March 26, 2009
What: Lobos vs. Brigham Young - Mountain West Conference
Thursday: Lobos 7, BYU 5
Up Next: 6 p.m. Friday; Noon Saturday
Radio: 1150-AM KDEF
Live Stats, Webcast: GoLobos.com
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The strategy for Lobo John Hesketh Thursday night against the Brigham Young Cougars sounds almost too simple, too easy: Throw heat in the cold.
That plan was a large part of what Hesketh did in New Mexico's 7-5 Mountain West Conference win over the Cougars. He came at BYU hard and fast, tried to get a first strike over the plate, and dared the Cougars to pull his heat into the cold and biting wind that ripped Isotopes Park from left field to right field.
Hesketh might have had another advantage, too. If it hadn't been a night game, the native of British Columbia might have been tempted to pull out a lawn chair and some sunscreen. The nasty wind and the temperatures that dipped into the high 30s, didn't seem to bother the UNM lefty.
"It didn't really affect me, being from the Great North," said the UNM senior, who set a career strikeout mark with nine strikeouts against BYU. "I'm used to it and actually enjoy it more because a lot of people come out saying "Oh, I hate the cold.' That just gave me more fuel for the fire."
Hesketh was indeed throwing some pretty warm pitches. For the first five innings all the Cougars could put on the scoreboard was goose eggs. When they finally got to Hesketh for a run in the top of the sixth, UNM was up 6-1. The Lobos added another run in the bottom of the sixth to make it 7-1.
"Johnny came out like a bulldog and threw real well and we fed off him," said UNM's Ryan Honeycutt, the nation's leading hitter, who went 4-of-5 against BYU.
The win pushed UNM to 23-3, the best start in the program's history. More importantly, it kept the Lobos undefeated in MWC play at 4-0. BYU dropped to 14-9 and 4-3 in league.
The Lobos also got multiple hit games from Mike Brownstein (3-for-5), Dane Hamilton (2-for-4) and Rafael Neda (2-for-3). Brownstein drove in two runs and scored two. Hamilton drove in one run and scored two. Neda drove in two and scored one run.
The Lobos pounded out 12 hits and BYU countered with 10 hits. Neither team committed an error.
Lobo coach Ray Birmingham was particularly pleased with Hesketh's strong showing on the mound.
"I've raved about the pitching, especially the backside (bullpen)" said Birmingham. "But this week I challenged the front side (starters) to be better than they have been and tonight somebody took up that challenge. Hesketh did an outstanding job against a good hitting team. I can't say enough about him."
The Lobos went up early, 1-0 in the bottom of the first when Brownstein doubled, moved to third on a wild pitch and scored on a Hamilton sacrifice fly. The Lobos picked up another run in the second when Brownstein singled to drive in Neda.
UNM went up 4-0 in the third when Neda singled up the middle to drive in Honeycutt and Hamilton. The Lobos advanced their lead to 6-0 in the fourth when Brownstein tripled in Daniel Gonzalez and then Brownstein scored on a double by Honeycutt.
The Lobos' final run came in the bottom of the sixth. Hamilton reached base on a single and advanced to third on a double by Honeycutt. Hamilton scored on ground out by Kevin Atkinson.
"This team, we love to win. We want to get after it," said Hesketh, who pitched seven innings and threw 117 pitches while facing 28 batters and giving up eight hits. "That's (117) a lot of pitches, but it didn't feel like I was throwing 117 pitches. I guess it was the adrenaline kicking in.
"Sometimes you just have to play with the weather. Today I was throwing fastballs and tried to get them to pull things. There was one ball that Max (Willett, in center field) ran back on and it tailed about 50 feet."
The Lobos have been getting a lot of attention nationally because of their hitting, which tops the NCAA stats. Hesketh says that's good for the UNM pitching staff, too.
"We have a great hitting team and the pitching staff had to face those guys in the fall," said Hesketh. "I think that made us better pitchers."
Said Honeycutt: "This was a big win for us. It's a big series." The Lobos and BYU play again at 6 p.m. Friday and at noon on Saturday
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former Associate Sports Editor and sports columnist for The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at email@example.com. Previous GoLobo.com articles can be found on The Richard Stevens Corner.