No. 17 Lobos Win MW Regular-Season Title
May 5, 2013
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – Mitch Garver and his Lobo teammates knew they had a chance to clinch the Mountain West regular-season title at home Sunday. The Albuquerque native helped make sure they did.
The senior catcher hit two home runs and finished with six RBI as the 17th-ranked Lobos defeated Air Force 14-7 in front of 663 fans at Lobo Field Sunday afternoon. The win, combined with losses by San Diego St. and UNLV, gave UNM its second-straight MW regular-season title. Counting their MW Tournament title in 2011, UNM has won three-straight conference championships.
Despite clinching the championship, however, there was almost no visible emotion exhibited by the Lobos (30-17, 20-4) after the game.
“We knew coming in (to today) we could clinch the conference, but that’s what we expected from day one,” UNM senior Josh Melendez said. “It wasn’t too exciting and we weren’t too emotional. We just kept our cool and did our thing.”
UNM head coach Ray Birmingham was also restrained in his enthusiasm.
“It’s bigger plans,” he said about his teams’ lack of emotion. “The bar I set for this team is pretty high.”
The Lobos jumped on the board in the first on an RBI double by Garver. After Air Force (13-33, 5-19) tied the game in the second, UNM immediately answered with four runs and held the lead for good.
With one out Jared Holley singled through the right side. He scored on a double by Chase Harris, but Harris was out at third trying for a triple. The inning wasn’t done, though, as Sam Haggerty walked and DJ Peterson singled to left. Garver then came up and launched a 1-1 pitch over the wall in left to give UNM a 5-1 lead.
“I just reacted today,” the All-American said. “I was trying to simplify my approach. It was a slider, a little bit down, and I just let my barrel get to it.”
The Falcons refused to go quietly and scored three times in the top of the third to chase starter A.J. Carman. Josh Walker (8-0) came in, though, and pitched very effectively over the next three innings as UNM expanded its lead.
With two outs in the third Alex Allbritton tripled and scored on a single by Holley. In the fourth, Garver hit his second home run of the game, a solo shot to left, to give UN M a 7-4 lead.
“Coach Birmingham told me he anticipated what I was going to get, and I got it, and I hit it out of the yard,” he said about the second home run. It was his second career multi-homer game.
He also added an RBI single in the fifth to increase the Lobo lead to 8-4.
After the Falcons cut the lead to 8-6, sophomore Alex Estrella came out of the pen and pitched effectively for 1 2/3 innings to keep UNM in control.
Air Force scored in the eighth and was threatening for more, but fifth-year senior Gabe Aguilar came on to record the last four outs and, in the process, became the all-time winningest Lobo as UNM won its 142nd during his time on the active roster.
The story, as it usually is with the Lobos, was about the offense. A day after knocking a season-high 25 hits, UNM had 21 to raise its team batting average to a staggering .342.
“This team can hit,” Birmingham said matter-of-factly.
Garver and Harris both finished 4-for-6 to lead the team, with Harris’ three RBI behind only Garver’s six. Peterson, Allbritton, and Holley all finished with three hits apiece and six Lobos scored two runs.
Melendez finished 2-for-4 to extend his hitting streak to a career-high 26 games, which matches the longest for a Lobo this season.
“We’ve been really working hard,” he said. “We’re really trying to refine our swing so every day we can put up runs and keep doing what we’re doing.”
Despite having the conference title locked up, the Lobos feel they need to stay focused.
“We definitely won’t let up,” Garver said. “We have to maintain our steady pace all the way through the postseason. We plan on doing that these next two weekends, into the conference tournament and hopefully into regionals. We just want to stay hot and stay even the whole time.”
UNM only has six regular-season games remaining: three next weekend at Fresno St. and three the following weekend at SDSU.
Notes: Garver also homered twice on May 12, 2012 at UNLV … it was the 60th appearance of Aguilar’s career, which leads all current Lobos … Harris stole his team-leading 16th base of the season … Garver also had a 26-game hitting streak earlier this year, which puts the teammates in a tie for the sixth longest streak in UNM history … the victory was UNM’s 12th straight in conference play as they have now swept four-straight MW series.