May 22, 2008
courtesy of the MWC Tournament staff
FORT WORTH, Texas - Senior right-hander Stephen Smith allowed just one earned run and seven hits in 8 2/3 innings as New Mexico held off a TCU ninth-inning rally for a 3-2 victory Thursday night at the Phillips 66 Mountain West Conference Baseball Championship at Lupton Stadium in Fort Worth.
With the win, UNM will compete in its first tournament championship game since becoming a member of the Mountain West in 1999-2000. It will be the Lobos first conference championship game appearance since the 1992 Western Athletic Conference Tournament in Honolulu, Hawaii.
The No. 2 seed Lobos advance to Friday's 6 p.m. (MDT) championship game. The top-seeded Horned Frogs will face No. 5-seed Utah in a 2 p.m. (MDT) elimination game. The winner of that contest will play New Mexico later in the evening for the championship title. If necessary, a final championship game would be Saturday at 2 p.m. (MDT).
Smith (5-2) utilized the outside corner as he tied a season-high with eight strikeouts while walking just one.
Trailing 3-1 entering the bottom of the ninth, the Frogs put together a rally after the first two batters of the inning were retired. Bryan Holaday reached first on a throwing error by New Mexico third baseman Ian Hollick. Holaday scored on a double to center by Hunt Woodruff.
Clinton Cox then relieved Smith. Matt Vern, the first batter Cox faced, reached first on a catcher's interference to put runners on first and second. Bryan Kervin drew a walk to load the bases before Cox got Ben Carruthers to ground to second to end the game and earn his fourth save of the season.
Kervin and Carruthers led TCU with two hits each as the Frogs and Lobos combined for only 13 hits.
The Lobos (34-23) took a 3-0 lead in the top of the third. Scott Gracey was hit by a pitch to open the inning before Mike Brownstein singled up the middle, one of his two hits on the night, to put runners on first and second. Hollick followed with a sacrifice bunt. TCU starter Sean Hoelscher fielded the ball and attempted to get Gracey at third. However, his throw went into left field to allow Gracey to score the game's first run.
Trent Appleby then relieved Hoelscher. After a bunt single by Matt Hibbitts loaded the bases with no outs, Appleby induced a double-play grounder by Brian Cavazos-Galvez. Brownstein scored on the play to give the Lobos a 2-0 advantage. Kevin Atkinson capped the inning for New Mexico with a run-scoring single to right.
All three runs charged to Hoelscher (7-3) in his two-plus innings of work were unearned.
Appleby tossed seven scoreless innings of relief in the longest outing of his collegiate career. He scattered four hits while striking out three and walking one.
The Frogs got on the board in the bottom of the fifth. With two outs, Vern reached first on an infield single. Kervin then drove the first pitch he saw from Smith into the right-field corner for an RBI double. Cavazos-Galvez made an attempt at a diving catch, but the ball glanced off his glove.
In the TCU sixth inning, Steve Ellington singled and Clint Arnold was hit by a pitch to put runners on first and second with one out. However, Smith worked out of the jam by getting Chris Ellington to fly to center and Matt Carpenter to ground to second.
TCU (40-17) saw its 11-game winning streak snapped. The Horned Frogs lost for just the fifth time in its last 31 games dating back to April 1.
The Frogs suffered their first defeat in a conference tournament game since 2004 in Conference USA, snapping a streak of 15 straight victories. It was also TCU's first loss in eight games covering three MWC Tournaments.