the mound with two appearances.

The corner tandem for the Lobos is anchored down by four-year starter Ian Hollick at third. First base will be split between New Mexico Junior College transfer Kevin Atkinson and senior Matt Hibbitts.

"Hibbitts will play a variety of positions and do a little DH," Birmingham said.

February 22 is expected to be the 166th start for Hollick at third with the Lobos. Hollick has maintained an above .300 batting average every year since starting 47 games as a freshman in 2005. In 2007, he had a career-high 22-game hitting streak and only sat out one of the team's 58 games.

Atkinson comes to UNM with several JC accolades, including All-American honors. If his offensive abilities are anything like last season, he is guaranteed to bring some pop to the lineup. In 2007, he drove in 82 with a .475 batting average, good enough to rank him third in the nation in NJCAA hitting.

Hibbitts knows a little about offense himself, ranking fourth on the team last season in batting and sporting an average of .341. He drove in 44, third on the team, and was second in home runs with seven. Hibbitts started 53 games last season and his durability will be an asset to a Lobo team short on defensive depth. Hibbitts, who was named to the preseason All-MWC team, will start the 2008 season with a 13-game hitting streak.

The outfield for the Lobos will be a fairly new bunch going into the 2008 season with a couple roles to be determined along the way.

"In left field we are going to platoon a little bit," Birmingham said. "Max Willett has grown and got a lot better and I like him out there, but Hibbitts is also an option. Center field right now could be between Bret Fanning and Adam Courcha.

Courcha and Fanning, both sophomores, will double-up in center to start the season. Fanning has potential to be a consistent hitter and threat on the base paths. Courcha, who spent some time behind the plate last season as well, drove in 22 in 91 at bats. Willett made 14 starts last season and played in 32 games as a sophomore.

Right field will belong to two-time NJCAA All-American Brian Cavazos-Galvez. Cavazos-Galvez has the capability to hit the long ball and for extra bases. At New Mexico Junior College, he totaled 20 home runs, 88 doubles and 153 RBIs and held a .494 batting average.

"He hits for power and average," says Birmingham. "He's a 6.8 runner and has a 95 mph arm from outfield."

Look for New Mexico pitching to be a strong, if not the strongest, component surrounding this year's squad.

"According to our pitching coach, Ken Jacome, this is the best pitching staff he has ever seen at UNM and obviously that is what we need to have to go where we want to go," Birmingham said. "Pitching will be the forte at the University of New Mexico."

That forte is led by senior ace Bobby LaFromboise, who was named to the 2008 Brooks Wallace Award Watch List and was a First Team All-MWC selection after a stellar season in 2007. The southpaw posted a 7-3 record coupled with a 3.35 ERA. He had 74 strikeouts in 88.2 innings, including a pair of complete games and a pair of shutouts. Birmingham believes LaFromboise has the potential to improve on those numbers.

"He is very capable of going undefeated. I think Bobby has underachieved. I think he is much more talented."

Junior transfer Willy Kesler and senior Stephen Smith will round out the pre-season projection for weekend starters. Kesler dominated at Lamar CC in 2007 with a 0.82 ERA and 103 strikeouts in 88 innings. He also completed 10 games, allowed only eight earned runs all season, and recorded five shutouts. Smith posted a 6-9 record for the Lobos last season in 16 starts with a 6.64 ERA.

"LaFromboise is going to be our Friday night starter and we assume that Kesler will be a Saturday guy with Smith either going Saturday or Sunday," Birmingham said. "Those three guys look like they are in the front of the pack right now. Johns Hesketh, Ryan Escarcega, and Jacob Norton also have chances to be one of those guys. Right now, I just want them to be competitive everyday and that is something they worked hard on in the Fall to do."

With a total of 17 pitchers on the roster, including eight returners and six solid transfers, the Lobos have plenty of depth when it comes to the mound.

The Lobos' schedule certainly puts them up against some fierce competition - a fact that both fears and fuels Birmingham.

"This schedule is really, really, really tough. There are seven NCAA Regional teams and there are two top-10 teams on it. It is a very difficult schedule and we tried to make it even tougher because it isn't really important what your record is. It's your schedule that makes you tough enough to go where you want."

The Lobos will start the season in the friendly confines of Isotopes Park, as they open up with Eastern Michigan, last year's Mid-American Conference champions, on the weekend of Feb. 22-24. Texas Tech makes a brief one-game stop to duel the Lobos on Feb. 27. The five afternoon games will be the first for Birmingham at home as the new head coach.

A day later, the Lobos will hit the road for a nine-day, three-state road trip in which they will face five teams. First, New Mexico will take on Texas State, who finished last season 14 games above .500 at 37-23 despite two losses to the Lobos. Things won't get any easier for the Lobos as they travel to Tempe, Ariz,, for a two-game set with the ninth-ranked Sun Devils on March 4-5. Finally, the Lobos will square off against Minnesota, Northern Iowa, and California in Minneapolis for the Metrodome Tournament, March 7-9.

The Lobos will take their home field again on March 11 with another single game against Texas Tech, followed by their Mountain West Conference opening series against UNLV slated for March 14-16. Then it's five games on the road, including a doubleheader against in-state rival New Mexico State and a three-game set with reigning MWC champion TCU.

MWC action for the Lobos will take a break from March 25-30 as the Lobos take on New Mexico State for two and Vermont for four in a six-game homestand.

The Lobos then travel to San Diego looking for redemption against the Aztecs who swept three games from them last season. They'll make their way to Lubbock to duel Texas Tech in two before a special three-game series at Ricketts Field in Farmington, N.M., against the Air Force Academy on April 11-13.

UNM will return home for two games against second-ranked Arizona, who handed the Lobos three losses last year and returns a dangerous offense and pitching attack. After hosting Utah for three at home April 18-20, the Lobos will visit the Wildcats for two more, making it four games in nine days against the national powerhouse.

"To get to Omaha you have to learn to play against those kind of teams," Birmingham said. "We are not concerned about failure. Every game we play they erase the scoreboards and it's zeroes all over again. It is an opportunity to beat somebody who has got a name and that is what you want."

On April 25-27, New Mexico returns home to face yet another team who swept three from them last season in UC-Irvine. The Anteaters were semifinalists at the 2007 College World Series in Omaha.

The Lobos close out the season with nine conference games. From May 1-3, they'll see action in Provo, Utah, against BYU, who knocked the Lobos into the consolation bracket at last year's MWC Tournament. UNLV is up next with a weekend series in Las Vegas from May 9-11. The Rebels are responsible for eliminating the Lobos from last year's tournament.

The final series of the season from May 15-17 will be against TCU before both teams travel to Fort Worth for the 2008 MWC Tournament.

"Our record isn't what I am looking for," says Birmingham. " Getting to Omaha is what I am looking for because what you do at the end is more important than what you do at the beginning. This is probably the toughest schedule that UNM has had in about 10 years. There are few days off, which is new to me and can be scary. The key is getting right back up and getting in there and that is the attitude that we are going to have because eventually guys are going to say `You have the University of New Mexico on your schedule...oh wow!'"