Lobo Baseball - at Lobo Field
When: Thursday - 7 p.m. (MT), Friday - 7 p.m. (MT), Saturday - 1 p.m. (MT)
Who: Air Force Falcons
GoLobos.com: Live stats,box score, live stream, postgame recap and stats
Video: Each game will be streamed live at GoLobos.com
Radio: ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM will broadcast all three games against the Falcons
Mountain West Standings
|Place||School||MW record||Overall record|
|3T||San Diego St.||15-12||35-17|
|6||San José St.||10-20||
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Three games are all that separate the University of New Mexico baseball team from its third straight regular-season Mountain West title. Three games against an Air Force program it has dominated in Albuquerque the last dozen years. UNM has not lost a home game to the Falcons since March 22, 2002 and has never lost a three-game home series to Air Force dating back to the start of the rivalry in 1957.
But the Lobos are well aware that past success does not guarantee future results.
"They're going to come play us tough," senior outfielder Chase Harris said. "We've been fortunate to take care of them every time they've come (to Albuquerque). We know they're going to come out fighting, but we fully expect to come out fighting. ... We're going to bring the right intensity that we need."
Head coach Ray Birmingham will not let his young squad take anything for granted.
"This league is great from top to bottom," he said. "There's no upper echelon and lower echelon. (The Falcons') arms are good, their bats are good, their players are good and they're well coached. It's going to be hard. It's not automatic by any stretch of the imagination."
UNM is one game up on UNLV, which hosts third-place Nevada this weekend. The Lobos can clinch a share of the title as early as Thursday night. If UNM defeats the Falcons and the Rebels lose to the Wolf Pack, then the Lobos will clinch at least a share of the title. Harris, though, said the Lobos want no part of sharing the title.
"We're hoping for a sweep," UNM's closer Victor Sanchez said. "We're only one game up, and we have to assume UNLV is going to sweep and get their job done. We have to take it one game at a time, one pitch at a time. Air Force is a tough team so it's going to be tough to pull out, but I think we can do it."
The Lobos are seeking to become just the second MW team to win three straight regular-season titles. TCU won or shared seven straight between 2006 and 2012.
A regular-season title isn't all that's at stake this weekend, though. Senior pitcher Josh Walker is one win away from tying both the UNM and Mountain West record for career victories. He currently has 26 and will have a chance to tie the mark Thursday night.
“If you would’ve asked me that I’d have an opportunity to hold the wins record when I first got here my sophomore year, I wouldn’t have guessed it,” he said. “I’m thankful for it and for everyone that has supported me. It’s a great honor.”
Rob Hoover, who pitched for the Lobos from 1976-79, owns the school mark with 27 wins. Kyle Winkler, formerly of TCU, won 27 games from 2009-11 to set the MW record.
“Mr. Hoover set a really high record,” Walker continued, “and as a pitcher you can’t be successful without your teammates behind you or a great offense. … I’m really thankful for this program, my coaches and my teammates.”
It will be the final home start of Walker's career, and he already owns 15 career wins in Albuquerque: nine at Lobo Field and six at Isotopes Park. He is also seeking his sixth career win over the Falcons, his most vs. any opponent.
Saturday will also be the final home game for UNM's six seniors: Harris, Walker, John Pustay, A.J. Carman, Kevin Baumgartner and Jonathan Cuellar. They will be honored in an on-field ceremony before the game at roughly 12:30 p.m. Pustay and Walker, the only third-year seniors on the team, have been part of 109 Lobo wins in their careers.
Dugout Club members are invited to join the team for its pregame meal in the batting cages at Lobo Field this Friday from 4-6 p.m.
• SCOUTING AIR FORCE ... The Falcons are not the Air Force teams of years gone by. This Air Force squad is dangerous, as evidenced by its 19 wins (which is the most for the Falcons since 2002), including nine in conference play. They do, however, continue to struggle on the road, posting a 3-23 record overall and going 0-12 in Mountain West games thus far.
Tyler Jones (.337, 18 doubles) and Noah Pierce (.309, 11 doubles) lead an offense that is hitting .252 as a team. Seth Kline leads the squad with five home runs. The Falcons have only drawn 129 walks and own a 2.41 strikeout-to-walk ratio.
The rotation is led by senior Cameron White, who has struck out 88 and walked just nine in 92.2 innings. He is 4-7 with a 4.18 ERA. Freshman Griffin Jax, Friday’s starter, is just 3-8 with a 6.09 ERA, but he shut out the Lobos earlier this season in Colorado Springs. Sophomore Steven Trojan will start Saturday and brings a 5.62 ERA in 73.2 innings into the contest. The bullpen is led by Nathan Stanford who is 2-1 with four saves and a 3.12 ERA in 27 appearances spanning 40.1 innings. Overall the staff owns a 5.39 ERA and is allowing 8.1 runs per game and opponents to hit .301 against it.
• ANOTHER WATCH LIST FOR SANCHEZ ... Already a member of the 2014 Stopper of the Year watch list, Victor Sanchez was named to the watch list for the Gregg Olson Award, which goes to the Breakout Player of the Year in college baseball.
• THE NEXT LOBO IRONMAN ... In 2013 Mitch Garver finished his career with a UNM record 181 consecutive starts, easily breaking the record of 144 set by Daniel Stovall between 2004 and 2007. With Garver’s departure, a new Lobo Ironman has appeared in Chase Harris. The senior has started all 112 games in his two years at UNM, good for the sixth best streak in program history. Sophomore Sam Haggerty, who may miss the Air Force series for personal reasons, is right behind Harris in seventh at 102 straight starts.
• NEXT FRESHMAN ALL-AMERICAN? ... The UNM baseball team has had a Freshman All-American in each of the last three seasons: DJ Peterson in 2011, Ryan Padilla in 2012 and Sam Haggerty in 2013. This year there are several candidates to be the fourth in as many years. Outfielder Danny Collier out of Sandia HS in Albuquerque is tied for second in the nation among freshmen with a .370 average. He has reached base safely in all 31 of his starts. Andre Vigil, out of Volcano Vista in Albuquerque, has also been phenomenal. Overall he’s batting .300 with 23 runs and 29 RBIs. Lastly, Jack Zoellner has started the last 17 games at first base for New Mexico. He still needs a few more at bats to qualify, but he’s hitting .313 with 22 walks and 28 runs scored. He has also played excellent defense at first base, committing just two errors in 302 chances. Lane Milligan, meanwhile, only has 77 at bats but is hitting .325 with 16 runs scored. The Lobos are a young team, but there’s plenty of young talent to go around.
• ACADEMIC HONORS FOR HAGGERTY ... Sam Haggerty earned Academic All-District honors from CoSIDA Thursday, May 1. The sophomore out of Denver, Colo., is majoring in finance and has a 3.78 cumulative GPA. This is his first Academic All-District honor in his first year eligible (first-year players are not eligible). Last year he was one of a program record 16 players named Academic All Mountain West and one of a record six to be named a Mountain West Scholar Athlete.
• WATCH OUT FOR SANCHEZ ... UNM’s sophomore right-handed closer Victor Sanchez was named to the Stopper of the Year Midseason Watch List by the NCBWA on Wednesday, April 23. He is one of 50 players on the list for the award, which is given annually to the top reliever in Division I. He is also one of just two pitchers from the MW to be named to the watch list.
• ... AND HOLLEY TOO ... Sanchez isn’t the only UNM sophomore on a major award’s watch list. Shortstop Jared Holley was named to the Brooks Wallace Award watch list on Firday, April 25. The award is given to the best shortstop in the nation by the College Baseball Foundation. It’s the second straight year a Lobos has been on the watch list as former Lobo Alex Allbritton was named to it in 2013.
• BULLPEN DOMINANCE ... Teams should be put on notice that if UNM takes a lead into the seventh inning, they are in trouble. UNM is an astounding 30-0 when leading after six and 32-0 when leading after eight thanks to an outstanding bullpen. Lobo relievers own a 3.79 ERA this season and is led by a quartet of performers, all of whom are in just their first or second year in the program. Closer Victor Sanchez is 3-0 with a team-leading nine saves in 17 relief appearances this season. He has struck out 21 and allowed just three earned runs in 27.0 relief innings for a 1.00 ERA. Freshman Carson Schneider is UNM’s go-to lefty out of the pen, having made 21 relief appearances and owning a 3.70 ERA over 24.1 innings. Sophomore Taylor Duree has been the workhorse, leading the team with 26 relief appearances and 31.1 innings out of the pen. He is 2-0 with one save and a 3.16 ERA. Junior Jake Cole is 2-0 with three saves and a 3.41 ERA in 19 relief appearances spanning 34.1 innings. He is the Lobos’ strikeout leader out of the pen, fanning 34 batters on the year.
• ‘BOS KNOW PITCHING ... If the UNM pitching staff can maintain its current 4.34 ERA over the rest of the season, it will post the lowest ERA a Lobo squad has had since the 1977 team posted a 4.13 ERA. It would also be the 10th lowest ERA in program history. The 2014 staff is doing this while being on pace to set a school record for most innings pitched.
Despite pitching a mile above sea level, UNM has been excellent at home, posting a 3.34 ERA while holding opponents to a .268 batting average at Lobo Field.
• NO WEAK SPOTS IN THIS LINEUP ... The Lobo offense rolls nine deep, and nothing proves that more than the production they get out of the No. 9 spot in their order. Eight Lobos have combined to hit .326 (62-for-190) while occupying the last place in the lineup. Aaron Siple (.341, 28-for-82) and Jared Holley (.375, 18-for-48) lead the way, while Lane Milligan (.385, 10-for-26) and Andre Vigil (2-for-3) have also done well in limited time in the nine spot..
Need further proof? Eight of the nine projected starters enter the weekend with an average of .293 or better.