Lobo Baseball - at Mountain West Tournament, Earl E. Wilson Stadium
When: Thursday - 4 p.m. (MT), Friday TBA, Saturday - TBA, Sunday - TBA (if necessary)
Who: No. 1 UNLV, No. 3 San Diego State, No. 4 Nevada, No. 5 Fresno State, No. 6 Air Force, No. 7 San José State
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 Tournament games live
Mountain West Standings
|Place||School||MW record||Overall record|
|3||San Diego St.||17-14||37-18|
|7||San José St.||10-20||
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Last weekend the University of New Mexico baseball team won a share of its third straight Mountain West regular-season title by taking two out of three from Air Force. This weekend it hopes to win its third Mountain West Tournament title in the last four years when it heads to Las Vegas as co-champions and the No. 2 seed behind host UNLV.
Despite missing out on the No. 1 seed due to a tiebreaker with the Rebels, the Lobos aren’t concerned about entering play in the second slot.
“It doesn’t make a difference (if we’re one or two),” head coach Ray Birmingham said. “If there was a lot of separation in the abilities of the teams in our league then I’d say it makes a difference, but there’s really not. From top to bottom anybody can beat anybody. It’s been a very good league.”
Senior outfielder Chase Harris echoed his head coach’s words.
“Any team is capable of beating any other team in this league,” he said. “Look at what Air Force did. They were in last place and swept UNLV, and then they took two from us throughout the year. Top to bottom, anybody can win this thing. Just like with any postseason, you never know what’s going to happen. Hopefully we go in there and take the first three games and win the championship, but you never know.”
The Lobos are very familiar with how a hot team can win the title. Last season the Lobos did not lose a single MW series all season and won the league by a record seven games. Then San Diego State got hot in the tournament and won the championship over UNM with back-to-back victories. In 2011 the Lobos were the six seed and were a staggering 23 games below .500 when they ripped off four wins in a row to win the title. Anything can happen.
The Rebels have to be considered one of the favorites heading in. Not only did they share the conference crown with the Lobos, but they also went 24-3 at home during the season, and they get to play in their home park. The Lobos, though, were the only team to finish above .500 on the road both overall (15-9) and in conference play (10-5) in the entire Mountain West, so they have proven they can win anywhere. It was just two years ago that they won three straight in Las Vegas to capture the Tournament title.
San Diego State, the three seed, took two of three from the Rebels just two weeks ago, albeit in San Diego, but handed the Rebels one of their three home losses. Nevada was swept in Las Vegas last weekend, but swept the Aztecs in Reno, Nev., back in April. Fresno State is always dangerous and has perhaps the Player of the Year in the conference in Jordan Luplow (.470, 14 doubles, 29 RBIs in MW play). As Harris pointed out, Air Force is capable of beating any team in the league, and so is San Jose State, which was swept just once all season – by UNM April 18 and 19 – and won at UNLV on April 13.
This isn’t just Birmingham and Harris blowing smoke: realistically any team in the conference can be expected to beat any other team on any given day.
The Lobos also need to play well in order to lock up an at-large bid to the NCAA Tournament, should they not win the automatic bid that comes from winning the MW Tournament. UNM’s RPI heading into the conference tournament is No. 58, right at the back edge of at-large range. Wins against UNLV (No. 26) and/or San Diego State (No. 50) to advance to the championship game would certainly help UNM’s case. The Lobos don’t want to leave things up to fate, though. Their focus is to win the automatic bid.
“Our main goal is to go in and win this tournament,” senior pitcher Josh Walker said. “We’re not going to be happy unless we do that.”
Unfortunately for the Lobos, they don’t know who they’re playing just yet. They don’t play until Thursday at 4 p.m. MT, and they will face the highest remaining seed. That could be San Diego State, No. 4 Nevada or No. 5 Fresno State. They cannot face UNLV, San Jose State or Air Force until Friday at the earliest.
• SCOUTING THE MOUNTAIN WEST ... The Lobos enter the conference tournament as the No. 2 seed after clinching a share of the regular-season title with a 5-4 win over Air Force Saturday. UNLV will be the one seed after defeating the Lobos in five of six matchups this season. The Lobos posted a winning record against the five other squads in the MW: San Diego State (2-1), Nevada (2-1), Fresno State (6-0), Air Force (4-2) and San Jose State (5-1).
The Rebels enter the tournament coming off a home sweep of Nevada last weekend to move to 21-3 at home. Arizona State, San Jose State and San Diego State are the only teams to beat them at Earl E. Wilson this season. UNLV is seeking its first Tournament title since taking three straight from 2003-05.
The Lobos, meanwhile, are the only team in the Mountain West with a winning record on the road. UNM is 15-10 away from Lobo Field this season, including a 10-5 mark in conference play. UNM will have some history to break as the No. 2 seed as only one second-place team has ever won the MW Tournament, and that was San Diego State back in 2000.
SDSU enters this Tournament as the three seed after taking two of three on the road last weekend at Fresno State. The Aztecs have won five of their last six, and took two from UNLV in San Diego the weekend before last. SDSU won the conference tournament last season in Fresno by defeating the Lobos twice in the championship round.
Nevada will take on Fresno State as the four seed and has scuffled of late in conference play as it faced the toughest part of its schedule. The Wolf Pack have won just two off their last nine MW games dating back to May 2.
The Bulldogs finished fifth in the conference, but did not play well away from home in conference play, winning just five of 15 games.
Air Force, which is only 3-16 in Tournament games, earned the six seed in the tournament by defeating the Lobos 3-1 Friday night. The Falcons earned the tie-breaker over San Jose State after taking two of the three meetings between the schools this season. They will be the home team when they take on the Spartans in the single-elimination play-in game Wednesday morning.
The winner of that game will face the Aztecs immediately following the conclusion of game one. The Lobos were the only team to sweep the Spartans all season, taking all three from SJSU in San Jose April 18 and 19.
• BACK-TO-BACK-TO-BACK ... UNM is one of just three programs in the nation to have won at least a share of its regular-season conference title in each of the last three seasons. The others are Louisville, which won two in the Big East and the American Athletic Conference this season, Bryant (Northeast), Sam Houston State (Southland), and Delaware State (MEAC). Florida State has also won the Atlantic Division in the ACC each of the last three years, but this season Miami won the Coastal Division and had a better conference mark.
It marks the fourth straight championship season for the Lobos, who won the Mountain West Tournament title as the No. 6 seed in 2011.
• NO ROAD FEAR ... UNM’s 15 road wins this season are the most since the 2000 squad set a school record with 19 victories away from home. Fifteen is tied for the fourth most in school history.
• SAC IT TO ME ... Aaron Siple has set a new UNM record with 17 sacrifice bunts this season, surpassing Sam Haggerty’s 16 in 2013.
• NEW SAVES MARK ... Lobo pitchers have saved 16 games this season, the most UNM has ever had in a single campaign. Victor Sanchez leads the way with 10, Jake Cole has three, Taylor Duree, Tyler Gibson and Carson Schneider each have one apiece. The old record was 14 set in 2012 and tied in 2013.
Sanchez’s 10 saves are one away from the school record, set by Ed Bartholomew in 1985.
• 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 115 games in his two years at UNM, good for the sixth best streak in program history.
Sophomore Sam Haggerty may pose the biggest threat to Garver’s record since Harris will be unable to catch him. He is right behind Harris in seventh at 105 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 .310 with 25 runs and 29 RBIs. Lastly, Jack Zoellner has started the last 20 games at first base for New Mexico. He still needs a few more at bats to qualify, but he’s hitting .299 with 22 walks and 28 runs scored. He has also played excellent defense at first base, committing just two errors in 328 chances. Lane Milligan, meanwhile, only has 86 at bats but is hitting .326 with 16 runs scored. The Lobos are a young team, but there’s plenty of young talent to go around.
• FANS FLOCK TO LOBO FIELD ... There’s no denying that UNM is becoming a baseball school with a loyal fan base. That was evidenced during the Lobos’ first home weekend of the season when 2,965 fans came to the Lobo Invite: the largest three-day crowd in Lobo Field history. Over 23,000 fans came out to Lobo Field over the course of the season.
• 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.
• ENTERING THE RANKINGS ... On Monday, April 21, the Lobos were ranked No. 24 by Collegiate Baseball and No. 30 by the NCBWA. This is now the fifth year out of the last six that the Lobos have been nationally ranked by a publication at some point during the season.