ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. –Aaron Siple’s sacrifice fly drove home Kirby McGuire with the winning run in the bottom of the eighth as the UNM baseball team (25-11-1, 9-4) defeated Fresno State 5-4 Friday night at Lobo Field.
The Bulldogs (18-16, 7-9) scored an unearned run in the top of the inning, but freshman Jack Zoellner led off with a double down the left-field line. After McGuire came on to run, Jared Holley moved him to third with a grounder to first and Siple smacked a 2-0 pitch to left that was deep enough to score McGuire with ease.
“That was perfect baseball right there,” Birmingham said. “And it was by kids who have been learning, like Siple and Jack.”
Zoellner finished the day 2-for-4 with a double and a run scored.
“Before I got in the batter’s box I was just telling myself to trust myself and stay inside the ball,” the Gilbert, Ariz., native said. “I wanted to get the job done for the team and that’s what I was able to do. Then Holley did his job and Siple did his job to get the run scored.”
Victor Sanchez then came on to pitch a perfect ninth for his sixth save of the season and third in as many games this week.
"I'm not used to this, pitching every day," he said with a laugh. "It's not too bad when you only go an inning, though.
Nicknamed “Shotgun” by pitching coach Dan Spencer last season because he was throwing balls all over the bullpen, Sanchez has been UNM’s best reliever in a season that has seen excellent work come out of the Lobos’ bullpen. He now owns a 1.11 ERA and has only allowed nine hits in 24.1 innings. What's even more impressive is the fact that he is entirely new to the closing role.
"I don't think I ever had a save in my life before this year," he said. "It's a new deal for me. I'm not sure how to handle it, but I'll try to keep it going."
The Bulldogs jumped on the board in the first off starter Jonathan Cuellar. A leadoff walk came back to haunt Cuellar as Taylor Ward smacked a two-run homer over the right-field fence for a quick 2-0 lead.
UNM answered of Fresno State’s ace, Jordan Brink, in the bottom of the inning, though. With one out Sam Haggerty singled to left and Chase Harris followed with a single up the middle. After Alex Real lined out to second, John Pustay worked a walk to load the bases for freshman Andre Vigil.
Although the Lobos have struggled at times this season with the bases loaded, Vigil has not. He laced a 2-2 pitch to right center to clear the bases and give UNM a 3-2 lead.
UNM added another run in the fourth when Harris’ surprise bunt with the bases loaded and two outs allowed Zoellner to score and increase the Lobos’ lead to 4-2.
The Bulldogs, though, scored one in the sixth to creep closer before tying it in the eighth.
Jake Cole (2-1) struck out the first batter and induced a grounder to third by the next, but Vigil, who had been so good at the hot corner all game, fired a low throw to first that Zoellner wasn’t able to pick, allowing Brady Russell to get to second.
The next Fresno State batter, Jordan Luplow, then smacked a pitch up the middle that Haggerty made a diving stop on. But Haggerty had to rush his throw to first and it sailed wide, which allowed Russell to score and tie the game.
“Even with an inning like that we know we have a great ball club and know that we’re never out of a game,” Zoellner said. “We came into (the bottom of the eighth) with confidence.”
The Lobos showed plenty of heart to earn their fourth straight win over the Bulldogs and move to 7-0 against Fresno State all-time in Albuquerque. Over the past two seasons the Lobos also moved to 4-0 in games started by Brink, who could be a first-round draft in the MLB Draft this June.
The top three hitters in UNM's lineup -- Danny Collier, Haggerty and Harris -- combined to go 7-for-11 with two runs and an RBI, but the rest of the team was just 4-for-20, although two of those hits were the doubles by Vigil and Zoellner.
The teams will meet at 2 p.m. at Saturday afternoon. It's Youth Day at Lobo Field as all youth will get in for just $2 and there will be an Easter Egg hunt following the game with a special appearance by the Easter Bunny.
Notes: Taylor Duree made his 17th relief appearance of the season for UNM, which leads the team ... Vigil's double was his seventh of the season and Zoellner's was his third ... Carson Schneider added 1.1 innings of scoreless relief.