May 7, 2010
Friday: TCU 3, Lobos 2
Saturday: TCU at Lobos, noon, Isotopes Park
Sunday: TCU at Lobos, 5:30 p.m., Isotopes Park
Radio: All games on 101.7 FM The Team
GoLobos.com: GameTracker, live video (Sunday), stats
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
The pressure now might be on Lobo Coach Ray Birmingham and his command of the English language. Will one of his legendary, post-game pep talks work against the No. 8 ranked team in NCAA ball -- the TCU Horned Frogs.
The Frogs took the advantage spot Friday in their three-game visit to Isotopes Park with a 3-2 win in a game of "almosts" for the New Mexico Lobos. The two Mountain West teams play Game Two Saturday at noon and Game Three Sunday at 5:30 p.m.
The Lobos (30-16, 12-6). have been in this backs-to-the-wall situation before. UNM has dropped the first game in six series this season, but the Lobos came back to hammer their foes the next time on the diamond.
In three of those comebacks, UNM scored 13, 19 and 14 runs. But that wasn't against the TCU Horned Frogs and a pitching staff Birmingham says might be the best in Texas.
"When he comes at us with a few words, it's not so pleasant, but everyone needs a kick in the butt once in a while," said senior Adam Courcha. "He is very good with words. It's a little scary, but we know he loves us and only wants the best out of us."
Said Chris Juarez: "Anytime Coach B gets on us a little bit, it's a wake-up call. He has a way with his words. We seem to respond and come back the next game. I think that shows a lot about this team, that there is no quit in us."
There was no quit in the Lobos Friday at Isotopes Park and their loss to TCU (35-9, 15-3) probably was more a game of frustration than anger. The Lobos hung in there, threatening often, but not coming up with key hits in key situatons.
"This game was an indication of where this program is headed," said Birmingham. "We were right there with them the whole game. Baseball is a game of inches and proper timing. We played well enough to win and didn't. But that's OK. We played good baseball and I'm proud of this team."
The Lobos got eight solid innings of mound work from Rudy Jaramillo. They outhit TCU 7-to-5. But the Lobos were stung by a few little mistakes and a couple of long balls by TCU's Brance Rivera.
It was not a good start for Jaramillo or the Lobos. TCU wasted no time in grabbing a 1-0 lead. Rivera led off the game with a bomb over the left field wall. The Frogs added an unearned run in the third when Josh Elander sent a grounder to Lobo Alex Allbritton at third. The Lobo tailed his throw to first and Elander ended up on second. TCU bunted Elander to third and scored him on a grounder to short.
TCU's Rivera did a replay on his homer by sending another shot deep into left field in the third inning. The Frogs were up 3-0.
The Frogs had scratched their way into the lead while the Lobos fans in Isotopes Park waited for what usually comes when Lobos step up to the plate -- an explosion. It never came. The Lobos did a bit of scratching on their own to pull to 3-2, but let too many scoring opportunities slip away.
The Lobos got a couple of breaks in bottom of the sixth and stung the Frogs twice with runs. Daniel Gonzalez led off the inning, working the first UNM walk of the game off Matt Purke. Courcha then reached first on an error by the TCU third baseman and Justin Howard laid down a bunt to push Gonzalez to third and Courcha to second. Rafael Neda then worked out of a 0-1 count to walk and load the bases with Lobos.
Ryan Honeycutt got to Purke with a sharp single to right field that scored Gonzalez and Courcha. Neda stopped on second with UNM down 3-2. The Lobo wasn't on that bag long as Purke tried to pick off Neda and tossed the ball into center field. Neda trotted into third base.
The Lobos loaded the bases again when Chris Juarez pushed a bunt down the third-base line and easily reached first. Neda didn't go home. Purke picked up a big strikeout, his sixth of the game, by slipped one past Max Willett.
The Lobos lost their chance to tie the game when Mitchell Garver hit a grounder to short and TCU got the fielder's choice at second getting Juarez.
As much as anything, the game was a pitching duel between Jaramillo and Purke. The Lobo left the mound in the top of the ninth trailing 3-2, but he had given up only five hits. Purke went 7.1 innings also allowing five hits. "We got a great pitching performance from Rudy," said Birmingham.
Rivera was the only Frog with more than one hit while only Neda got two hits for the Lobos, going 2-for-3. Courcha, Honeycutt, Willett, Juarez and Jacob Nelson all got a single hit off TCU arms. Honeycutt got UNM's two RBIs.
UNM had a nice setup in the seventh when Purke walked Allbritton and Courcha. TCU slipped safely out of the inning when Howard grounded into a double play.
The Lobos threatened again in the eighth. Neda led off with a single through the left side. Honeycutt pushed Neda to second with a sacrifice bunt. Cameron Smith came in to pinch hit and flied out to left field. Neda stayed on second.
TCU's Tyler Lockwood, who came in to relieve Purke, got out of the inning getting Willett to line out to right field.
TCU had a great opportunity to extend its lead in the top of the ninth when the Frogs placed runners on second and third with no outs. A savage TCU line drive to UNM's Gonzalez at short turned into a double play as Gonzalez went to third to get the second out on a force play.
The Lobos almost got the win, almost pushed the game into extra inning in the bottom of the ninth. UNM had runners on second and first with Howard, UNM's best hitter at the plate. Howard made solid contact, but lined out to third.
"That was a great baseball game to watch," said Birmingham. "All the people who came to watch the game today saw that Lobo baseball is one of the best programs in the nation."
Saturday's game against TCU is Pack The Park day. All tickets are $2.