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Stevens: Birmingham's Lobos Face Another Tough Challenge At TCU
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  04/07/2011
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

April 7, 2011

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Lobo Baseball -- On The Mountain West Road
Who/Where:
Lobos vs. TCU -- Fort Worth, Texas
When: 5:30 p.m. Friday; 3 p.m. Saturday; Noon, Sunday
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By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

In their sojourn across the nation to battle ranked teams and expose themselves to top-line pitching and hitting -- to be seriously tested -- there is still one thing missing for the University of New Mexico Lobos against that top talent.

Wins.

The Lobos get a chance to change things this Friday, Saturday and Sunday as they go on another journey to face one of the nation's top teams. This time the mission will be in Fort Worth against the TCU Horned Frogs and there is another big change for this road battle.

It's Mountain West Conference time.

"We're excited to see what TCU has," said Lobo Mitchell Garver. "They are always solid. They are always No. 1 in the Mountain West. But I think we play them like we play any other game. It's one pitch at a time."

Said Lobo coach Ray Birmingham: "We have been runners-up to the Horned Frogs the last three years and we plan to go in there and beat them. That's the great thing about these kids. They are resilient and they aren't getting down. They are excited about playing a very hard schedule."

There is no question that Birmingham threw his young Lobos into the fire in 2011 with a schedule maybe more suited for the New York Yankees. But Birmingham is trying to build a team and a program in 2011 and not fatten up his record with creampuffs and pushovers.

So, his Lobos are taking some lump. UNM's 9-20 record is a product of that severe schedule, but the good news heading toward TCU is that the Lobos won't be looking at anything they haven't already seen.

"The pitching that we saw at Oklahoma State and Arizona State, that's as good as we're going to see," said Garver. "But I'm anxious to see what Matt Purke and Kyle Winkler look like. I'm anxious to see how we match up against those guys."

Said Lobo DJ Peterson: "We have seen good pitching all year. We have had some tough losses but against tough opponents, nationally-ranked opponents. So, we are pretty confident going to TCU."

Purke and Winkler are considered the aces on the TCU staff, but there are lots of talented arms in the Horned Frogs' bullpen. Purke has a 1.16 ERA and Winkler is at 1.05. The Frogs also have Andrew Mitchell with an 0.53 ERA and Trent Appleby at 2.15. The Lobos' pitching has improved, but UNM's top ERA arms are Bobby Mares at 4.35 and Rudy Jaramillo at 4.50.

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MWC STANDINGS
TCU --- 5-1, 19-9
Utah --- 5-2, 12-10
UNM --- 4-2, 9-20
BYU --- 3-3, 15-12
SDSU -- 3-3, 9-20
UNLV -- 2-6, 19-11
AF ---- 0-5, 12-17
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The Frogs appear to have an advantage on the mound and maybe at the plate, too. TCU tops the MWC in hitting with a .306 team average and have 24 homers on the year. UNM is sixth in the seven-team league at .269 with eight home runs.

Those UNM numbers have been carved against some quality pitching. The Lobos will see quality again in Fort Worth. "We need to get back to basics and put the ball back into play like we know how to do," said Garver.

TCU tops the MWC in team ERA with an impressive 2.26. The Lobos are in last place at 6.05. TCU tops the league with 229 strikeouts and UNM is at the bottom with 172. The Frogs also top the league in slugging percentage, on-base percentage, doubles, triples and total bases. TCU's pitching staff has held the opposing bats to a league-low .212 batting average.

The Lobos need to raise the bar both on the mound and at the plate, if they expect to squeeze out a couple of wins in Fort Worth. There are good reasons why TCU went into the season with a pre-season ranking of No. 1.

But the Lobos are only a game behind TCU in the loss column. "It's an open race right now," said Garver. "A few more series in, we'll start to see some teams separate. I'm excited to see how it works out."

Garver tops UNM's hitting charts with a .364 average. Kyle Stiner and DJ Peterson are both at .310. TCU has five hitters at .299 or higher with Brance Rivera leading the way at .398. Rivera tops the MWC in hits and total bases and is No. 2 in home runs with seven.

"My kids don't have any fear," said Birmingham. "The only problem they have is youth. They just keep getting in their own way. We aren't worried one bit (about TCU). We have played that caliber of team already. We can't wait to play them. That's our mentality."

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