LAS VEGAS, Nev. – In its first game of the Mountain West Tournament the University of New Mexico baseball team committed three errors in the seventh inning, which led to eight unearned runs, to break open a tie game as the Lobos dropped an 11-5 decision to the San Diego State Aztecs Thursday afternoon. UNM (37-19-1) now must work its way back through the loser’s bracket to advance.
With the score tied 3-3 UNM's defense simply let it down at the worst possible moment.
With one out and a man on first, the Aztec’s (39-18) Tim Zier grounded one back up the middle. It looked like starting pitcher Josh Walker would be able to make a play on it, but it went right through his legs to shortstop Jared Holley, who fielded it on the first base side of second. He attempted to tag the runner coming from first but was late. That extra second cost him as his throw to first was too late to get Zier. What could have been an inning-ending double play was instead an error on Walker, and SDSU had two men on.
The next batter, Ty France, worked a long, nine-pitch at bat before grounding a full-count pitch sharply to Andre Vigil at third. With the runners moving Vigil tried to field it and quickly step on third to start a double play, but the ball bounced off his glove and into foul territory, which allowed the go-ahead run to score. A hit by pitch loaded the bases ahead of a strikeout, but with an extra out Steven Pallares launched a 1-0 pitch over the wall in left center to give the Aztecs a five-run lead.
Another error extended the frame and it was 11-3 by the time the inning finally ended.
The first five runs of the frame were charged to Walker (7-5), who was trying to tie both the UNM and MW record for career wins. For the day he allowed eight runs, just three earned, on eight hits and three walks in 6.2 innings. He threw 116 pitches, 73 of which were for strikes, and recorded 11 groundball outs, but his only real mistake, the grand slam, was a costly one.
UNM actually had a golden opportunity to take the lead in the bottom of the sixth, just before SDSU’s big inning. They had the bases loaded with two outs for Danny Collier as the Aztecs brought in a lefty to face the Mountain West Freshman of the Year. That’s not all they did, though, as they also made a defensive shift, moving their first baseman about 25 feet off the first-base bag, which is exactly where Collier smoked a 2-1 pitch on a line. It could’ve been a two-run, go-ahead single, but it instead it was the final out and the Aztecs took the lead the next frame.
The teams traded runs in the early going. UNM took a 1-0 lead in the first on an RBI single by John Pustay, but the Aztecs responded with a two-out run in the third to tie the game.
UNM then took the lead with a pair of runs in the fourth. Jack Zoellner led off with a single up the middle and moved to second on a sacrifice by Vigil. Holley, playing his first game since May 4, then looped a double over France’s head at third for a double to score Zoellner. Aaron Siple followed with a bloop single to left to put men on the corners. Sam Haggerty then got a hold of one and hit it deep to right. The ball did not carry, though, and it was caught near the warning track for a sacrifice fly.
Chase Harris was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded in the eighth, and Ryan Padilla’s groundout to second in the ninth drove in another to account for UNM’s final two runs.
Pustay, Holley and Jack Zoellner each finished with two hits as UNM was outhit just 12-11.
The Lobos will play the winner of the Fresno State vs. Nevada game at 4 p.m. MT Friday. The game will be broadcast by ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM and streamed for free at GoLobos.com by the Mountain West Network.
Notes: Holley’s double was his sixth of the season … Zoellner doubled in the ninth, which was his eighth of the season … the Lobos left 13 men on base.