ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – In what might have been their most important game of the season to date, the University of New Mexico baseball team proved it is still a force to be reckoned with in the Mountain West. The Lobos (33-15-1, 16-8) jumped out to a 10-run lead and held on for a 13-5 victory over the San Diego State Aztecs (32-16, 13-11) Sunday afternoon at Lobo Field.
The Lobos moved into a first-place tie with UNLV in the Mountain West, although the Rebels own the tie-breaker having taken five of six from UNM this season. The Lobos have a road series at Nevada next weekend and then host Air Force the week after. UNLV must travel to face SDSU, which is 23-4 at home this season, before returning to Las Vegas to host Nevada. The Wolf Pack are two games back in third and the Aztecs are three back in fourth place.
Drew Bridges (3-1), making his first start since March 14, earned the win despite not pitching the requisite five complete innings because he was lifted on a strict pitch count. He threw 45 of his 70 pitches for strikes and was very solid in limiting the Aztecs offensively. He allowed just three hits, all of which were singles, and two of which were bunts in 4.1 innings.
“He was the key to the game,” UNM head coach Ray Birmingham said. “All those goose eggs he threw in a row was a big deal.”
The sophomore right-hander, who had been out with shoulder fatigue, said his arm felt good and he was pleased with his outing.
“It was exciting to get back and play,” he said. “The ball had a little bit of life (coming out of my hand) and the defense made a couple nice plays behind me.”
The Lobos took a 2-0 lead in the second on two-out RBIs from Jared Holley and Aaron Siple before breaking the game open with a five-run fourth.
Alex Real got the rally started with a double off the wall in left. Jack Zoellner followed with a walk, and Jered Meek sacrificed both men into scoring position. Andre Vigil walked to load the bases before Siple came through with another big hit: a two-run single through the left side. Two batters later men were on the corners with two outs for Chase Harris. He smacked one off the left-field fence for a triple to plate both runners and give UNM a 7-0 lead.
Real finished 4-for-4 with a pair of doubles, a run and an RBI to lead the Lobos. Eight of the nine starters recorded at least one hit and every starter reached base safely. Danny Collier finished 3-for-4 with a run and an RBI while both Pustay and Siple finished with three RBIs.
“Offensively, one through nine, we all battled today,” he said. “Coach Birmingham has been on us, and we finally came through. It’s a good feeling.”
Bridges walked two batters and also hit one with a pitch, but he was very good when he needed to be.
“It all starts with Drew Bridges,” his battery mate, Real, said. “We really needed that. He kept the ball down and it had a lot of run on it. He just competed up there. I feel like he was dialed in up there every pitch. That’s what we need out of him. When he’s working down and throwing his offspeed … he’s dangerous.”
In fact, all the Lobo pitchers were great at escaping jams and minimizing damage. Bridges worked out of jams with men in scoring position in the first three innings. After replacing Bridges in the fifth, Taylor Duree loaded the bases with a walk and hit batter but struck out a pair to keep the Aztecs off the board. After a leadoff homer in the sixth, a walk and a single put men on the corners, but A.J. Carman got a double play to end the threat.
Even in the seventh when the Aztecs scored a pair, Victor Sanchez got a double play with the bases loaded to end the inning and prevent any more runs from crossing.
By that point, though, the Lobos led 11-1 on the back of a four-run sixth. All the runs that inning came with two outs, and it started with a wild play. Sam Haggerty placed a perfect bunt between the third baseman and SDSU’s pitcher, Brett Seeburger, who fielded it. Despite having no chance to throw Haggerty out at first, Seeburger uncorked a wild throw that sailed well over the first baseman’s head. It was so wild that Haggerty was able to scamper all the way around the bases and score on the error.
That wasn’t all, though. Collier and Harris followed with infield singles. A wild pitch move both into scoring position, and John Pustay knocked both men in with a single up the middle. Real then hammered a pitch off the third baseman’s glove that got into the corner for a double, which allowed Pustay to score standing up.
Pustay and Zoellner drove in runs in the eighth to close out the Lobos’ scoring.
Sanchez pitched the final three innings to earn his eighth save of the season. He allowed two runs, only one of which was earned, and struck out one.
Before UNM heads into its final two Mountain West series, it has its final non-conference game of the regular season Monday afternoon when it hosts Utah Valley at Lobo Field at 1. Senior right-hander Jonathan Cuellar will get the start on the mound for the Lobos. Fans can catch a live stream of the game online at GoLobos.com.
Notes: SDSU assistant coach, and acting head coach in Tony Gwynn’s absence, was ejected in the middle of the fifth inning … Holley left the game following the third inning and was replaced by Vigil … Collier continued his streak of reaching in all his starts and is up to 31 straight now … Real’s doubles were Nos. 20 and 21 on the season … Harris’ triple was his fifth … SDSU left 12 men on base compared to just six for the Lobos … Haggerty scored a pair of runs and now has 48 on the season to lead the MW.