Aug. 21, 2012
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - In 1962 the University of New Mexico made its first trip to the NCAA postseason. The program would then have to wait nearly 50 years for its second trip. Now, however, the Lobos are making a habit out of advancing to NCAA regionals.
The Lobos are one of only 25 teams in the nation to advance to an NCAA regional in each of the past three seasons, having earned a postseason berth in 2010, 2011, and 2012. Head coach Ray Birmingham finds that incredibly exciting.
"That puts us as a bonafide program," he said, "and the dreams of Omaha are extremely real. We've come a long way, baby."
The Lobos certainly have come a long way. Gone are the days when the Lobos were a hit-only program with team ERAs near 7.00, 8.00, 9.00, or even 10.00 (9.89 in 1989). The Lobos are still hitting, ranking fifth as a team in the NCAA last season with a .326 average, but now they're pitching as well. The staff posted an ERA of 4.40 last season, the best since posting a 4.13 mark in 1977.
The program is on the rise, and is poised for another postseason run in 2013. The Lobos return their top four hitters, including both 2012 Mountain West Co-Players of the Year in DJ Peterson (.419 average, 17 home runs, 78 RBIs) and Mitchell Garver (.377, 10, 57). Joining them in the lineup will be 2012 Freshman All-American Ryan Padilla (.353, five, 49), and 2012 MW Tournament MVP Josh Melendez (.347, three, 49).
The Lobos lost both Austin House and Gera Sanchez to professional teams, but the rest of their top arms are returning. Josh Walker tied for the team lead with eight wins last season and will try to anchor the starting rotation. Meanwhile, UNM's late-inning duo of Hobie McClain (1.80 ERA, 2-1, three saves) and Bobby Mares (4.73, 1-1, five saves, and 39 strikeouts in 32 1/3 innings) will both be back to provide stability in the bullpen as the Lobos look to make it four straight years in the postseason.
Birmingham, however, is quick to point out that the Lobos would already have accomplished that if they hadn't run into a certain former No. 1 overall pick in the 2009 MW Tournament.
"The crazy thing is that the one thing that stopped us (in 2009) was Stephen Strasburg," he said. "We lost a one-run ballgame. Otherwise, we'd have made it that year too."
Despite the loss to Strasburg's San Diego State squad, the Lobos are on the most successful run in school history and appear poised to continue that stretch in 2013.
|Teams to appear in last three regionals|
|Cal St. Fullerton|