USAFA, Colo. – It wasn’t easy, but the UNM baseball team earned a Mountain West series victory with a 5-3 win over Air Force Sunday afternoon. Alex Real hit his first home run of the season, a two-run shot in the first, to back another solid start by Josh Walker (4-1), who earned his 23rd career win.
“It was nice to get some runs early, and we just kind of worked off that,” Walker said. “We wanted to bounce back from (Saturday).”
The Lobos were shut out for the first time this season Saturday, but wasted no time getting on the board thanks to Real. Sam Haggerty singled with one out and Real hit a laser just inside the foul pole in left to give the Lobos a quick 2-0 lead.
“I’m on the board,” Real said with a little smile. “It was nice to finally get one. I feel like the monkey’s kind of off my back now.”
Air Force answered with a run of its own in the bottom of the inning, however, as Walker gave up three hits, two for extra bases. He settled in after that, though, as he shut out the Falcons over the next five frames.
“(Pitching coach Dan) Spencer, Real and I worked really well today,” he said. “We were on the same page, and it was a good battle today.”
UNM added another pair of runs in the fourth. Real led off with an infield single and advanced to second on a walk by Lane Milligan. Jered Meek then reached safely on an error by Air Force’s starter, Steven Trojan, while attempting to sacrifice. That loaded the bases for Andre Vigil, who smacked a two-run single to center to give UNM a 4-1 lead.
That’s where the score remained until the seventh. Singles by the first two Falcons of the inning put men on the corners, and they scored a run on an RBI groundout. They added another in the eighth, and chased Walker, on a double, an error, a groundout and a single. Taylor Duree came in and retired the only batter he faced, and Victor Sanchez then recorded a strikeout with the tying run on second.
Walker pitched into the seventh inning for the sixth straight start. He allowed three runs, two earned, on nine hits and one walk with three strikeouts. He threw 76 of his 104 pitches for strikes and leads the team with 52.1 innings pitched this season.
“He was throwing strikes down in the zone,” his battery mate, Real, said. “Every pitch was working for him today, especially his slider. He kept the hitters off balance. He got ahead, which allowed him to throw his off-speed stuff. It was a great job and very consistent performance by him.”
The Lobos got a huge insurance run in the ninth. With one out Ryan Padilla smoked a ball up the middle that ended up in right center for a double. Infield singles by Aaron Siple and Danny Collier loaded the bases for Haggerty, who grounded a ball to second. Air Force got the force out at second base, but Haggerty beat the relay to first, which allowed pinch runner Kirby McGuire to score.
The breathing room was huge as Air Force got a one-out double in the bottom of the ninth. That was all they got, however, as Sanchez struck out the Falcons’ biggest power threat, Seth Kline, and induced a groundout to Jered Meek at second to end the game. It was his second save of the season.
Real, Vigil, Siple and Haggerty each recorded two hits apiece as UNM recorded 10 hits, the 11th time in 12 games they reached double digits.
Walker’s 23 wins ties him with Dean Duane for third all-time at UNM. His .821 winning percentage is first in program history.
The Lobos’ next game is Tuesday at 5 p.m. (MT) against Texas Tech in Midland, Texas. UNM will then return home to face New Mexico State Wednesday night at 6. The game versus the Aggies will be broadcast on ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM.
Notes: Vigil is a perfect 3-for-3 with the bases loaded this season … Chase Harris stole his sixth base of the season … Walker lowered his ERA to 3.27 … UNM is now 16-0 this season when leading after eight innings … Bob McAulay is second in UNM’s annals with 24 wins, and Rob Hoover’s 27 wins are most all-time.