March 30, 2013
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – On Friday UNM head coach Ray Birmingham said the Lobo lineup will be held together with duct tape and baling wire the rest of the season.
On Saturday the Lobo skipper was proved to be prescient.
Already without All-American DJ Peterson who is dealing with a hamstring injury, UNM lost fellow All-American Mitch Garver in the first after he was hit in the face with the ball while running the bases. The Lobos were also without the services of freshman shortstop Jared Holley who was attending a funeral.
It proved too much for the Lobos to overcome as they lost to San Diego St. (13-14, 5-4) 13-6 in front of 746 fans at Lobo Field. UNM (13-13, 6-3) scored the first two runs of the game, but the Aztecs scored the next 10, including eight in the sixth, to avoid a series sweep and win their first game in Albuquerque since April 2009.
“It didn’t start off as a good day after Garver got hit,” UNM head coach Ray Birmingham said. “Holley is gone and DJ is out. (John) Pustay is coming off the flu and Luke Campbell is in a major slump.”
UNM opened the scoring in the bottom of the first. Sam Haggerty was on first with Garver at the plate. The senior catcher laced a pitch into left-center to extend his hitting streak to 26 games. Haggerty raced around the bases as the throw came in from the outfield. Garver took off for second as the ball was cut off by Evan Potter, the Aztecs’ shortstop. His throw to second, however, went right by the glove of second baseman Tim Zier and hit Garver right in the nose.
The All-American was prone on the turf for several minutes before walking off the field under his own power. He held a towel to his face to help stem bleeding, but the result, a broken nose, was not nearly as bad as it could have been.
“He’s alright, he’s a stud,” Birmingham said. “He wanted back in but I said no. That’s who he is. He’s one of the greatest Lobos of all-time.”
Erik Suarez came off the bench to replace Garver and enjoyed a solid day at the plate. He finished 2-for-3 with a walk, an RBI and a double.
“You just have to stay ready,” he said. “That’s my job on this team. That’s my role. It’s tough to see Mitch go down like that, but you have to be ready just in case.”
Despite the lopsided score the outcome could have been much different. Josh Melendez was inches foul of a home run in the fourth with UNM clinging to a 2-1 lead, and with the score tied in the fifth Sam Haggerty was robbed of extra bases on a diving catch in center with two outs and the bases loaded. UNM finished the game with 14 men left on base.
The Aztecs grabbed the momentum after that catch and scored eight in the next frame off three Lobo pitchers to put the game away. Six of those runs came with two outs.
“We got 16 hits, and they got 16 hits,” Birmingham said. “They got clutch hits and we didn’t.
“That’s the difference in the ballgame.”
Despite the loss, the Lobos took control of the Mountain West with their third straight series win and remain a game up on the Aztecs in the standings.
“We’re still in first place,” Birmingham said. “We took two out of three. We’ve won the last three series in the conference and we’re in first place.”
UNM has two non-conference games early next week as the team hits the road Monday night to play at Rio Grande Rival New Mexico St. before returning home to host Texas Tech Tuesday afternoon.
Notes: Peterson remains day-to-day with an injured right hamstring … Garver’s status for Monday is currently unknown but it’s hopeful he can play … Garver now has 231 career hits, only 2 shy of Rafael Neda’s school record for catchers … Jered Meek made his first career start at third base and finished 1-for-3 with two walks … Chase Harris had his third assist from right field this season in the first … the Lobos now have four players hitting .414 or better in conference play, led by Allbritton’s .500 (11-for-22) average.