April 29, 2012
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The University of New Mexico baseball team used the long ball to finish off a sweep of Mountain West foe UNLV by a score of 5-1 Sunday afternoon in front of 1,989 fans at Isotopes Park. The Lobos (26-19) remain in first place in the conference with a 12-3 record, one game ahead of TCU. UNM travels to Fort Worth, Texas, for a critical three-game series against the Horned Frogs next weekend.
DJ Peterson hit a three-run homer in the first and added a two-run shot in the eighth, and Mitchell Garver and Kyle Stiner also had two-run bombs in the eighth. The home runs provided all the Lobos' offense and allowed Gera Sanchez to win his sixth game of the year. Bobby Mares pitched the final two innings to record his second save of the season.
“This team can hit,” Stiner said. “That’s what we’re known for. (UNM head coach Ray Birmingham) does a great job with our hitters.”
Garver led the game off with a walk and advanced to second on a single by Ben Woodchick. This brought Peterson up to the plate who launched a 1-2 pitch deep over the pavilions in left. It was his second three-run homer in as many at bats going back to Saturday night and increased his hitting streak to a career-best 20 games.
The Lobos were then mostly stymied for the next six innings as they were unable to push across any more runs against UNLV starter Brady Borden and reliever Brady Zuniga.
Sanchez, meanwhile, equaled his pitching counterparts. He allowed only one run in seven innings while striking out five. He lowered his team-leading ERA to 1.63 on the season and increased his Mountain West-leading strikeout total to 68 while improving his record to 6-1.
“He’s been lights out every time he has thrown,” Peterson said. “He has been incredible. It’s good to have him on the mound for us hitters. Luckily we gave him some support today so it worked out for both ends.”
It looked like the Lobos would go into the ninth clinging to a 3-1 lead until their bats awoke in a big way against the third pitcher of the day for the Rebels, Zack Hartman.
Josh Melendez led off the eighth by getting hit by a pitch. Two batters later he stole second for his 19th steal of the year on the first pitch to Stiner. On the second pitch, Stiner connected and launched his first home run of the season onto the berm beyond the right field fence.
“Stats don’t matter too much, but it felt good to hit a ball that well today,” Stiner said. “I think it kind of jump-started the team. We definitely have some things we need to work on: getting bunts down, moving guys over, getting them home from third with none or one out. We need to work on that.”
The Lobos weren’t done, though. Chris Nunez, who entered the game in the seventh as a pinch runner, was also hit by a pitch. Like Melendez, he proceeded to steal second. With the count full on Garver, the Lobos’ catcher finally found a pitch he could handle and he launched his sixth home run of the season into the bullpen in left. That made the score 7-1.
But the pop hadn’t left the Lobos’ bats just yet. Woodchick singled to right to bring Peterson up to the plate. After working the count to 2-2 and fouling off several pitches, he hit another mammoth home run that almost mirrored his shot in the first. It was his 13th home run of the year and the fourth time this season he had two in a single game.
“It all matters how you finish, and we finished good,” Peterson said.
Despite leading the Mountain West in all three Triple Crown categories (.437, 13 home runs, 57 RBI), Peterson said he is just a part of a team all performing well at the right time.
“I feel like our entire team is going good,” he said. “I have some things to work on, but like I said our entire team is really playing good this year."
Stiner agreed with the Lobos’ star third baseman that the entire team seems to be clicking and playing well together.
“As you can see we can put up some runs,” he said. “And it’s great this year to have guys like Gera and (Austin) House and (Josh) Walker to start games for us and throw the ball well and keep us in games even if we’re not hitting."
As good as Peterson has been he has received plenty of support, both on Sunday and throughout the season. Stiner and Garver each had three hits Sunday, with Stiner falling a double short of the cycle. Garver hit .591 (13-22) over the Lobos' five games last week, and is now hitting .380 on the season. He leads the Mountain West with 20 doubles and has committed only three errors, while playing three different positions, all season.
Woodchick's two hits Sunday raised his average to a season- and career-best .335, while freshman Ryan Padilla is hitting .364 and junior Josh Melendez is batting .331. Melendez is also leading the Mountain West with six triples and 19 stolen bases.
“DJ is DJ but he’s just one part of the lineup,” Birmingham said.
Perhaps the most important outcome of this game, however, is the fact that the win allowed the Lobos to keep a one-game cushion over TCU in the Mountain West standings as the teams battle for the regular season championship. The teams met in Albuquerque Mar. 23-25 with the Lobos winning two of the three games, which is the difference in the standings right now.
“We’re always thinking about TCU,” Peterson said. “We want TCU. We’re all thinking about it and we’re just going to prepare like we do for everyone else.”