June 1, 2011
Lobo Baseball - In The NCAA D-I Baseball Championships
Where/What: Tempe, Arizona Regional - double elimination format
Friday: 8 p.m. (MT) Lobos vs. Arizona State; 3 p.m. (MT) Arkansas vs. Charlotte
On The Radio: All Lobos games on ESPN Radio 101.7 (FM) The TEAM
GoLobos.com: Game Recap, Box Scores
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Like Lobo coach Ray Birmingham says, "It starts with pitching."
Of course, winning baseball needs other stuff, too. But if you don't have the pitching, "it" often ends quickly and badly.
It appeared New Mexico was in for a bad ending when they headed into the Mountain West Conference Tournament with 16 wins and the tourney's worst seed. But something happened to these amazing Lobos, who found a happy ending and a title at the MWC tourney. They also found another beginning: the NCAA postseason.
The No. 4 seed Lobos open regional play at 8 p.m. (MT) Friday vs. No. 1 seed Arizona State in Tempe, Ariz. Arkansas (2) and Charlotte (3) open the regional at 3 p.m. (MT).
So what happened to these Lobos in the space and time between their three-game spanking by TCU in Isotopes Park and their machine-like grind to the MWC title?
Was it that heart-to-heart talk in Peoria, Ariz., where the Lobos stopped to practice on the way to San Diego? Was it slap-in-the-face motivation from the 46-run beat down TCU hit the Lobos with the previous weekend?
Was it just one of those postseason things - a magical run by a young and talented team that simply put it all together for four days and four wins?
"Maybe it was the breakfast at our hotel," laughed Lobo pitcher Bobby Mares. "I'm not sure what happened. We just came to San Diego loose and came together at the same time."
Said Lobo pitcher Rudy Jaramillo: "I'm not sure I can explain it. We had things going our way. We got a home run out of the blue. Things clicked and we got hot. We'll go into ASU with the same we-got-nothing-to-lose attitude.
"We have the worst record in the NCAA tournament and nobody is expecting us to do anything."
In UNM's four-game run in San Diego, the Lobos went into nail-biter type games and responded at a high level, especially on the mound.
Oh, the Lobos also responded with key hits and key defensive plays, but the Lobos had done that a number of times during the season. But when you are getting spanked by a lot of runs, that clutch play often fails to become significant on the scoreboard.
In San Diego, the little stuff was allowed to matter because UNM was doing some big stuff on the mound.
"We had a pitchers meeting before the conference tournament and it was wipe that TCU weekend away and start a new season," said Jaramillo. "We went into conference with a different attitude."
The arms UNM took to the mound were pretty much the same arms used during the season. There were no bionic replacements. The information the Lobos took to the mound wasn't anything new either. It was keep the ball low in the strike zone, get ahead on the count when possible, don't give up many walks and let your defense help you.
The Lobos gave up 13 walks in four games. That's a number any pitching coach can live with. Jaramillo opened the show for UNM and went eight innings vs. Brigham Young allowing three runs and striking out nine. He walked two Cougars. He was relieved by Gera Sanchez, who gave up no runs with five strikeouts in three innings.
In the first game vs. TCU, Richard Olson, who gave up five runs in one inning to the Frogs a week earlier, went five innings, allowing three runs. Mares came in and went four innings without yielding a run. Olson gave up no walks and Mares gave up one walk.
Against Utah, Garza was the bullpen hero going 5.1 innings and allowing one run. Sanchez again came in late and pitched one inning of shutout ball. Garza, Sanchez and starter Jake McCasland combined to give up three walks.
In the championship game win over TCU, Austin House went seven innings allowing two runs with nine strikeouts. Mares relieved, giving up no runs in two innings.
"TCU kicked our butts plain and simple," said Olson of TCU's three-game sweep to close the regular season. "It motivated us and we pitched absolutely amazing in San Diego. We pitched like we should have pitched all season.
"The game against ASU should be a great ball game. We know if we pitch and hit and play defense, we can beat them."
The Lobos have known all that stuff throughout the tough campaign of 2011. They did it in San Diego and they plan to do it all against in Tempe. The four-team, double-elimination regional will push the survivor into a Super Regional. Omaha is the next step.
The road to Omaha does not begin easy for any team. UNM is looking at four teams that played at a high level all season. If you are in a regional, you earned it through a season of good work or you are red hot at the right moment. The Lobos are red hot and that streak includes two wins over TCU, the No. 1 seed in the Fort Worth regional.
"A big thing for us in San Diego was the environment we stepped into," said Lobo assistant coach/pitching coach Dave Martinez. "The preparation and the focus just went to a higher level. We knew we could shock the world and do something special, but we had to come together at the same time. And we did it."
Said Jaramillo: "There wasn't much pressure on us because nobody was expecting much from us. We had only one hope of making the NCAAs and that was to win the tournament. That thought made us a dangerous team."
The Lobos are still a dangerous team, but they also are looking at a dangerous team that is playing in its backyard. The Sun Devils not only have sipped their cup of coffee in Omaha, they have won the national title five times (65, 67, 69, 77, 81).
The Sun Devils have the statistical edge on the Lobos in record, RPI rankings (9 vs. 131), batting average, ERA, field percentage, power and speed. If the Lobos get past ASU, they will be facing either Arkansas or Charlotte, teams that posted 38 and 42 wins respectively.
If the Lobos plan to throw out another magical run, well, it starts with pitching.