ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. –Last week Drew Bridges pitched perhaps the best game of his career, tossing six shutout innings with a career-high eight strikeouts. In his estimation, however, his game Friday night against Northern Colorado was even better.
“It felt even better than last week,” he said, “and I think that’s the goal: to go out there and have a better week than the prior one and keep competing.”
Regardless of which performance was more impressive, the end result was the same for the Lobos: a win.
The sophomore righty tossed a career-long 7.1 innings and held the Bears (2-7) to one run on four hits and a walk while striking out five as the Lobos (5-3-1) won 5-2 in front of 834 fans at Lobo Field. Sixty of his 94 pitches were for strikes.
“He was really good,” UNM head coach Ray Birmingham said. “We played good defense and Bridges pitched his tail off.”
In his past two starts, Bridges has allowed a single run in 13.1 innings with 13 strikeouts while allowing just nine hits (all singles) and three walks. In the process he has lowered his ERA to 2.30, exactly what the Lobos want and need from their Friday-night starter.
UNM jumped out to a quick 1-0 lead in the first on doubles by Jered Meek and Alex Real. The Bears didn’t record their first base runner until the fourth, but they received a pair of singles, a sacrifice bunt and a sacrifice fly to tie the game.
The Lobos added another run in the fifth. John Pustay reached on an infield single, and he moved to third on a double by freshman Chris DeVito, the first of his career. Aaron Siple then singled Pustay home to give UNM the lead it would not relinquish the rest of the game.
Bridges, meanwhile, continued to mow down the Bears. After allowing the run in the fourth he allowed just one more base hit the rest of his outing. On a windy, billowing night at Lobo Field, he kept the ball down. He recorded nine groundball outs, to go along with his five punchouts, to keep the ball out of the swirling wind.
“It’s awesome when he’s throwing like that,” Siple said. “It’s really good for all of us when we have somebody out there that we know is just going to shove it down their throats.”
The Lobos added a pair of insurance runs in the seventh and one more in the eighth, and they all came with two outs.
In the seventh, Jared Holley got the rally started with a single up the middle. Sam Haggerty then reached on an infield single to second. Meek followed with a sharp single through the hole between third and short to score Holley. Chase Harris then duplicated Meek’s hit to knock home Haggerty.
Josh Pustay got the eighth-inning rally started with an infield single. He moved to second on a wild pitch and to third on a groundout by DeVito. Siple then laced a double past the third-base bag to give UNM its fifth and final run.
“The swing finally felt good (tonight),” Siple said. “It was short and to (the ball), and I went the other way finally so it was nice.”
Siple, who began the year in the leadoff spot but has recently been moved to eighth in the lineup, finished 2-for-4 with a pair of RBIs. Meek, Harris, Pustay and Holley also recorded two hits apiece, and Pustay led the team with two runs scored.
The Bears threatened to make things interesting in the ninth, loading the bases with no outs, but Carson Schneider came in and shut UNC down. He recorded two groundouts sandwiched around a foulout to Meek at third to preserve the victory for his first career save.
“We needed to see that (from Schneider,” Birmingham said. “He said he’s over being scared so let’s see what he can do, and he got it done. He’s the only lefthander we have with a good breaking ball to get out of a left-handed situation.”
The Lobos and Bears are back at it Saturday with a doubleheader beginning at 1 p.m. Junior lefty Colton Thomson will start game one for the Lobos. Both games will be streamed live on GoLobos.com, and ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM will broadcast game one as well.
As a reminder, fans are asked to please park in the BASEBALL SOUTH dirt lot and enter Lobo Field through the south gate due to a conflict with women’s basketball. As a way of saying thank you, admission will be free for both games.
Notes: Lobo batters only struck out once and drew three walks … Real drew two of the three walks for UNM … Haggerty batted leadoff for the first time in his career … Meek is batting a team-high .421.