New Mexico Lobos Softball – 2014 Season Review
By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
It was a season that ended with Coach Erica Beach throwing out challenges to a lot of Lobos including Erica Beach.
“My challenge to myself is to improve our pitching,” said Beach. “That absolutely has to happen. We are realistic in knowing we gave up too many runs and we know that needs to change.”
The University of New Mexico sticks were fine most of the time in 2014. But just like stellar hitting can take the pressure off the circle, clutch pitching can take pressure off the hitters. Beach said her young Lobos of 2014 too often were placed in a situation where they had to score a lot of runs in order to stay in a game.
UNM had too many games with scores like 11-10, 12-9, 9-6, 11-9, 8-6 – games in which UNM had to come up big at the plate in order to be competitive. UNM averaged 9.1 runs in its 16 wins because usually it needed to score a lot of runs in order to win. The Lobos had no shutouts in 2014 and only once in a Lobo loss held the opposition to under four runs.
“Our offense did a fantastic job in keeping us in games and getting us wins,” said Beach.
Beach said the Mountain West season of 2014 was frustrating because her Lobos were good enough on offense and defense to be a contender. But even in MW victories, the Lobos were called upon to be extremely productive at the plate. The Lobos beat Fresno State 11-9, beat UNLV 11-10, beat Utah State 20-3 and beat NCAA qualifier San Diego State 8-6.
But the Lobos also were on the other end of high-scoring games. They gave up 22 runs to SDSU in two losses, gave up 29 runs in two losses to Fresno State and gave up 22 runs in two losses to UNLV.
“As a coach, I’m disappointed we didn’t compete in conference for the title,” said Beach. “I think we can beat every team in the conference. We simply let too many games get away. It was a bitter-sweet season. I could see a lot of good thing, but there also were a lot of games we should have won and things we should have done better.”
The Lobos finished 16-36 overall and 7-17 in Mountain West play with five of the MW wins coming against the top five teams in the league race.
The Lobos had three players named to the All-MW team: Brandi Heimburg and Willow Kalinen on the first team and Naomi Tellez on the second team. Heimburg finished the regular season ranked in the top 30 as one of the more difficult batters to strike out. She struck out only six times in 147 at-bats.
“Brandi was the spark we needed in our lineup,” said Beach. “We could always count on her to have a great at-bat and she gave our lineup confidence. She is a tough hitter to face and it was fun to see how well she performed.”
Kalinen ran away with the Mountain West’s hitting crown. She was the top hitter in MW games at .535 with Heimburg second at .471. Heimburg was No. 2 in MW games in hits with 40.
“We played better in conference than we had in the past. We never went out there and failed to compete,” said Coach Beach. “One thing that really impressed me about the season was the way the young players stepped up and matured and grew as players. They really played with confidence and authority. There was a lot of growth from the beginning of the season and that maturity will carry over to next season.
“We had some rough patches as a team, but I was proud of how the players adjusted and played tougher and tougher and never took to the field without a warrior’s mentality.”
The Lobos ended the season with six players with 70 at-bats or more hitting .295 or better: Kalinen at .414, Heimburg at .388, Tellez at .369, Mariah Rimmer at .308, Chelsea Anaya at .299 and Shelbie Franc at .295.
Tellez had the team’s best slugging percentage in that group at .586. UNM hit 32 home runs on the season with Tellez and Jasmine Casados tying with 15 dingers each. Tellez led the team with 43 RBIs and Rimmer led the team in runs scored with 30. Jordan Sjostrand had the top fielding percentage at .994.
The Lobos hit .297 as a team and had a .959 fielding percentage. They bumped that batting average to .312 in conference games, good for the fourth spot out of nine teams.
The pitching staff ended with a combined 7.66 ERA with Lauren Soles having the best ERA at 6.14 followed closely by Carrie Sheehan at 7.00 and Lisa Rodrigues at 7.38. The Lobos’ Achilles Heel during the season might have been walks as they issued 271 free passes compared to opponents allowing 129 walks. UNM’s ERA in league games was 8.36 – last in the conference.
Beach, a former All-American hurler at Arizona State, says the growth of her pitching staff is her No. 1 priority for next season. The SDSU Aztecs won the league by allowing 58 earned runs in MW play. UNM allowed 182.
“Our pitchers each have strengths and weaknesses, but they have enough pitches to be very good,” said Beach. “They just need to learn how to go out there and throw the way they are capable of throwing.
“The mentality became a problem and too often they went out and beat themselves. They need to get mentally tough and they need to do a better job of throwing strikes when they need to. It was frustrating because as a coach you see the talent and the potential is there. The physical part is the easiest to coach. The mental part is tougher and a huge part of being successful in the circle is the mentality, the toughness, the grit of knowing how to grind it out and win battles.
“We need to be tougher in the circle.”
One area of the 2014 season that didn’t lack toughness was the schedule. Beach has traditionally tested her Lobos in the preseason. UNM opened the 2014 season at 1-13 and a young team had to scramble to rebuild its confidence heading into Mountain West play.
“We are still going to challenge them with our schedule, but maybe not go so crazy next year,” said Beach. “This (2014) was probably our toughest schedule ever and we took some early hits.
“Our goal each season is to put a better product on the field and I could see the growth in our program.”
2014 Lobo Team Awards:
Brandi Heimburg – Offensive Player of the Year.
Mariah Rimmer & Chelsea Anaya – Co-Defensive Players of the Year
Naomi Tellez – MVP
Jordan Sjostrand – Academic Achievement Award
Willow Kalinen – Most Improved Player
Brandi Heimburg – Lobo Spirit Award