Stevens: Young Lobos Are Underdogs at Mountain West Tournament
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  05/23/2011
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

May 23, 2011

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    Lobo Baseball - At the Mountain West Tournament
    Tony Gwynn Stadium - San Diego, Calif.
    Lobos vs. Brigham Young, 4 p.m. (MT)
    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 is do-or-die for Ray Birmingham's Lobos as they charge into the 2011 Mountain West Tournament with only one hope for postseason play and that's to win it all.

    For a change, the young University of New Mexico Lobos won't be looking across the diamond at a nationally ranked bully as No. 6 seed UNM opens the tourney Tuesday against Brigham Young, the No. 3 seed.

    But there is no question concerning the task that all MWC team probably envision in this double-elimination affair. That task is to stop the No. 7 ranked TCU Horned Frogs from adding the 2011 tourney title to their 2011 regular-season crown.

    The TCU Frogs have a huge advantage in San Diego. The Horned Frogs know they are a lock for an NCAA at-large bid. However, the MWC tourney title and that accompanying NCAA automatic bid would help TCU with postseason seeding.

    But can any MWC team bank on an NCAA at-large bid, if TCU grabs the MWC title?

    The best MWC bets for at-large bids are Utah, UNLV and Brigham Young, the only other teams to carry a winning record into San Diego. The No. 2 seed Utes are 28-19. The No. 3 seed Cougars are 29-25. For sure, both these teams would like to increase their at-large odds by reaching the MWC title game. UNLV, which struggled to a 10-13 league mark, is 33-23 overall. SDSU is 21-34 overall.

    Of course, TCU is favored. The Frogs are loaded at the plate, loaded on the mound and carry a 40-15 mark into Tony Gwynn Stadium. They have posted a 25-6 record in April and May and have won nine of their past 10 games.

    Heck, even an unmotivated TCU team probably is the team to beat. But the Frogs can be beaten. They did lose three MWC games in 2011 (UNM, UNLV, Utah) and did not win the MWC tourney in 2009.

    Birmingham's Lobo entered the MWC tourney as the No. 2 seed in 2010 and locked up an at-large bid by reaching the title game vs. TCU. However, that Lobo team carried a 35-18 mark into the league tourney and was a strong candidate for an at-large bid. The Lobos of 2011 are 16-39.

    The Lobos are coming off a three-game sweep by TCU in Isotopes Park and while that series might not have helped the psyche of the UNM pitching staff, it might have awakened the Lobo bats. UNM scored 16 and 8 runs in the final two games of the series.


    TCU ---- 20-3 -- 40-15
    Utah ---- 16-7 -- 28-19
    BYU ---- 11-12 -- 29-25
    SDSU -- 11-13 -- 21-34
    UNLV -- 10-13 -- 33-23
    Lobos -- 10-14 -- 16-39


    "We're excited for the tournament," said UNM's Kyle Stiner. "We have played a tough schedule all year and I think we are prepared for this type of challenge."

    The Lobos should have confidence against the BYU pitching, too. UNM won two-of-three from the Cougars in Provo, Utah. UNM won 9-2 and 7-5 before barely dropping the third game 1-0. Utah is the only MWC teams that swept UNM this season.

    The Lobos are in San Diego looking for an NCAA bid and might have a chip on their shoulders to carry into the fray. The Lobos' 16-39 mark is more a product of a schedule and of youth than it is a reflection of UNM's talent.

    "We played the toughest schedule in the history of this program," said Birmingham. "It was a schedule designed to make us better and maybe we can show some of that in San Diego. We have beaten BYU and we have beaten TCU, so let's go see if we can do it again."

    The Lobos also were pretty much snubbed on the 2011 All-MWC Baseball Team as only Quay Grant cracked that lineup and the Lobo junior third baseman was placed on the All-MWC Second Team. TCU had 10 players on the first and second teams.

    Even Air Force, which finished last in the regular-season race one peg below UNM, had two players on the all-conference team.

    The bad news for the Lobos, if they beat BYU on Tuesday, is UNM advances to play a TCU team - and TCU pitching staff - that received a bye and a rest on Tuesday. The Frogs, who have won six straight MWC regular-season crowns, get to play the lowest seed that advances from Tuesday's first-round games.

    The No 4 seed San Diego State Aztecs and the No. 5 UNLV Rebels play Tuesday at 7 p.m. (PT). If BYU beats UNM, the No. 2 seed Utah Utes would play BYU on Wednesday and the SDSU/UNLV winner would play TCU.

    If UNM wins, it plays TCU Wednesday at 8 p.m. (MT). If the Lobos lose to BYU, the Lobos would play the SDSU/UNLV loser at 12 noon on Wednesday in an elimination game.

    The MWC title game is set for 7 p.m. (PT), Friday with the if-necessary game at 1 p.m. (PT) on Saturday.

    The entire MWC tourney will be televised on MountainWest Sports Network - The Mtn. All Lobo games will be live on ESPN Radio 101.7 (FM) The TEAM. CBS Sports Network will simulcast all tourney games.

    The NCAA Baseball Tournament Selection Show will be shown live on ESPN, Monday (May 30) 12:30 p.m. (ET).

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