May 5, 2012
FORT WORTH, Texas – The University of New Mexico baseball team split a double header Saturday against TCU. The Lobos couldn’t overcome a shaky first inning in losing game one 5-3 before using timely hitting and spectacular defense, especially by center fielder Josh Melendez, to pull out a 6-4 win in the nightcap.
The split allowed the Lobos (27-20) to maintain a one-game lead over the Horned Frogs (28-16) in the race for the Mountain West regular-season championship. UNM has a 13-4 conference record, while TCU sits at 12-5.
“It’s hard to win at TCU,” UNM head coach Ray Birmingham said.
On Friday UNM starter Austin House struck out the only batter he faced before rain and thunderstorms halted play with the Horned Frogs batting in the bottom of the first. When he returned to the mound on Saturday, those thunderstorms proved to be an ill omen.
House allowed the first five batters he faced to reach base in allowing four runs and putting the Lobos in an early hole. It was the most runs House has allowed in an inning this season.
UNM battled right back, though. Melendez led off the top of the second with a double to left center. Trey Porras then singled through the hole between first and second to knock him home. Two batters later Porras was on second when John Pustay, who recently returned from a hamstring injury, singled to left. This allowed Porras to come home and cut the deficit to 4-2.
The Lobos added one more in the fourth, and it was Melendez getting things started again with a single up the middle. Consecutive outs by Porras and Alex Allbritton moved him to third. Kyle Stiner then laced a 2-0 pitch to center for an RBI double to make the score 4-3.
TCU added another run in the sixth to increase the lead to 5-3. The five runs against House marked the most he has given up in a game since allowing six against UTSA on Feb. 24 in only his second start of the season.
UNM refused to go silently, however, and made the Horned Frogs sweat in the ninth. Porras singled with one out to bring the tying run to the plate. Pinch hitter Jacob Nelson, hitless in his previous 13 at bats this season, then singled to put two men on. A groundout by Stiner put both men in scoring position for Pustay.
But TCU’s closer, Kevin Allen, came in and struck him out to end the threat and the game.
In the second game the Horned Frogs opened the scoring with a run in the first, but the Lobos answered with a run of their own in the top of the second. Kyle Stiner was hit in the foot with the bases loaded to drive in a run and tie the score at 1-1. That was all they could manage, though, as Chris Nunez grounded into a double play to end the inning.
The Lobos struck for two more in the third by way of a DJ Peterson home run. Mitchell Garver led off with a single and was sacrificed to second by Ben Woodchick. Peterson, who extended his hitting streak to a career-best 21 games with a triple Friday night before play was halted, fell quickly behind 0-2.
But then TCU’s starting pitcher, Stefan Crichton, made a mistake. He left a fastball out over the plate and Peterson smashed it over the left field fence for his 14th home run this season, his eighth with two strikes, to give the Lobos a 3-1 lead.
Melendez then made his presence known in center. With two outs and a runner on second in the bottom of the third, TCU’s Josh Elander smacked a line drive to left center to looked like it would fall for extra bases, but Melendez made a nice running catch to end the inning and preserve the lead.
The Lobos faced a similar situation in the fourth. The Horned Frogs had runners on first and second with two outs and designated hitter Jerrick Suiter at the plate. He smacked another line drive Melendez’ direction, this time to right center. The junior raced to his left and snagged this one as well, once again preserving the lead.
UNM took advantage of the fine defensive plays and increased their lead with three runs in the top of the fifth.
Nunez and Garver led off the frame with singles to put two men on for Woodchick. He lined a ball that TCU’s center fielder dove for but couldn’t come up with. Woodchick ended up on third with his fourth triple and the Lobos had a 5-1 lead. After Peterson walked, TCU brought in a new pitcher, Trey Teakell, to face Ryan Padilla. He knocked a single past the first baseman to score Woodchick and give the Lobos their final run of the day.
It almost wasn’t enough.
The Horned Frogs struck back for three of their own in the bottom half of the inning to chase starter Josh Walker and cut the lead to 6-4. But Will Mathis (2-1) came on and pitched 1 2/3 scoreless innings to keep the lead.
Bobby Mares then came on with one out in the seventh and once again pitched the Lobos out of trouble. They maintained their two-run lead going into the bottom of the ninth. A single, a wild pitch, another single, and another wild pitch put the tying run on second, but Mares got a groundball to Kyle Stiner at short to end the game, earn his third save of the sesason, and help UNM maintain their lead in the MW.
“DJ played hurt and (starting shortstop) Alex Allbritton is out too,” Birmingham said. “But the kids still fight hard no matter what.”
Melendez, Porras, and Stiner each had two hits in game one, while Garver, Padilla, Woodchick, and Nunez all had two hits in game two.
The series concludes with a huge game Sunday as senior Gera Sanchez will be on the mound for the Lobos. If UNM wins they will take a two-game lead with six to play, but if TCU wins then the teams will be tied. First pitch will be at 11:30 a.m. (MT) and fans can catch the action live on The Mtn. or on ESPN Radio 101.7 The Team.