Stevens: Lobos Eye a Tough Series Plus Senior Day
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  04/24/2014

New Mexico Softball -- Mountain West Series -- at Lobo Field

Who:  Utah State (17-27, 5-10 MW) at New Mexico Lobos (14-31, 5-13 MW)

When: 5 p.m. (MT), Friday; 1 p.m., Saturday; Noon, Sunday

Please PARK and ENTER from the SOUTH DIRT LOT.

GoLobos.com:  Live Stats, Box Scores, LoboTV, Game Recaps

By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

When you say goodbye to seniors there are always flowers, family, friends, hugs and usually a few tears.   There also is a not-so-friendly foe and maybe the best way to say goodbye to seniors is to give them a farewell win on the home field.

The Lobos’ Mountain West foe for the final conference home series is Utah State with games at Lobo Field on Friday, Saturday and Sunday.  New Mexico actually will end its home schedule at 5 p.m., Tuesday vs. New Mexico State, but Sunday’s game vs. Utah State is Senior Day.

New Mexico will honor its three seniors: Jordan Sjostrand, Chelsea Anaya and Ally Hakeem.

“The dedication a student-athlete has to make to their sport and the classroom is an incredible commitment,” said Lobo Coach Erica Beach.  “The time, the energy, the early mornings, the late nights, the travel, practice, games and commitment to classwork is quite a load.

“When you look back at the whole picture, you realize how much of their college lives they have dedicated to a program and to a school. They also have made a commitment to the City of Albuquerque.  These three young women have been tremendous representatives of our university and our program. I hope we have a huge crowd to help us honor them.”

The Mountain West Series with Utah State is a pivotal one for league placement.  The Aggies will come to Lobo Field with a 5-10 MW record and the Lobos are equal in the win column behind their 5-13 mark.   Nevada is in the league basement at 3-12, but has only a dozen losses and some games to play.

A Lobo sweep would push UNM past the Aggies in the MW standings. If the Lobos lose two out of three, they likely will battle Nevada for the bottom spot.

The Aggies are led in the circle by sophomore Noelle Johnson, who brings in a 3.27 ERA with 182 strikeouts in 188.2 innings pitched.  The go-to righty can be very good and got a 1-0 win over San Diego State after pitching a two-hitter.  That was Utah State’s last MW win as the Aggies have dropped four straight. The Aggies are 4-14 over their past 18 games and are coming off a 0-3 series in Logan, Utah with Boise State.

The Lobos have not yet won a conference series this season and their five league wins have come over teams fighting for the top spot: San Diego State, Fresno State, San Jose State, Colorado State and UNLV.  The Lobos were swept by Nevada (3-12) giving the Wolf Pack their only MW wins of the season.

The Mountain West is tight at the top, too, with six teams having five to seven losses. Fresno State and Colorado State are tied for the lead with 10-5 marks.

Utah State is hitting only .248 as a team with two players hitting above .300: Victoria Saucedo at .352 and Paxton Provost at .302.  The Aggies are last in the MW in hitting three spots below UNM’s .291 team average.  Saucedo is hitting .388 in league play.

Johnson’s success in the circle has Utah State with a 4.26 team ERA while New Mexico has a 7.63 ERA – last in the MW in overall games.  UNM has a 9.05 ERA for its 18 MW games and Utah State has a 6.05 ERA for league games.  

The Lobos appear to have an edge in hitting with Willow Kalinen leading the team with a .407 average followed by Naomi Tellez at .370.  Kalinen has the Mountain West’s top batting average in league play at .552.  Brandi Heimburg has a .452 batting average in Mountain West games.

In comparing stats, the Lobos have the lean at the plate and the Aggies have an edge in the circle – so this should be a tight series.

Here are Beach’s comments about her three graduating seniors:

On Jordan Sjostrand:  “She is one of the most positive kids I’ve ever been around.  She didn’t make the team as a walk-on, but we knew we wanted her as part of the program because of her positive energy and her commitment to softball.  We kept her as a manager, but then we had some injuries and added her to the roster. She has been a fixture at first ever since.

“She is having her best season (.286) because she has always worked hard to better herself mentally and physically and it shows.  She is playing at a confidence level she didn’t have before.  She is a confident, enthusiastic senior who leads on and off the field.  She is the type of athlete that makes you want to coach.”

On Ally Hakeem: “Ally has been with us all four years and her role has changed so much because of injury.  She is one of those players who do so much behind the scenes to make us better.  She started as a catcher and she knows the game so well that she has helped us a lot with our pitching staff. She had a couple of knee injuries and we had to move her to first where she got stuck behind Jordan.

“Ally is a versatile athlete and one of the more positive voices on the team. She has been fighting through injury and pain but she shows up with a smile on her face with no excuses and she does whatever it takes to make her team better.  That type of athlete is invaluable to a coach and to a team.  She has given everything she has to this program and it’s been special to have her as part of this program.”

On Chelsea Anaya: “Chelsea was my first recruit here at UNM.   She is a small athlete and was overlooked by a lot of programs, but we knew she had something special.  She took over second base as soon as she got here and never gave it back until she got hurt.   She has power, but also can go to a short game to get on base and she developed into a very dangerous, very versatile hitter.

“She has been such an impact on this program not only because of her production but because of her work ethic as a Lobo.  She made this program better every day.   She is another one of those athletes you just love to coach and be around.  It broke my heart when she got injured again.”

Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former award-winning Sports Columnist and Associate Sports Editor at The Albuquerque Tribune.  You can reach him at rstevens50@comcast.net.