Complete Team Effort Fuels Lobos' First Win of Season
Feb. 17, 2013
ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – The University of New Mexico baseball team turned in its most complete performance of the early season en route to a 9-1 victory over the Oklahoma State Cowboys Sunday in front of 1,025 fans at Isotopes Park Sunday afternoon.
Hitting? Check. The Lobos (1-2) scored five first-inning runs and pounded out 14 hits. Senior catcher Mitch Garver led the team with a 4-for-4 performance.
Pitching? Check. Starter Sam Wolff had one of the best outings of his career, going 5 2/3 innings and allowing only three hits while striking out five. Alex Estrella and Josh Walker then combined to shutout the Cowboys (2-1) over the final 3 1/3 innings. The trio limited Oklahoma St. to four hits a day after they produced 19.
Defense? Check. On Saturday the Lobos committed five errors that helped spur a late-inning comeback by Oklahoma St. On Sunday they made only one and came up with several spectacular plays in the field including their first double play of the season.
“The way we played today is who we are,” said Garver, who fell a home run short of the cycle. “We played good defense, we hit the ball around, we put pressure on the defense.”
It’s hard to pinpoint exactly what was most impressive about the Lobos’ performance Sunday.
It may have been the work by Wolff. He tied a career-high in strikeouts and kept the Cowboys off-balance all afternoon with his 96 mph fastball and knee-buckling breaking ball.
“I felt good,” he said. “I knew I needed to go out, throw strikes, pound the zone, and let the defense work behind me.
“My mentality today was to kind of come in and just get after it. I didn’t have a mindset of anything other than go get them and win this ballgame.”
UNM head coach Ray Birmingham was effusive in his praise of his starter.
“That’s the best outing he has ever had,” he said about his starter. “And there are going to be more.”
Estrella and Walker followed Wolff and did not repeat the bullpen’s debacle from Saturday when the Lobos blew a 14-6 eighth-inning lead. Garver had a front-row seat of the work by the Lobo pitchers and he was impressed.
“(Wolff) did an excellent job,” Garver said. “He located down at the knees, probably 93-96, (with) good off-speed stuff and he got strike one a lot.
“Then Josh Walker comes in and he’s as good as anyone. He can shut the door. He’s very consistent with his curveball and kept them off balance. That’s who he is. He’s very deceptive.”
Wolff said, “Our bullpen has a chance to be one of the best bullpens in the nation, I think. Guys just come in and throw strikes.”
But as good as the pitching for the Lobos was on Sunday, Garver may have been even better.
Only hours after catching all 210 pitches during a 13-inning marathon, he came out and caught nine innings and made the Cowboys pay each time he came to the plate.
“Mitch Garver is Johnny Bench,” Birmingham said, referencing Garver’s honor as a finalist for the Johnny Bench Award last season. “They don’t make many Mitch Garvers. You’ll see him playing on TV someday. He’s just that good. He’s a great kid.”
All series the Cowboys tried to pitch around UNM All-American DJ Peterson whenever they could. Peterson walked four times in three games, three of which were intentional. Each time following an intentional walk to Peterson, however, Garver came through with a base hit and an RBI.
“That’s why I’m there,” said Garver who is an All-American himself. “I’m there to protect DJ. So if he gets on all I have to do is do my job and put the ball in play.”
He did that and more on Sunday.
In the first inning with Ryan Padilla on second, Oklahoma St. chose to intentionally walk Peterson. Garver came through with a run-scoring single. The Lobos would go on to add four more runs that inning.
Garver then doubled and scored in the second and added a single in the fourth.
In the sixth inning, with Padilla on second again, Peterson was intentionally walked for a second time despite the fact that Garver already had three hits. The Albuquerque native made them pay with a two-run triple to left center.
With a chance at the cycle in the bottom of the eighth the Cowboys finally learned their lesson and walked Garver. That move, however, still came back to haunt them as he eventually scored on a single by Luke Campbell.
Despite losing the series, Birmingham is happy with the way the Lobos are playing.
“I’m very encouraged about the way things are going,” he said. “I still feel the same way I did before the series: this team has a chance (to go to Omaha and the College World Series).”
The Lobos next travel to Corpus Christi, Texas, for the Kleberg Bank College Classic next weekend. They will face Texas A&M-Corpus Christi Friday night, Iowa Saturday afternoon, and Oklahoma Sunday morning.
“We’re just starting the grind,” Birmingham said.
Notes: Freshman Jared Holley did not play after suffering a concussion when he was hit in the head with a pitch in the fourth inning on Saturday … Allbritton, who was not expected to play this weekend due to a broken index finger on his throwing hand, replaced Holley and went 3-for-7 over the final game and a half ... in the series Lobo batters walked 18 times and struck out 20 times, while Lobo pitchers produced 29 strikeouts and only eight walks ... Oklahoma State right fielder Zach Fisher was ejected in the middle of the eighth inning by first base umpire Jason Rogers.