SAN DIEGO, CALIF. – Things were looking grim for the University of New Mexico baseball team Saturday night. After dropping the opening game of a doubleheader 6-4 to the University of San Diego, the Lobos blew a late 2-1, ninth-inning lead and were on the precipice of losing in the bottom of the ninth.
But that’s when the Lobos dug deep and found that inner fortitude that has helped them make four straight NCAA regionals. A nice defensive play by Jared Holley got the game into extra innings, and the bullpen shut down the Toreros as the Lobos used a bit of small ball in extras to pull out a 3-2 win.
Aaron Siple led off with a single in the 11th and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Sam Haggerty. Chase Harris walked and a wild pitch sent Siple to third. Catcher Alex Real, who was the only catcher UNM used Saturday, then grounded into a fielder’s choice to knock home Siple as Harris beat the throw to second.
“This was a big win and a great day for UNM pitchers,” head coach Ray Birmingham said. “(Starter Colton) Thomson was incredible.”
Thomson, a transfer from Scottsdale Community College, made his first collegiate start a memorable one. He held the powerful Toreros’ lineup hitless through five innings, before finally being touched for one hit and one run in 5.1 innings. He walked three and struck out two.
The Lobos jumped out to an early lead in the first thanks to the Siple-Real combination. Siple led off with a walk and with two outs was at second base. Real came through with a single down the right-field line to drive him home.
UNM extended its lead to 2-0 in the top of the sixth after freshman Andre Vigil drove in his first career run with a bases loaded-single to left. The Toreros finally got to Thomson in the bottom of the inning, though.
A walk, a wild pitch and a groundout cut UNM’s lead in half to 2-1, and it was enough for the Lobos to go to the bullpen. Taylor Duree came in and promptly hit his first batter. He settled down, however, and induced an inning-ended 4-6-3 double play.
“Colton did a great job working into the sixth,” said the man with the best view, Real. “He kept the ball down and his off-speed stuff was working well.”
The work of the bullpen was phenomenal. Duree, freshman lefty Carson Schneider, newcomer Jake Cole and senior A.J. Carman combined to hurl 5.2 innings and allowed just one run on two hits with three strikeouts.
“The relief pitchers did a great job all day,” said Real, who caught nearly 18 innings on Saturday. “Duree, (Victor) Sanchez and (Jonathan) Cuellar all did a great job today in their first outings.”
The work of the bullpen would have been all for naught, though, if not for their backstop, who finished the day 4-for-9 with a run and two RBIs.
“By the seventh inning I was a little fatigued, having never caught that many innings in a row before,” he said. “But your adrenaline and focus is really high in tight games like that, so you don’t really notice it. I had to tough it out for the team.”
The opener was the continuation of Friday’s game that was suspended in the third inning due to fog. The score was tied 2-2 in the bottom of the third with a runner on second and one out.
When it resumed the Toreros didn’t waste any time retaking the lead off new Lobo pitcher Kevin Baumgartner. Louie, Lechich, the runner on second, stole third and then scored on a sacrifice fly. In the fourth a double and a home run pushed USD’s lead to 5-2.
That’s where the score remained until the seventh. John Pustay led off with a single and stole second. One batter later Kirby McGuire was hit by a pitch, and with two outs, Haggerty drew a walk to load the bases. Harris then doubled to left to knock home both Pustay and McGuire.
The Lobos loaded the bases with two outs in the eighth but couldn’t push a run across. The Toreros’ Conner Joe then hit a solo home run in the bottom of the inning to provide the final score. UNM managed to bring the tying run to the plate in the ninth after a single by Real, but was unable to score.
Harris finished 2-for-5 with four RBIs after his two-run homer Friday night before the game was suspended. Pustay finished 3-for-4 while Holley and Real also chipped in with two hits apiece.
“We hit the ball hard in that first game but a lot of times it was right at guys,” Real said. “There was still a little bit of nerves there this morning. The second game we were a lot more comfortable. By then the guys were relaxed and knew what to do.”
Drew Bridges suffered the loss despite not pitching Saturday. He started Friday and allowed two runs before play was halted. A third run was charged to him when the runner on second scored to start the resumed game Saturday.
“It was a crazy day,” Real said. “It was weird starting the first game with a runner on second, but we got through it and toughed out a win in game two. And Bridges pitched well in game one (Friday). It was too bad he couldn’t keep going (because of the fog).”
The rubber match is set for 2 p.m. MT Sunday. Preseason All-American Josh Walker will take the mound as the Lobos look to earn their first series win of the season.
Notes: UNM’s four runs in the first game was its most in a season opener since 2008 … the Lobos out-hit the Toreros 18-12 in the two games, including 8-3 in game two … 10 Lobos saw their first intercollegiate action Saturday, three juniors and seven freshmen … UNM left 26 men on base in the two games … Haggerty, who led the Mountain West with 47 walks last season, drew three free passes on the day.