Stevens: Lobos Look To Make Diamond Noise vs. SDSU
Courtesy: New Mexico Athletics  
Release:  03/20/2014

Lobos Softball – Mountain West Series -- At Lobo Field

Who: San Diego State (21-8, 0-0 MW) at New Mexico (8-18, 0-0 MW)

When (MT): Friday, 5 p.m.; Saturday, 1 p.m.; Sunday, 1 p.m. All parking and admission is FREE and entrance will be in the SOUTH parking lot. 

By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

In Coach Erica Beach’s bid to make some softball noise in the 2014 Mountain West race, her New Mexico Lobos face the San Diego State team that has been making the most noise for the past two years.

It’s not an easy start considering:

  • The Aztecs, the preseason pick to win the MW title and the automatic NCAA bid, might be the best team in the Mountain.
  • The Aztecs might have the best arm in the MW in Danielle O’Toole, who comes to Lobo Field with a gaudy 1.27 ERA and 105 strikeouts.
  • The Aztecs have a top candidate for Freshman of the Year in Sydnee Cable, who is hitting at a torrid .422 pace.
  • It would be nice if the Aztecs were in a slump.  Not so.  They have won 11-of-12.

“You have to play them at some point and we are fresh and healthy right now,” said Beach. “It’s as good a time as any. We have to step up to the challenge the first weekend of conference but I think we are ready.”

The Lobos are coming off a 4-3 win Wednesday over New Mexico State.  Senior Chelsea Anaya was the spark for the Rio Grande Rivalry win blasting a 3-run, opposite-field homer.   The fiery second baseman said she is challenged not only by the San Diego State test, but by the league’s preseason poll.

“We literally have nothing to lose,” said Anaya, who is No. 2 on the team in hitting at .330 behind Naomi Tellez (.351).

“We were picked to finish second-to-last in the conference. We plan to go out there and play our game and hopefully show that’s not where we deserve to be.  We are a talented team and I feel like we are ready. It’s time to show everybody that we can play.”

The Lobos bring an 8-18 record into the fray and the Aztecs are at 21-8.  Both teams played a tough pre-conference schedule.

The Aztecs have an ace in sophomore O’Toole, who was the Mountain West Freshman of the Year in 2013 and also earned a spot on the All-MW Team.  She went 14-7 as a freshman with a 1.81 ERA over 155 innings.

“Getting to her will be a key to our success,” said Anaya.

The Aztecs try to squeeze a lot of innings out of O’Toole for the obvious reasons.  She has the lowest ERA (1.27) by more than a run over Andi Smith (2.54) and Smith's ERA is excellent. And opposing batters hit almost 100 points less against O’Toole (.209) than the next best Aztec pitcher, also Smith (.303).

The Aztecs lean on O’Toole, but they also get quality innings out of Smith and Erica Romero and have a team ERA of 2.39.  UNM’s team ERA is 6.62 with Lauren Soles at 4.08, Lisa Rodrigues at 4.77 and Carrie Sheehan at 6.21. Sheehan has pitched 67.2 innings followed by Rodrigues with 54.1 and Soles with 24 innings in the circle.

“I don’t think we can go out there and think about ‘this pitcher or that pitcher.’  We just have to go up there and swing the bats,” said Jordan Sjostrand, who at .328 is one of five Lobos hitting in the .300s.  “Any pitcher is a challenge. That’s the game.  But we aren’t fretting about it.

“We are coming around in all aspects especially pitching.  Our pitchers are on point, come in clutch, are feeling good and have so much more confidence now.  That gets us going.  We see them in the circle and say, ‘All right. We’re good.’ I think we are going to come out strong.”

Against SDSU, that would be the best way to start.

The Aztecs have played some outstanding softball this season.  They posted a 5-0 mark in the Wichita State Classic. The Aztecs hit .268 as a team which is a notch below UNM’s .280 team average.  The difference is in opposing hitting.  UNM gives up a .356 average and SDSU opponents have hit .256.

The Lobos have been outscored 192 to 106. The Aztecs have been the plate bullies at 155 to 104.

“The last couple of weeks we have been hitting well and we have figured out what kind of offensive team we are,” said Anaya.

 Freshman Sydnee Cable carries the hottest bat for SDSU.  She has a .422 average followed by Patrice Jackson at .359 and Leia Ruiz at .343. Jackson packs most of the power in this lineup with 11 home runs and 32 RBIs. She has walked 31 times. She has an .859 slugging percentage and UNM is led by freshman Jasmine Casados at .559.

“The team has made steps that we have needed to make,” said Beach. “We have a lot of respect for San Diego State’s program and their pitchers, so we know what we are coming up against.

“But we have faced some of the best pitchers in the country. It’s no different than anything that we’ve faced. Now we’ll see if we have progressed and can have three competitive, hard-fought games against them.  We need our best players to step up.

“We have to do the job now. When it comes down to it, you have to do it and not talk about it.  You go to war for one game a day and you throw everything you have at each other.”

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.