May 20, 2009
What: Lobos at Conoco MWC Tournament
When/Where: May 19-23, Lupton Stadium, Fort Worth, Texas
TV: The Mtn (Comcast 276, DirecTV 616)
Online: GameTracker, recaps on GoLobos.com
Wednesday: San Diego State 2, Lobos 1
Thursday: Lobos vs. BYU, 10 a.m. (Mt)
By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
FORT WORTH -- It was a pitching duel between the best pitcher in college baseball and the second best pitcher in the Mountain West Conference and eventually something had to give to light up the scoreboard and produce a winner.
Unfortunately, for the Lobos, it was the Aztecs who produced the light early in a 2-1 win that pushed the University of New Mexico into the losers' bracket in the MWC Tournament.
But the Lobos did not go down without a fight. UNM pushed a run across in the bottom of the ninth inning as three back-to-back singles by Cameron Smith, Rafael Neda and and Kevin Atkinson against Aztec closer Addison Reed put a scare into the Aztecs.
It got even scarer for SDSU as Reed hit Lobo senior Brian Cavazos-Galvez to load the bases with two outs.
Reed got out of the jam by getting UNM's Justin Howard to foul out down the left field line. The Lobos ended the game the way they had played all season -- with fire and never-say-die baseball. Smith scored UNM's lone run, scoring on Atkinson's RBI single.
The Lobos will play Brigham Young at 10 a.m. (Mt) Thursday and if the Lobos beat the Cougars, UNM will play TCU at 2 p.m. (Mt) on Thursday. The Horned Frogs were dumped into the losers' bracket late Wednesday night, 9-7, by Utah. The Utes and SDSU play at 6 p.m. (Mt) Thursday in the finals of the winners' bracket. It will be a tough road for the Lobos to navigate through the losers' bracket as they will have to beat No. 3 seed BYU in order to advance to play No. 1 seed TCU. The loss by No. 2 New Mexico and No. 1 TCU was the first time in the history of the MWC tourney that the top two seeds both lost their first-round games.
The pitching duel between Lobo John Hesketh and SDSU's Stephen Strasburg was a beauty for six innings and went much like the Aztecs' 1-0 win over the Lobos earlier in the MWC season at Isotopes Park. Hesketh was good. Strasburg was great. SDSU reached the scoreboard early and although the Lobos did score, they waited a bit late to come up with the hot bats. UNM's rally in the ninth began with two outs.
The Aztecs broke the scoreless tie in the top of the sixth inning when Brandon Meredith, with one out, walked on a pitch that was just a little high of the strike zone. Aztec catcher Erik Castro then lofted a soft single to right center that pushed Meredith to third base with one out. Hesketh got the big second out by throwing a change-up to Cory Vaugh that produced a pop fly to the infield.
Aztec Mitch Blackburn then woke up the scoreboard by slapping a ball out of the strike zone into left field that scored Meredith from third. The Aztecs had a chance to do further damage as Castro went from first to third on the play and Blackburn took second on the late throw into third base. Hesketh ended the SDSU threat by getting Aztec Chris Wilson to hit a short fly into center field.
The single run often is enough with Strasburg on the mound, but SDSU added some much-needed insurance in the top of the ninth by scoring Easton Gust from third on a wild pitch by reliever Cole White.
The Lobos' pitching staff will now be challenged as UNM has to fight its way out of the losers' bracket in order to claim the MWC title and the automatic berth to the NCAA tourney that goes to the winner.
The best combination to win a baseball tournament is a deadly stew of good hitting, good pitching, good defense and good luck. The good luck factor did not fall into the Lobos' plate Wednesday as UNM had to face Strasburg, projected to be the No. 1 pick in the 2009 Major League Draft and looking at a pro contract of $20 million and up.
If Utah had not upset Brigham Young on Tuesday, it would have been the No. 1 TCU Horned Frogs who had to face Strasburg on Wednesday.
Strasburg left the mound with two outs in the bottom of the eighth after apparently showing some pain after throwing a breaking ball into the dirt. He left behind a three-hitter that included six strikeouts against a single walk. Strasburg was not dominating against the Lobos, but the movement, speed and location of his pitches did not allow the Lobos to hit too many balls on the button.
The good news for UNM was watching Strasburg leave the mound. The bad news was Strasburg was replaced by Addison Reed, one of the best relievers in college baseball. Reed took the mound with 17 saves in 22 chances -- allowing only one extra-base hit. Reed took took the hill with UNM's Adam Courcha on first and the big Aztec struck out Lobo shortstop Danny Gonzalez to end the eighth.
Reed didn't look so invincible in the ninth inning, but did leave the mound with his 18th save.
The Lobos came out swinging against Strasburg, who is known for keeping his pitches close to the plate and often finding corners against hitters who stand and watch. The Lobos didn't watch and UNM got a base hit off Strasburg in the first inning.
It wasn't a pretty hit or a hard hit but it was clean as Willett got jammed inside, but popped an infield blooper over Strasburg's head. The ball died in the infield and there was no play on Willett at first. Later, Willett got thrown out trying to steal second base.
Hesketh got into a little jam in the top of the fourth giving up a hit and a walk. He then hit Cory Vaugh to load the bases with two outs. SDSU's Blackburn topped a grounder back to Hesketh, who gunned the Aztec out at first to end the inning.
The Lobos' Rafael Neda opened the bottom of the fifth with a hard single past first base. UNM had a runner on with no outs. Atkinson pushed a hard bunt down the first base line which pushed Neda to second base with one out. Brian Cavazos-Galvez drilled the first pitch to third and was gunned down at first. Neda could not advance on the play. Strasburg got out of the inning by getting Howard to hit a lazy fly to right field.
Hesketh's start Wednesday at Fort Worth ended in the top of the seventh with an Aztec runner at second base. The UNM senior went 6 1/3 innings, yielded a run while allowing five hits, striking out four and walking two batters.
The Lobos finally got their second hit off Strasburg in the bottom of the seventh inning when Ryan Honeycutt slapped at a fast ball and punched it between third and shortstop for a single. Cameron Monger came in to run for Honeycutt with one out.
Neda made solid contact on a hit-and-run which got Monger to second base while Neda was gunned down at first. Atkinson sliced a fly ball to right center to end UNM's threat in the seventh.