Feb. 19, 2012
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - It was another game versus the Nevada Wolf Pack for the University of New Mexico baseball team Sunday afternoon at Isotopes Park and another close result. Unfortunately for the Lobos, they were on the wrong end of a back-and-forth, 9-8, game in front of 1,587 fans. Down 5-0 after only two innings, the Lobos showed the same heart that helped them win the Mountain West tournament last season. They came back to take a, 7-6, lead in the fifth inning, but couldn't hold on and suffered their second close loss of the early season.
"That was the game changer, five runs in the first two innings," Lobo head coach Ray Birmingham said.
"As coach Birmingham said-we kind of lost it in the first couple innings right there," junior shortstop Alex Allbritton said. "But I think we can take some positives out of it. We can fight back and the team is pretty resilient."
The Lobos had their chances, but couldn't cash in. DJ Peterson grounded out to the pitcher with two outs and the bases loaded in the bottom of the eighth, and Josh Melendez was stranded on third to end the game.
"DJ is a great hitter but DJ is trying to do too much (in that situation) and they took advantage of that," Birmingham said. "He's going to be a special player and he already has been. He'll be okay."
Josh Walker suffered his first loss, despite pitching two effective innings of relief. Nevada's Timothy Culligan earned the win by pitching four and one-third sterling innings of relief. The Wolf Pack's Matt Gardner earned his second save of the season by pitching out of jams in both the eighth and ninth innings.
The good pitching and defense the Lobos found in the first two games of the series abandoned them early. The defense committed three errors, Alexis Garza was roughed up for four runs in only one-plus innings, Selby Brummett allowed two runs in three innings of relief, and Alex Estrella allowed two runs in only one and one-third innings.
"Today was about pitching," Birmingham said. "We pitched well the first two games. I thought we had a good enough pitching staff, and I still believe we have a good enough pitching staff, to make Sundays a 3-2 ballgame."
Allbritton led the way offensively for the Lobos with a single, double, and triple, two runs scored and an RBI, falling a home run short of the cycle. Albuquerque-native Ryan Padilla, making his first career start, went 2-4 with a double, two RBIs and a run scored, and Kyle Stiner and Mitchell Garver each went 2-4 with an RBI and one run scored.
"Today I felt a lot more comfortable," Allbritton said. "The first couple games I was trying to get the jitters out and I think some of the other guys were trying to do the same, but today I tried to slow myself down, do what I know how and hit the baseball well."
It was a tough start to the season for the Lobos, losing two heartbreaking games, but Allbritton sees good things going forward for the team.
"It was a good learning process for us," he said. "We kind of figured out what we do well, and what we don't and what we can improve on. We can take some positives out of it. A lot of guys played well and we can go from here and work hard.
"We kind of made some mistakes along the way that we could've prevented. We have confidence that we'll fix that next weekend and throughout the rest of the season."
Birmingham agreed with his shortstop.
"We knew it was going to be tough early, and it'll be tough early with another tough schedule," he said. "But we're building for the future and building down the road, and there's a good baseball team here and it's going to be a good baseball team.
"We lost two close ballgames and won one close ballgame and I feel really good about the future. I think things are going to be really good."
A perfect example of hope for the Lobos is Melendez, a junior college transfer who is the team's starting center fielder and cleanup hitter. Melendez was a constant force at the plate, reaching base in 11 of his 14 plate appearances, including the first seven of his career, a record under Birmingham at the University of New Mexico. He has four runs scored, four hits, including a double and a triple, and a stolen base.
The Lobos travel to San Antonio, Texas, next weekend for a four-game set at the University of Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners. The Roadrunners are 1-2 after they opened their season at home against the University of Louisiana at Monroe.