Jan. 25, 2010
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The University of New Mexico Lobo baseball team will see new gloves minding the infield and a steadfast veteran behind the plate in the 2010 season. Head coach Ray Birmingham has filled open positions at first, second and third base with enough young talent to ensure that the Lobo defense will not skip a beat. For the second season in a row the Lobos set a school record for fielding percentage with .976 and led the Mountain West Conference in the category for the first time since 2005. Returning behind the plate is 2010 All-American candidate junior Rafael Neda, who will anchor the Lobo defense. Each position features a worthy starter as well as depth to ensure there are no holes in the Lobo defense.
The New Mexico infield will see the biggest shuffle of new gloves to man the bags with the departure of of MWC Player of the Year second baseman Mike Brownstein, All-MWC first baseman Kevin Atkinson and third baseman Dane Hamilton. The Lobos will not skip a beat with senior Adam Courcha handling the responsibilities at the hot corner. Courcha saw time last season behind the plate and played a variety of positions in his three-year career. Courcha has incredible arm strength and can throw the ball across the diamond upwards of 90 mph. Sophomore Ben Woodchick will take over for Brownstein at second. Woodchick posted a perfect fielding percentage in 17 games and learned from the league's best second baseman. Senior Justin Howard will step in at first base. Howard posted a near perfect fielding percentage (.987) and served primarily as the Lobos' designated hitter. He started 13 games last season at first base after a hand injury to third baseman Dane Hamilton forced first baseman Atkinson to finish the season at third base. Senior Daniel Gonzalez returns for his second straight season at shortstop. Gonzalez started and played in all 57 games last season at shortstop and posted a fielding percentage of .964. Gonzalez was third on the team with 41 double plays turned.
Freshman Brett Doe will challenge for playing time on the left side of the diamond as will fellow freshman Cody Voelker at first base. Doe is a two-time all-state and all-district award winner for Poteet High School in Mesquite, Texas. Volker earned first-team all-state and all-district honors in 2008 and 2009. The Albuquerque native was also named honorable mention All-American in his senior season at La Cueva High School. Also in the mix for playing time in the infield is freshman Alex Allbritton. Allbritton can play anywhere in the infield and was a three-time All Centennial League performer for Grandview High School in Aurora, Colo.
There is no doubt who will be behind the dish for the Lobos this season. One of the best players to ever play the position at UNM, junior All-American candidate Rafael Neda is back for his third season as the Lobos catcher. Neda has been named to the 2010 Pro-Line Athletic Preseason All-America Team in the off-season as well as the 2010 Ping!baseball Preseason All-America Team. Last season Neda was named first-team All-MWC and looks to continue his reign as the MWC's best catcher and as one of the premier catchers in the nation.
Freshman Mitchell Garver will back up Neda behind the plate. Garver, a La Cueva High School product, caught the attention of the coaching staff as a senior and is expected to carry the torch passed from Neda in the upcoming years. Garver was named first team all-state and first team all-district from 2008-09 and earned honorable mention All-American in as a senior. Garver was named APS and La Cueva Male Athlete of the Year in 2009 as well as first team all-metro in 2009.
The Lobos start the season on the road at 2009 College World Series runner-up Texas on Feb. 19. For more information visit www.GoLobos.com.