May 6, 2010
Lobo Baseball at Isotopes Park
Friday: Lobos vs. TCU, noon
Saturday: Lobos vs. TCU, noon
Sunday: Lobos vs. TCU, 5:30 p.m.
Radio: All games on 101.7 FM The Team
GoLobos.com: GameTracker, live video (Friday and Sunday), stats
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Muhammad Ali will be facing the Lobos in Isotopes Park come Friday. On Saturday, it's Tiger Woods. On Sunday, call the TCU Horned Frogs Michael Jordan or maybe Roger Federer.
The TCU Frogs are a symbol of the best the Mountain West Conference has to offer and Lobo coach Ray Birmingham likes the symbolism he sees oozing from these Frogs from Fort Worth. It's a pure challenge.
"If you are going to be a great boxer, fight (Muhammad) Ali first," said Birmingham. " Play the best. I`m glad these guys are good because we want to be that good. I'm going to keep fighting those guys. They may knock me down, but I'm getting back up and coming back at them again.
"TCU is very, very good. They could well be the team to beat in Omaha (College World Series)."
The three-game Mountain West slugfest that begins at noon Friday is one of those scratch-a-line-in-the-dirt kind of games. The Frogs are King of the MWC hill, but they step onto Lobo turf eyeing a New Mexico team willing to knock down the block's bully.
The Horned Frogs (34-9, 14-3) are ranked No. 8 in the nation and hold a two-game lead over the Lobos (30-15, 12-5) in the MWC race. TCU has won nine straight MWC games.
Birmingham doesn't like the No. 2 spot -- in anything. UNM likely needs to win at least two from TCU in order to have a shot at grabbling Birmingham's first MWC title. TCU mops up its season with Air Force. Even a single win over the ranked Frogs probably would help UNM's chances at an NCAA at-large bid. Like Birmingham said, the Horned Frogs are very, very good.
"You always want to play against the best and that's what we get to do against TCU," said Willy Kesler, a senior lefty. "They have it all. They have good hitting, good pitching, good fielding. We have to go out there and fight `em."
Said Lobo Adam Courcha: "There is more than just the challenge of TCU. There is a conference title out there for us, too. This is a big point in the season. It's one vs. two and it should live up to the hype that has been expected all season."
The Lobos lead the MWC in hitting, but TCU is second. The mound work in this series might be the key.
"Baseball is pitching. You pitch and pitch and pitch and pitch and pitch.," said Birmingham. "You can't hit your way to Omaha. I think TCU has the best pitching staff in Texas and that's saying a lot."
The Horned Frogs top the league with a 3.76 team ERA. TCU has three aces in Steven Maxwell (7-0, 2.61 ERA), Matt Purke (8-0, 3.96) and Kyle Winkler (7-0, 3.69).
The Lobos have been getting good work out of Kenny Toves (4-1, 3.38), Kesler (4-1, 3.63) and Richard Olson (3-3, 3.88). A few other Lobo arms, including Bobby Mares, Mike Lachapelle, Edwin Carl and Rudy Jaramillo, have been hot-and-cold on the mound, but have winning records.
"We are pumped up for this series," said Jaramillo. "You always look forward to playing TCU. They are such a good program. It's going to be a fun series and obviously it`s an important series. We want to win conference and they are the ones standing in our way."
The Lobos' pitching has been up and down a bit this season, often leaning on a run-producing offense that hammers the ball as well as any team in the nation. UNM has 12 Lobos hitting .300 or better with Justin Howard (.449) and Chris Juarez (.430) leading the pack.
"Hitting is something this program works very, very hard on," said Juarez. "It's one of the prides of this program. We work hard to establish that mindset and coach B sets the bar very high."
The bar needs to be high against TCU. The Frogs didn't climb to the top of the MWC hill or into the Top 10 without talent both on the mound and in the batter's box.
"They can pitch, but they can hit, too," said Birmingham. "Now, let's go out and see what happens."