ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Coming into the season, the Lobos needed Josh Walker to be its workhorse and ace. He has been all that and more and he showed it Sunday.
The senior from Rio Rancho, N.M., pitched into the ninth to earn his 22nd career win as UNM (16-8-1, 6-3) defeated San Jose State (7-18, 4-8) 9-4 on a beautiful Sunday afternoon at Lobo Field. Walker moved into a tie for fourth on UNM’s all-time wins list with Jim Kremmel and Danny Ray Herrera.
“Josh came out with that killer instinct today, you could see it in him,” UNM head coach Ray Birmingham said. “Because of that he also decided he was going to take the game on his shoulders.”
Three infield singles to start the ninth ruined Walker’s bid for a second shutout this season, as all three runners eventually came around to score, but for the first eight innings he was dominant, scattering six singles and striking out a pair. Victor Sanchez recorded the final three outs to preserve UNM’s seventh win in its past eight games.
UNM wasted no time teeing off on SJSU’s ace, Kalei Contades. With one out in the first, Danny Collier reached on an infield single, and Chase Harris launched his third home run of the season over the left-field fence to give the Lobos a 2-0 lead.
“That’s exactly how we needed to come out,” Harris said. “I’m glad I was able to come out and help get us going.”
They would add two more in the second on an RBI single from Collier and a sacrifice fly by Harris. Doubles by John Pustay and Jared Holley in the third gave UNM its fifth run off Contrades, who had allowed only three runs in 24.2 innings all season coming into the game.
“(Scoring early) kind of took some pressure off us,” Harris said. “We knew we could relax, go out there and swing the bat because we knew we had Walker out there for us.”
The score remained 5-0 until the seventh as Walker kept the Spartans off balance and guessing all game. He didn’t allow a hit until there was one out in the fifth by keeping the ball down. He recorded 16 groundouts in the game as he worked at least 6.2 innings for the fifth straight start. He has now hurled 45.0 innings this season, 10.2 more than any other pitcher on the team.
“It was good to get some zeroes up there early,” he said. “It was a good performance.”
Perhaps the most shocking stat was the number in his walk column: two. He issued the first two walks of the season after going 39.2 innings to start the year without allowing one.
“The kid just pounds the zone,” Harris said. “He had a couple walks, which is very uncharacteristic of him, but we knew he was going to go out and give us a performance like that.”
The Lobos added three in the seventh off back-to-back RBI singles by the past two New Mexico High School State Players of the Year, Jered Meek and Andre Vigil. In the eighth Alex Real drove Collier home with a single to give UNM a 9-0 cushion.
Collier tied a career high with three hits, and Harris also chipped in with three and three RBIs. Vigil and Real added a pair each as UNM out-hit the Spartans 14-11.
The Lobos hit the road for four games this week, beginning with a Tuesday afternoon game at New Mexico State on Tuesday at 3.
Notes: Harris posted back-to-back three-hit games and is now batting .370 on the year … there have been only four home runs hit all season at Lobo Field, and two came in this series: one by Harris Sunday and one by SJSU’s Alec De Watteville on Saturday … Holley twinged his hamstring in the sixth inning and was replaced by Meek as Haggerty moved to short … Walker threw 79 of his 111 pitches for strikes.