LAS VEGAS, Nev. – That one hurt.
Playing its longest game of the season, the University of New Mexico baseball team suffered its most painful defeat of the season, dropping a 9-4, 11-inning contest to Nevada and getting eliminated from the Mountain West Tournament. Nevada (31-26) scored six runs in the 11th to break open a game that was close throughout. The Wolf Pack recorded six singles in the inning but four never even left the infield.
The loss likely drops the Lobos (37-20-1) out of at-large contention for an NCAA regional, but stranger things have happened. UNM is now at the mercy of the NCAA selection committee to see if their season will continue next weekend or if their campaign has come to a heart-breaking close.
UNM refused to go quietly after Nevada's big inning, however ,as the team showed the grit and mettle it used to claim a share of the Mountain West regular-season title. They opened the inning with four straight singles to cut the deficit to five, before a flyout, strikeout and lineout ended the contest.
The Lobos had plenty of golden opportunities to break the game open themselves earlier in the game, but they couldn’t come through with a big hit. After Nevada snapped a 2-2 tie with an unearned run in the 10th, the Lobos fought back to tie it on Danny Collier’s RBI single. But with men on first and second and just one out, a pair of swinging strikeouts ended the threat. A base hit there and the Lobos probably survive to play another game.
UNM caught a bit of luck in taking an early lead. Sam Haggerty led off with a single past the first baseman to safely reach for the 28th straight game. With Collier at the plate Haggerty took off on first movement by Nevada’s starter, Barry Timko, who threw over to first. The throw to second was a bit low, however, and Haggerty slid in safely with his 14th steal of the season. After Collier flew out, Chase Harris hit the first pitch he saw over the fence in left for his eighth home run of the season that gave the Lobos a 2-0 advantage.
The Lobos had numerous other chances to score but couldn’t capitalize. They put two on in the first with one out, one in the second, two more in the third after Harris’ homer, one in the fourth, two on with no outs in the fifth, with both men moving into scoring position with one out, but the Lobos couldn’t add to their lead.
The Wolf Pack fought back and tied it in the sixth with the kind of clutch hit UNM needed. With two men in scoring position and two gone, Nevada’s Trenton Brooks bounced one up the middle just out of the reach of UNM's starter, Colton Thomson, and between shortstop Jared Holley and Haggerty to score both runners.
UNM’s troubles with men on base, and especially in scoring position, didn’t end there. Haggerty doubled with two down in the sixth but was stranded, and in the seventh the Lobos put two men on with two outs but again UNM couldn’t re-take the lead. Haggerty again reached safely on a single in the eighth, but it was with two outs and he couldn’t advance.
Nothing hurt as much as the bottom of the ninth, though. Harris hit a slow roller to third and the throw to first went wide allowing UNM’s right fielder to advance to second with no outs. But a lineout to center, an intentional walk, a flyout to deep left and a strikeout ended the frame and sent the game to extra innings.
It might not have gotten to that point, though, without some excellent defense in the eighth that kept the score tied. Nevada had men on first and second with just one out when Brooks lined one to left. Collier raced in and made a diving catch before jumping up and easily doubling the runner off second to end the frame.
The teams combined to record just two hits with runners in scoring position before the 11th inning. They combined to go 10-for-45, but eight of those came in the final frame of the contest.
Haggerty and Harris finished with three hits apiece, while Collier, Pustay and Andre VIgil chipped in with two apiece.
Thomson was terrific in his start, as the Lobos pitched well enough to win in nine innings. He went six-plus frames and allowed just five singles and two walks. He gave up two runs, both earned, and struck out four.
No matter what happens with the selection show on Monday, the Lobos had a spectacular season. With a young squad they managed to battle through multiple injuries and clinch a share of their third straight Mountain West title, one of only five teams in the nation that can make that claim. The show will be broadcast at 10 a.m. MT on ESPNU, and while things look grim for the Lobos as an at-large candidate, stranger things have happened.
Notes: The six runs Nevada scored in the 11th was the most UNM has ever allowed in an inning after the ninth … Haggerty's double was his ninth of the season ... Matt Reyes singled in the 11th for his first career hit ... UNM left 19 men on base, going just 7-for-32 (.219) with men on for the day ... Haggerty was named to the Brooks Wallace Award watch list earlier Friday.