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Stevens: Lobos in Utah Working On Three Rs - Respect, Record, RPI
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  05/20/2010
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

May 20, 2010

Thursday: Lobos at Utah, 6:00 p.m.
Friday: Lobos at Utah, 6:00 p.m.
Saturday: Lobos at Utah, 1:00 p.m.
Radio: 101.7 FM The TEAM
GoLobos.com: GameTracker, live video, stats

By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

It's a game of payback and positioning. It's also in Lobo coach Ray Birmingham's mind a game of NCAA resume building.

First, the revenge factor:

"We want some payback," said Lobo senior Adam Courcha looking at the three-game series with the Utah Utes in Salt Lake City that begins at 6 p.m. Thursday. "They got us (in Albuquerque) and now it's our turn to try and get them up there."

The Utes came into Albuquerque for a three-game battle and took a stab at the Lobos' pride by taking two out of three. The Lobos' pride was hit hard in Game One when the Utes pounded out a 16-2 win.

The Utes' broke the Lobos' heart -- and stole the series -- with a 9-8, 10-inning win in Game Three. Utah rallied for three runs in the top of the ninth to push that game into extra innings.

"We want to go up there and put it on them like they did to us here. They know that. They'll be ready," said Birmingham.

Second, the positioning thing:

It's important that the Lobos (34-17, 13-7 MWC) win at least one game in Salt Lake City because that's all New Mexico needs in order to grab that all-important No. 2 seed for the MWC tourney. The second seed would give UNM a first-round bye into the semifinals of the winners' bracket in the double-elimination tournament set for San Diego, Calif.

"That's huge. That lets you save a pitcher," said Birmingham.

For the Lobos, that saving a pitcher could be really huge. UNM often gets two stellar pitching performances from a starter in a series. It's more hit-and-miss in getting a third arm to produce big time.

A bye also can save a pitcher or two in the bullpen. The Lobos have a lot of talented arms in the bullpen, but the pitching walking out to provide relief also has be plagued by inconsistency this season.

The advantage here is obvious. UNM could have Willy Kesler, Rudy Jaramillo or Kenny Toves fresh for a winners' bracket clash with TCU -- or whoever.

Third, the resume building:

Common sense says the three Rs already have the Lobos in the NCAA playoffs: RPI, record and respect.

But common sense had the Lobos in the 2008 playoffs and the 2009 playoffs. The Lobos entered the MWC Tournament as the No. 2 seed in both those years, but did not leave the tourney with an NCAA at-large bid.

It's likely the Lobos will enter the 2010 MWC tourney in San Diego as the conference's No. 2 seed. Birmingham also wants to enter that league battle with as many wins as possible.

"This series is huge for us because we need to keep our RPI high," said Birmingham. "We are pretty much exactly where we were the past two seasons and we didn't go (to NCAAs).

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THE MWC RACE
TCU --- 19-5, 40-11
UNM --- 13-7, 34-17
UNLV -- 11-10, 27-24
SDSU -- 10-11, 25-26
BYU --- 10-11, 23-28
UTAH -- 9-12, 21-25
AFA --- 2-18, 12-40
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"We can't leave anything up to chance. We have to do it ourselves and that's means to win, win, win."

The Utes are riding a two-game win streak produced by wins (25-5 and 11-10) over UNLV. Before those wins, Utah had lost 15 of 18 and eight in a row. The Utes seem to lean more on bats than arms to win games and C.J. Cron is the Ute to watch -- or walk.

The sophomore was named National Player of the Week by CollegeBaseballInsider.com. this week and also was a MWC Player of the Week. He went 7-of-15 (.467) vs. UNLV with four doubles, two homers, six runs and 14 RBI.

In the Saturday win, Cron had eight RBIs, scored four runs and hit a grand slam. Against UNM in Albuquerque, he had nine RBI's. Cron leads the league in homers with 17. "He is a very good baseball player," said Birmingham. "He can hurt you."

While the Utes (21-25, 9-12) can be potent at the plate, it's not usually a good idea to get into a slugging duel with the Lobos, the MWC's top hitting team with a .355 average.

Lobo senior Justin Howard tops the NCAA stats with a .466 average and 108 hits. Senior Chris Juarez also is a hammer at the plate with a .420 average. Junior All-America candidate, Rafael Neda, is hitting at .386 clip. The Lobos' lineup, one through nine, hits over .300.

Kesler is UNM's top arm with a 3.35 ERA and a 6-1 record. He leads the Lobos in strikeouts with 73 and had three complete games. Junior Kenny Toves is 5-2 with a solid 3.92 ERA. Richard Olson has a 4-3 mound mark and Jaramillo is 3-2.

"Utah is a very good baseball team and they have some guys who can really, really hit," said Birmingham.

"We are headed into a buzz saw. They have all their top pitchers back from last year when they won the (MWC) tournament. They are dangerous. We have to respect that and be ready."

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