ALBUQUERQUE, N.M.- There were only two words needed to describe UNM’s 5-4, 12-inning win over UNLV at Lobo Field Sunday.
“Big time,” said John Pustay, whose fielder’s choice in the bottom of the 12th drove home Danny Collier with the winning run. “We definitely needed this one after playing three pretty close games.”
The win prevented the Lobos from being swept at home for the first time since a series against TCU at Isotopes Park in May 2011. UNM (9-6-1, 1-2) lost 3-2 on Saturday and allowed six runs in the final two innings Friday to lose 8-2.
“It was good to get one of the three this weekend,” starting pitcher Josh Walker said. “It was very important to win this one today."
The Lobos found themselves trailing 4-3 in the bottom of the 12th after Chase Harris dropped a fly ball with two outs, which allowed the go-ahead run to score.
“Today he played dog sick,” Pustay said, referring to Harris, who also made a spectacular, diving, over-the-shoulder catch on the warning track in the sixth inning. “He gave 110 percent today.”
Sam Haggerty, who had an excellent day at the plate, led off the bottom of the 12th with a walk. Collier, worked an eight-pitch at bat before lining a 1-2 pitch over Haggerty’s head into right to put men on first and second. That brought up Harris, who was looking for a bit of redemption following his error. He placed a perfect bunt down the third-base line for a single. UNLV’s third baseman, T.J. White, threw the ball away, which allowed Haggerty to score and Collier to take third.
The Rebels then intentionally walked Alex Real to bring up Pustay, who was UNM’s “ace in the hole” as a pinch hitter in 2013, going 9-for-24 (.375) in that role.
“I was just trying to put the ball in play,” Pustay said. “I (pinch hit) a lot last year so I felt comfortable doing it. With the bases loaded and no outs, I just knew I had to put the ball in play and give us a chance.”
With the infield in, Pustay worked the count full before grounding a ball up the middle. UNLV’s shortstop, Matt McCallister, dove and cut the ball off. But when he got to his feet to attempt to throw Collier out at home, the ball squirted out of his glove and right to the Rebels’ second baseman, who was standing on second. Collier scored easily and the forceout robbed Pustay of a game-winning hit.
“It was great for me because the last couple games I’ve been struggling,” Pustay said. “I tried to find a pitch to knock him in and I did.”
The run ended a very entertaining, and quick-moving, game that saw the starting pitchers combine to throw 17.0 innings.
Walker pitched into the 10th, finishing with a career-high 9.1 innings pitched. He also gave up a career-high 14 hits, but they were all singles, most of them were softly hit, and he did a phenomenal job limiting the damage.
“I’m happy with my performance today, given that it wasn’t my best today,” he said. “I didn’t feel my best, but I’m happy with it. We had some great defense. (Jared) Holley made some great plays, and Harris, man, he’ll sacrifice his body and do anything for this team.”
The senior from Rio Rancho, N.M., allowed three runs to the Rebels (10-4, 5-1), and they all came in the third inning.
“The littler cappers, the little dinks they had that inning were falling,” he said. “The goal is to battle. Runs are going to score every once in a while, and they’re going to get some hits, but you have to battle through it and keep pitching.”
Battle he did. Walker gave up only four hits over his last 4.1 innings and did not walk a single batter all game. In 30.1 innings this season he still has not issued a walk.
“He pitches,” UNM head coach Ray Birmingham said. “He’ll give up some hits, but he won’t give up many runs.”
UNM got on the board in the bottom of the third off a one-out triple from Haggerty and a groundout from Collier. The Lobos added another in the fifth, and caught a break in doing so.
With one out pinch hitter Kirby McGuire lofted a fly ball to deep left. The Rebels’ left fielder lost the ball in the sun and it dropped for a double. He scored one batter later on a single to center by Haggerty.
That’s where the score remained until the bottom of the eighth, and again Haggerty was at the middle of the rally.
With one out he lined a 3-1 pitch to right center. Hustling all the way he slid into second just ahead of the throw. He moved to third on a groundout by Collier, which brought up Harris. He smashed a hard grounder right at McCallister at short, who bobbled it twice. His throw to first was a fraction too late as Harris’ head-first slide just beat it out. Haggerty scored and the game was tied.
That was just the beginning of the dramatics, though. UNLV’s first two batters reached on singles in the ninth. A fielder’s choice put men on the corners with one out. Holley then made a leaping snag of a liner off the bat of White to save a run, and Walker got out of the inning himself, getting UNLV’s No. 3 hitter, Patrick Armstrong, on a swinging strikeout.
In the bottom of the ninth the Lobos also got their first two men on base on an infield single by Lane Milligan and an error. But a failed bunt attempt left men on first and second for Holley. His sinking liner in center was caught on a diving effort, and Jered Meek, who thought the ball would drop, was easily doubled off second base, ending the threat.
The Lobos then loaded the bases in the 10th on three walks, but Milligan struck out on a 2-2 pitch to end the frame.
UNLV’s first extra base hit of the game came in the 12th with two outs off the bat of Erik VanMeetren. He doubled to left center and then scored when Harris dropped the high pop up off the bat of Edgar Montes.
“That was rough,” Pustay admitted,” but we’ve done this so many times before, especially the older guys, so we weren’t really worried. We knew we would have a chance to win, especially with how the day was going. We were getting a lot of men on base, we just couldn’t knock them in. We knew that (error) was kind of like a dagger in the heart, but we also knew we would have a chance.”
Haggerty finished the game 3-for-4 with three runs, two walks and an RBI. Milligan was the only other Lobo with multiple hits as he finished 2-for-5.
Jake Cole pitched the final two innings to earn his first career win.
After playing 11 of 12 games at home, the Lobos take to the road for their next four. They play at Arizona State Wednesday night at 7:30 (MT) before heading to face Fresno State for three games next weekend.
Notes: Walker and relievers Carson Schneider and Cole combined to not walk a batter … the two runs UNM scored in the 12th were the most it has ever scored after the 11th inning … it was the first walk-off win for UNM since it defeated UNLV 14-13 in 10 innings on April 28, 2013, at Lobo Field … Schneider struck out the first batter of his career in the 10th inning … Collier made a leaping catch of a foul ball over the railing down the left-field line, performing a somersault but hanging on to the ball … Holley finished with eight assists at short, the most for a Lobo since Alex Allbritton had nine against San Diego State on March 29 last season … the first four hitters in UNM’s lineup – Haggerty, Collier, Harris and Real – reached base 11 times, and the rest of the order reached base safely just five times.