Mountain West Coaches Pick Lobos to Win Conference
Feb. 8, 2013
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - The University of New Mexico baseball team was voted an overwhelming favorite to win its second straight Mountain West championship Friday as the preseason coaches' poll was released.
Head coach Ray Birmingham's Lobos received five first place votes and 35 points overall to finish well ahead of second place San Diego State. The Aztecs received the other first place vote to finish with 26 points and narrowly edge out Mountain West newcomers Nevada (23 points) and Fresno State (22). UNLV (13) and Air Force (7) were voted fifth and sixth, respectively.
UNM returns six starters from last season's team that went 37-24, won both the MW regular-season and tournament championships, and advanced to an NCAA regional for the third straight season. Included in that group are 2012 Co-Mountain West Players of the Year Mitch Garver (.377, 10 home runs, 57 RBI) and DJ Peterson (.419, 17, 78).
"I think we have a target on our back from the last two years," Peterson said referring to the fact that the Lobos won the 2011 MW Tournament as well. "I think every team in the Mountain West is going to bring a little extra edge (when facing us). We are going to stay composed and keep doing what we do. ... Hopefully that will result in a Mountain West championship at the end of the year."
Also back for the Lobos are senior shortstop Alex Allbritton, a three-year starter for UNM, sophomore outfielder Ryan Padilla, a preseason All-American, sophomore first baseman Alex Real, who set a conference record with seven RBI in the MW Tournament championship game last season, senior outfielder Luke Campbell, who was slated to be the team's cleanup hitter in 2012 before an injury ended his season before it even began, and junior outfielder/designated hitter John Pustay, who tied a UNM record with six hits in a game at Air Force last April 5.
On the mound the Lobos return starters Sam Wolff and Josh Walker and reliever Hobie McClain. Wolff has been drafted twice previously, Walker was a second team All-MW performer last season, and McClain was recently named to the Stopper of the Year watch list.
The Lobos also dominated the preseason All-Mountain West team as Garver, Peterson, Allbritton, Padilla, and McClain were all honored. Garver, Peterson, and Allbritton were first team All-MW selections last season, while Padilla, the only sophomore on the preseason team, was a second team choice.
Fresno State was the only other school to place multiple players on the team as every MW institution was represented.
Despite the team's recent success over the last few seasons, however, the Lobos aren't satisfied with anything less than a trip to Omaha, Neb., and the College World Series.
"I obviously think our expectations are to go to Omaha," Peterson said. "I don't think we can cut ourselves short with the amount of talent we have and (our) great coaching staff. I think there are no other expections (except) going to Omaha."
"I think (we're) going to be a really strong team," he said. "This is my fourth year with the program, and we have as good of talent as ever, I think. This is a close group of guys."
The Lobos open their season on Friday, Feb. 15 at Isotopes Park against the Oklahoma State Cowboys.
"We are excited," Birmingham said. "We are ready to go out and prove something."