ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Anyone thinking the University of New Mexico baseball team would roll to an easy sweep over the visiting Jacksonville State Gamecocks just because they’re from the smaller Ohio Valley Conference got a wakeup call Friday night as the Lobos (21-10-1) claimed a tough, come-from-behind 5-3 victory in front of 793 fans at Lobo Field.
“That’s a solid ballclub,” UNM head coach Ray Birmingham said. “They play the game right, and they’ve got some monsters in their lineup. This is going to be a battle all weekend.”
With both teams making spectacular defensive plays all over the field, freshman Danny Collier was the big hero for the Lobos, registering a two-RBI single with the bases loaded in the sixth to break a 2-2 tie and adding another RBI single in the eighth to give UNM some breathing room.
“I was just trying to do my job,” the Sandia High product said. “I was trying to do what we practice by driving people in and getting it done for the team.”
Collier finished 2-for-5 with a run, and he tied a career-high with three RBIs. Chase Harris recorded his 17th multi-hit game of the season, tops in the Mountain West, in a 2-for-5 performance, and Sam Haggerty and Jered Meek also added a pair of hits apiece.
The Gamecocks (18-11) got on the board in the first without the benefit of a hit. UNM starter Jonathan Cuellar, who had only issued two walks all season coming in, uncharacteristically walked the first two batters he faced. A flyout advanced a runner to third and a fielder’s choice drove in the game’s first run.
The Lobos answered with an unearned run in the bottom of the frame. Collier led off with a bouncer to the second baseman who misplayed it for an error. Haggerty then laced a 3-1 pitch to center and Collier raced all the way to third. Harris then drove in the freshman with a fielder’s choice for his Mountain West-leading 37th RBI.
That’s where the score remained until JSU added another run in the fifth. But once again the Lobos answered, this time with a two-out rally. Harris got things started with a single to left. After he stole second John Pustay added an RBI double over the first-base bag to tie the game.
Things got interesting in the third as the Gamecocks loaded the bases with one out against relievers Carson Schneider and Taylor Duree. Duree, though, got JSU’s hottest hitter, Stephen Bartlett, who was hitting .511 coming into the game, to bounce one to Meek at third, who got the force at home. The next batter then bounced one deep into the hole at short. Jared Holley, playing just his second game since March 23, made a diving stop. He got to his knees and threw to Meek at third just in time to force the runner and end the inning.
After the game Collier was still at a loss for words to describe what a big play it was.
“That was crazy,” was all he could say. "We got the W and that was the most important thing."
Perhaps no more words were needed as that was one of the plays that decided the contest, because in the bottom of the frame the Lobos took advantage of their bases-loaded opportunity.
UNM loaded the bases with one out, and as JSU made a visit to the mound, it looked like the Gamecocks might go to the bullpen. JSU’s coaching staff decided to leave its starter, Taylor Shields, in, however, and Collier made him pay with a first-pitch single up the middle to score a pair.
“How about Danny Collier?” Birmingham asked rhetorically. “He had a great game.”
Collier has been phenomenal since entering the starting lineup on March 2. He has reached base safely in 23 straight games, which includes all 22 of his starts. He's second on the team with a .344 average, and is doing a great job out of the leadoff spot by registering more walks (11) than strikeouts (10).
Duree (1-0) earned the win by pitching 1.2 scoreless innings of relief, and Jake Cole, despite allowing a run in the ninth and letting the potential tying run reach first, struck out three, including the final out of the game, over the final 2.0 innings to earn his third save.
“We pitched pretty well,” Birmingham said. “(After the first two batters) we only gave up one walk the rest of the way and that’s huge.
“Schneider pitched well, Duree pitched well, and Cole pitched well. (Cole) got himself into a jam (in the ninth), but he did a good job to get out of it.”
The teams will meet at 2 p.m. Saturday at Lobo Field with junior southpaw Colton Thomson getting the start for UNM. Fans can catch a live stream of the game at GoLobos.com, and ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM will broadcast the game as well.
Notes: Collier also recorded three RBIs at Air Force on March 28 … Harris’ steal was his eighth … Collier also stole a bag, his fourth of the season … Schneider lowered his team-best ERA to 0.77 … center fielder Aaron Siple was the only Lobo not to record a hit, but he drew a walk and made five putouts in the field.