New Mexico Lobos Softball -- at Lobo Field
Who: New Mexico State (28-21) at New Mexico Lobos (16-32)
When: 5 p.m. (MT), Tuesday
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By Richard Stevens – Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
Willow Kalinen’s softball roots are Arizona. The talented freshman came to New Mexico from Scottsdale, played club ball for the Arizona Storm, and her old roots wrapped around things pertaining to Arizona State Sun Devils or Arizona Wildcats.
She was more Pac-12 than Mountain West, but the Lobo rookie understands this New Mexico State thing.
“I always feel that little tension just from being part of the (Lobo) team,” said Kalinen, who is league’s top hitter in Mountain West games with a gaudy .552 batting average.
“And you always want to take pride in your state and be able to claim that (rivalry) win.”
Naomi Tellez understands, too. She hails from the San Diego area and also has those West Coast softball roots. But Tellez is a Lobo sophomore and it doesn’t take long to figure out there is no love lost between Lobos and Aggies – in any arena of competition.
When it comes to softball, the Lobos and the Aggies play hard ball.
“It’s my second year here and I have a feel for how big this game is and how much pride we take in beating the Aggies,” said Tellez. “Every game is very competitive and you can feel the tension. It’s an important game.”
The 5 p.m., Tuesday non-conference game is a break for Aggies and Lobos prior to ending their regular season in league wars. The Lobos will move on to a season-ending, three-game series at Boise State May 2-4. The Mountain West does not have a postseason tourney.
The Aggies will move on to the Western Athletic Conference Tournament where they have a chance at an automatic NCAA bid. That May 8-11 WAC tourney will be held in Seattle, Washington. NMSU will carry the WAC’s No. 1 seed into that tournament.
The Aggies are 28-21 on the season and ride a two-game win streak into Lobo Field. The Lobos also have a two-game win streak coming off 20-3 and 6-4 Mountain West wins over Utah State. UNM is 16-32 on the season.
The Lobos and the Aggies met earlier this season in Las Cruces with New Mexico rallying out of a 2-0 hole into a 4-3 win. The Lobos didn’t score in six of the seven innings, but exploded for four runs in the top of the fourth aided by two NMSU errors. Chelsea Anaya, out for the season, blasted a three-run homer and UNM’s fourth run was unearned.
For sure, the Aggies, 8-2 over the past ten games with UNM, will be seeking revenge. The Lobos will be looking to leave Lobo Field on a winning note.
“It’s always good to finish the season strong and remember that you won your last home game,” said Kalinen.
Said Tellez: “We want to win for our fans and also for our seniors so they can go out on top and have that memory looking back on their senior year that they won their last game at home.”
Kalinen paces the Mountain West hitters in league games, but also tops the Lobo hitting charts in all games with a .439 average. Tellez is No. 2 at .382, Brandi Heimburg has a .379 average and Mariah Rimmer has pushed into the .300s at .310.
The Lobos hit .301 as a team and UNM opponents are batting at a .363 pace. UNM has a team ERA of 7.56 with Lauren Soles the lowest at 5.86.
NMSU hits at a .314 clip allowing the opposition to bat .286. NMSU has three pitchers with ERAs between 3.42 and 4.57 and that trio has shared the circle most of the season throwing between 98.1 innings and 105.2 innings. Karysta Donisthorpe of Farmington, N.M., leads NMSU in strikeouts with 85, but has hurt her cause with 60 walks.
The free passes have been an Achilles Heel for UNM all season. The Lobos have given up 243 walks which can count against a team’s ERA. UNM is ranked 283rd out of 289 teams in team ERA and only two teams have given up more earned runs. A key for UNM obviously is making the Aggies earn their bases.
“There are some things we can improve on, but right now we want to win as many games as we can and carry that feeling into next year,” said Tellez. “We have momentum from Saturday and Sunday to help us and we want to finish strong.”
The Lobos said goodbye to three seniors on Sunday, but Tuesday game with NMSU is the last home game for Jordan Sjostrand, Chelsea Anaya and Ally Hakeem.
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.