May 26, 2010
Wednesday: UNLV 6, Lobos 3
Up Next: Lobos vs. BYU/Utah winner, 4 p.m. (MT), Thursday
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Not good! The challenge the Lobos face in the 2010 Mountain West Conference Championship got bigger Wednesday in San Diego as the No. 5 seed UNLV Rebels slapped No. 2 seed New Mexico into the tourney's losers' bracket with a 6-3 win.
The Rebels got to Lobo ace Willy Kesler for four runs in the third inning and rode their starter, Matt Hutchison, into the semifinals of the MWC tourney's winners' bracket. Hutchison pitched 8.1 innings with a single strikeout, but gave up only three runs to the top hitting team in the league.
"We were out there trying too hard to make it happen, instead of letting the game come to us," said Lobo coach Ray Birmingham. "I tried to keep them low-key, but they knew how big a moment in time this is for the program and they just tried too hard.
"And give UNLV credit. That guy pitched really well for them."
UNLV will play No. 1 seed TCU at 8 p.m. (MT) on Thursday. The Horned Frogs pounded Utah into the losers' bracket, 13-2. The Frogs had 16 hits and coasted after building up a 10-0 lead in the bottom of the fifth.
Utah will play Brigham Young at noon (MT) Thursday. The Lobos get the winner of that game at 4 p.m. (MT) on Thursday. BYU advanced in the losers' bracket by eliminating host San Diego State, 16-8, on Wednesday.
The Lobos need to win at least four games to claim the 2010 MWC title and the automatic NCAA bid that goes to the victor.
"It's hard to do, but we can do it," Birmingham said of making a run to the crown coming out of the losers' bracket. "The Lobos are excited about going out there and playing baseball again. This is a young team, but these are Lobos and when we get knocked down, we get back up."
The hot bats the Lobos rode throughout the 2010 regular season were chilled by Hutchison. The Reb right-hander was not overpowering on the mound, but did mix up his speed and his spots just enough to quiet the UNM bats. "I needed to keep the ball down because they are a great hitting team," said Hutchison.
The Lobos ended the game scattering eight hits with only Rafael Neda and Ryan Honeycutt with more than one hit in the contest -- both Lobos with two hits. Honeycutt had a solo home run. UNM did not score in the final six frames. The Rebs had nine hits, but used that four-run third to ride to the upset. UNLV did not score in the final five innings.
The Lobos got on the board early with a lone run in the first inning. Senior Justin Howard got things started for UNM by muscling a double into left-center. He raced home when Neda punched a single into right. UNM was up 1-0.
UNM gift-wrapped a run for the Rebels in the top of the second. UNLV's RJ Arnold floated a can of corn toward UNM's Chris Juarez in right, who camped out under the ball and was about to make the routine catch. However, UNM's Ben Woodchick never gave up on his sprint from second base and leaped at the ball as it descended toward Juarez's open glove.
Juarez almost caught Woodchick, who came down into his teammate, but the baseball kicked out toward the foul line. Arnold raced all the way to third base. Woodchick was given an error on the play. Arnold scored on a chopper to second to tie the game 1-all.
Lobo Max Willett led off the second inning with a single and put himself into scoring position by stealing second. Adam Courcha pushed Willett a base closer to home with a push bunt down the first-base line that advanced Willett to third with one out. Daniel Gonzalez then drilled a shot into left-center for a double that scored Willett. The Lobos ended the inning up 2-1.
Kesler got into a jam in the top of the third. Richie Jimenez led off for UNLV with a single up the middle. Hunter Beaty joined his teammate on the bases after pulling back off a bunt, but getting hit by the pitch. Jarred Frierson singled to score Jimenez.
Drew Beuerlein dropped a sacrifice bunt down third-base line to push the runners to second and third. Brandon Bayardi worked out of a count that favored Kesler and got a walk to load the bases with one out. The third base ump then called a balk on Kesler which scored Beaty and left Rebs on second and third.
Kesler got a strikeout before Arnold slapped Kesler's first offering into left field, scoring two more Rebs. Kesler got another strikeout, but UNLV left the inning up 5-2.
"We got going early and it's big when you can get up early and make the other team chase you," said UNLV coach Buddy Gouldsmith.
UNM's Ryan Honeycutt hammered a first pitch over the wall to start the bottom of the third. UNM left that frame down 5-3.
UNLV came back to scratch out another run in the top of the fourth inning. The single run was produced off a single, a sacrifice bunt and another single to put runners on the corners. A grounder to second scored UNLV's run. The Rebs went back up by three runs, 6-3. The scoreboard never moved again.
Kesler cruised for a couple of innings, but worked himself into a small jam in the top of the sixth when UNLV singled runners to first and second with two outs. Birmingham went to the bullpen and pulled out Gabe Aguilar. The UNM reliever's first pitch went into the back of Frierson and the bases were loaded for Beuerlein with two outs.
Aguilar got a quick 0-2 lead on the count before getting Beuerlein to hit a grounder to UNM's Gonzalez at short, who went to second for the third out. Kesler left the game having pitched 5.2 innings with four strikeouts, seven hits and giving up six runs (five earned). Aguilar went the rest of the way without giving up a run.
The Lobos needed to get to Hutchison. The Rebel senior had only one strikeout through six innings, but UNM had yet to produce a multi-run inning off Hutchison. The Reb gave up a single run in the first, second and third, but held UNM scoreless after the third inning and until he was pulled in the ninth.
The Lobos did force a visit to the mound in the bottom of the seventh when Hutchison gave up a leadoff walk to Juarez. UNM's Cameron Smith then hit a sharp grounder to second and UNLV turned the double play. Willett flied out to left to end the inning. The Lobos were three outs away from the losers' bracket. Hutchison was looking for his second complete game of the season.
Courcha started UNM's last-ditch effort with a grounder to first. One out. UNM's Gonzalez hit a sharp grounder to the UNLV third baseman, who turned his head slightly to his right, and misplayed the ball. Gonzalez was on first off the error. Hutchison got another mound visit, but stayed in the game.
The Lobos made it interesting when freshman Jacob Nelson chopped a ball past second and into right field. Hutchison got pulled, two outs away from a complete game. UNM's Howard, one of the top hitters in the nation, came up with one out and runners on first and second. Howard worked out of a 1-2 count and into a 3-2 count, but struck out looking at an outside pitch. Neda flew out to right to end UNM's hopes.
The MWC tourney is double elimination. The loss dropped UNM to 35-19 on the year. UNLV is 29-27 with two wins in the MWC tourney.