May 26, 2011
Lobo Baseball - At the Mountain West Tournament
Tony Gwynn Stadium - San Diego, Calif.
Thursday: Lobos 6, Utah 5
Friday: 8 p.m. (MT), Lobos vs. TCU/Utah winner
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/GoLobos.com
It might not be too soon to call the New Mexico Lobos amazing, but it's a win too early to call the Lobos satisfied. The Lobos beat Utah 6-5 Thursday night and are one win away from the 2011 Mountain West Championship and the automatic bid that would return UNM to the NCAA postseason.
The young Lobos, who struggled throughout the year in finding ways to win close games, won their third straight one-run game in the MWC tourney. The No. 6 seed Lobos beat No. 3 BYU 5-4, beat No. 1 TCU 4-3 and slapped No. 2 Utah into the losers' bracket by a single digit.
The Lobos came up with the winning run in the top of the ninth inning when DJ Peterson reached first after being hit on the left wrist and was awarded first base. He was sacrificed to second on a bunt by Luke Campbell and pushed to third on a long fly to centerfield by Mitchell Garver.
Peterson scored when Jacob Nelson muscled a two-strike single through the infield on the right side.
"This team is fired up," said Nelson, who kept UNM alive with an eighth-inning home run against BYU. "We know we're a better team than our record showed during the year, and once we got that first win (against BYU), it got us going. We came into the tournament with 16 wins and having lost seven in a row, but we also came in with nothing to lose."
The Lobos got the final out when the league's most-feared hitter, C.J. Cron, hit a harmless fly to right field that died in the glove of Ben Woodchick.
"We had good timely hitting and good pitching," said Lobo Coach Ray Birmingham, explaining the win. "This team has been through a lot. There is a method to my madness and we're getting there."
The win pushes UNM into Friday's 8 p.m. (MT) title game while Utah and TCU battle at 3 p.m. (MT) Friday for the right to play the Lobos. Utah or TCU would have to beat UNM twice in order to steal the MWC crown from the red-hot and confident Lobos. The "if-necessary" game would be played Saturday at Tony Gwynn Stadium.
The game most MWC observers thought would be the title game is now an elimination game for the right to play New Mexico.
If the Lobos win the title, they would be the second No. 6 seed to grab the title. Utah did it in 2009. It would be UNM's first MWC tourney title.
The Lobos' late-inning heroics once again made a dramatic appearance in the MWC Tournament. The Lobos came up with huge runs in the eighth inning and the 11th inning against BYU, came up big in the eighth inning vs. TCU, and pushed the winning run across the plate in the ninth inning vs. Utah.
"We've known all along what this team has and what it can do. We've been waiting all season for it to all come together," said UNM's Luke Campbell. "We have momentum now."
The Lobo wins have been highlighted by good defense and timely hitting, but the pitching that Birmingham looked at to be the strength of his 2011 team has been outstanding - and clutch in clutch situations. The hero of UNM's three-game run might be the Lobos' bullpen.
Alexis Garza came out of the bullpen in the third inning to relieve starter Jake McCasland. Garza went 5.1 innings giving up four hits and a single run. Gera Sanchez came in to pitch the ninth inning and it was three up and three down for Utah. Garza got the win.
"There is a method to my madness and we're getting there."
Lobo Coach Ray Birmingham
UNM had 12 hits to nine for Utah. UNM is now 19-39 on the season and probably still needs to win the tourney to reach the NCAA postseason. TCU is a lock for at least an at-large bid and Utah also has made a statement in receiving an at-large bid.
"After (New Mexico) beat TCU (Wednesday) night, I started wondering if maybe they weren't the wrong team to be playing right now," said Utes coach Bill Kinneberg. "They're loose right now and they're doing a lot of things right."
The Lobos hit Utah starter Joe Pond hard in the first inning, but waited until there were two outs to load the bases with two singles and a walk. Pond escaped the inning with no movement on the scoreboard getting UNM's Jacob Nelson to pop up to third.
In the second inning, the Lobos were downright nasty to Pond, who was struggling with the strike zone. Trey Porras reached on a walk and Logan Lippert singled. They advanced a bag on a wild pitch and were driven home on a single to center by Kyle "Beep" Stiner.
A single by Ben Woodchick gave Stiner some company on the bases and those two Lobos eventually touched home plate when Luke Campbell chopped a two-out single between third and short. The Lobos were quickly up 4-0.
Utah reached the board in the bottom of the third inning. UNM's Jake McCasland walked the No. 9 batter, Tyler Relf. Relf scored on a long double by James Brooks. Brooks reached third on a wild pitch. He scored when C.J. Cron got jammed, but dribbled a weak grounder that UNM's shortstop Alex Allbritton couldn't get to.
The Lobos appeared to get a break a few pitches later when Utah's Austin Shackelford pounded a ball down the right field line. He ended up on third and Cron went home. However, the two Utes were called back a base as Shackelford's hit was ruled to be a ground-rule double. The call did no harm to Utah on the board as Ute Cody Guymon muscled a grounder between third and short to produce a 4-4 tie.
That hit sent McCasland to the bench and put Alexis Garza on the mound. The reliever got UNM out of the inning. The teams were starting over - even on the scoreboard.
The Utes came out with Pond again. UNM's Lippert drilled a long single to left to open the frame. Stiner sacrificed Lippert to second on a bunt down the first base line. Lippert scored from second when UNM's Peterson drilled a grounder deep to third and the Utah infielder overthrew first. Peterson ended up at second.
The Lobos lost an out - and Peterson - when he was waved home on a hard single to left by Campbell. Peterson was out at the plate by several steps. UNM had regained the lead, 5-4.
Utah had a chance to take the lead in the bottom of the eighth when Cron singled and was pushed over to third base with two outs. UNM's Garza got a strikeout on a huge breaking ball out of the zone to get out of the inning.
UNM got a single from Porras to start the eighth. He was pushed to second on a sacrifice run by Lippert. Utah made a pitching change and gave the mound to Tyler Wagner, who carried a 1.87 ERA into the game. Wagner struck out Stiner on a tough inside pitch. The Ute got out of the inning getting Woodchick to bounce a grounder to second.
The Lobos got another leadoff batter on in the ninth when an inside pitch caught Peterson on his left wrist and he was awarded first base. It was the same scenario as UNM faced in the eighth.
Campbell laid a bunt down the first base line and Peterson was on second with one out. The Lobos had two outs to get the go-ahead run. Garver hit a ball deep into center and Peterson tagged to stand on third with two outs.
Nelson got behind in the count (1-2) and then drilled a single through the right side of the infield. UNM was up 6-5 and three Utah outs away from the MWC Championship game. Sanchez came out of the bullpen and simply overpowered the final three Utah batters. . .