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Stevens: Winless Lobos To Get Defensive Against Undefeated Aggies
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  02/21/2011
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics

Feb. 21, 2011

Lobo Baseball -- At Isotopes Park
Tuesday:
3:05 p.m., New Mexico State at Lobos
On The Air: 101.7 The Team / ESPN Radio
GoLobos.com: GameTracker, Game Story, Box Score

By Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer / GoLobos.com

There are a few basics that you come to expect from Ray Birmingham's Lobos. Usually, they win. Usually, they make routine plays look, well, routine.

That didn't happen this past weekend at Arizona State when a bouncing ball must have looked like a bouncing hand grenade to a few Lobos. UNM ended the three-game series with 12 errors and no wins.

"The official book said 12 errors," said Birmingham. "It could have been 14. We are better than that. If we play better than that, we maybe come back with two wins."

The winless Lobos get a chance to turn things around on the field and on the scoreboard at 3:05 p.m. Tuesday at Isotopes Park when the undefeated (3-0) New Mexico State Aggies come to town. The Aggies will be looking to scratch out a few points in the Rio Grande Rivalry war that already has been won by Lobos.

Birmingham said his Lobos will be looking to play fundamental baseball. "We have to play simple catch," said the Lobo coach. "We had a chance to open the season with a couple of wins over No. 11 Arizona State which is a big deal.

"But we didn't make some routine plays that these kids can make in their sleep."

The Lobos probably need to wake up against the Aggies and allow their coach to sleep better. New Mexico State lost some key players and is picked to finish fifth in the Western Athletic Conference with a single pre-season All-WAC pick in senior outfielder Chace Perkins. However, the Aggies won 36 games last year in rolling out 14 straight wins at one point and NMSU is traditionally a team that pounds the ball.

They were the first team in the nation to reach 100 home runs last season and cracked the national polls. The Lobos have one senior on their young squad and only one returning starter on the field. The Aggies have 23 juniors and seniors.

The Lobos' strength this season might be on the mound, but the Aggies still expect to come into Isotopes Park and hammer the ball hard at the Lobos. The Lobos need to field those Aggie offerings -- routine or not routine.

Coach Birmingham said his assistant, Ken Jacome, who is in charge of defense, "almost chewed the back of the bus off." Jacome said he didn't show as much teeth to his Lobos.

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"There wasn't any need to chew on them, but we talked to them," said Jacome, in his seventh season at UNM. "With this group, it's about working on their confidence and getting them to believe in themselves.

"We missed some balls that were not difficult plays to make. They were routine plays these guys have made hundreds and thousands of times. I think it was just a fluke weekend with a young club that wasn't sure what to expect at the Division-One level. It happened and I think we got that out of the way and I'm not concerned."

The Lobos' starter Tuesday should be either left-handed freshman Sam Wilson or sophomore righty Bobby Mares. Pitching wasn't really a problem against Arizona State and UNM got four-plus innings of shutout ball from freshman Alexis Garza. "We got hit around a little bit, but every game we have a chance to get to the ninth inning and be in the game, if we hit and play defense," said Birmingham.

The UNM coach was less pleased with his Lobos' effort at the plate. The Lobos, one of the top hitting teams in the nation the past three seasons, left ASU with a .219 team hitting average. ASU hit .356. UNM's Kyle Stiner went 5-of-12 (.417) and Jacob Nelson went 3-of-10 (.300), but no other Lobo with more than five at-bats hit over .222.

UNM had 26 strikeouts in 96 at-bats and that's also not a staple of Birmingham's program. He likes his Lobos to put the ball in play.

"We plan to correct our defensive play, but we also plan to correct the number of strikeouts," said Birmingham. "We threw some puppies into a big fire against some good pitching and now we need to correct some things. We saw a lot of guys come out very excited to play Arizona State and they never calmed down to play the game like veterans.

"What you saw in Arizona was a veteran ball club which has been to Omaha (NCAA World Series) playing a young ball club with not much experience. We plan to get better."

The Lobos' home opener Tuesday is a chance for a lot of Birmingham's pups to play in Isotopes Park for the first time. That's also a pretty big stage and a game with NMSU always brings out a few extra fans.

Aggie sophomore second baseman Parker Hipp was named the Western Athletic Hitter of The Week. He helped the Aggies sweep Houston Baptist by going 6-of-11 with six RBI and five runs scored. He hit two doubles, a triple and a home run to help post a 1.182 slugging percentage. He had a .667 on-base percentage.

The Aggies' also got a lot of plate production from Wes Starkes, who went 4-of-5 with a walk in one game against Houston Baptist and went 3-of-5 in another game. Bryan Karraker had a 3-of-5 game with two RBI and three runs scored. Karraker also had a two-run homer in the series. Senior Ryan Aguayo had a 4-of-5 day.

The Aggies' plan is obvious: hit the ball hard. The Lobos simply need to relax and catch `em.

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