Birmingham Leads UNM to Air Force in Search of 1,000

April 4, 2013

Series Notes: Lobos at Air Force Get Acrobat Reader

Lobo Baseball - at Falcon Field, Colorado Springs, Colo.
When: Friday, 3:00 p.m. (MT); Saturday, 1:00 p.m. (MT); Sunday, 12:00 p.m. (MT)
Who: Air Force Falcons Gametracker, postgame recap and stats

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. - Head coach Ray Birmingham and the Lobos travel to face Air Force for three games as the UNM skipper seeks career win number 1,000. Birmingham owns a career record of 998-474-2 with 765 of those wins coming during his 18-year stint at the head of New Mexico Junior College. His 166 wins in his first five years is the most a Lobo coach as ever had in their first half-decade on the job, narrowly edging out the 165 Vince Cappelli won from 1977-82.

Helping lead the way will be Alex Real, who is enjoying a breakout sophomore campaign. The Anthem, Ariz., native is hitting .362 (38-for-105) on the season and a Mountain West-leading .471 in conference play so far. He enjoyed a solid but unspectacular freshman season, hitting .271 (36-for-133) with 14 runs, nine doubles, three homers, 29 RBI, seven of which came in a record-setting performance in the Mountain West Tournament championship game, a .406 slugging percentage and a .320 on-base percentage. This season he has already bested many of his numbers only halfway through the season. He has matched his home run and total bases (54) totals, and has more runs, hits, walks, stolen bases, and higher on-base and slugging percentages than during his freshman season.

The Lobos will face the struggling Air Force Falcons, losers of six straight and 12 of their last 15. The Falcons currently sit at 8-19 overall and 2-4 in conference play. However, they have only played three home games all season, two of which they won. If Air Force hopes to slow down the potent Lobo lineup (.318 team average) that is expected to get DJ Peterson (.410, 11 HR, 35 RBI) back, it will need its starting pitchers to come through. Junior Cameron White (2-5, 3.08 ERA) will get the nod Friday. In a MW-leading 52.2 innings pitched, White has struck out 33 and walked only two. Senior lefty Ben Bertelson, who is second in the conference with 49 strikeouts, will take the mound Saturday, and freshman Steven Trojan (2-2 in seven starts) will start Sunday's series finale.

• SCOUTING AIR FORCE ... The Falcons have struggled of late, losing six consecutive games and 12 of 15. They have only played three home games all season but have won two of them: 2-0 over Omaha on March 19 and 14-7 over Fresno St. on March 22. Offensively they are led by a trio of hitters with averages .337 or better: senior Garrett Custons (.358), freshman Peter Johnson (.351) and junior Seth Kline (.337). Custons leads the team in hits, doubles, triples, slugging and OBP. Senior Alex Bast leads the team with two home runs. The Falcons don’t walk much (only 59 all season) and tend to strike out a lot (210 Ks), but their pitchers also don’t walk many batters (78 in 230.1 IP) and have struck out their fair share (195). Friday’s starter, Cameron White, is 2-5 with two complete games and a team-leading 3.08 ERA. He has already tossed 52.2 innings this season, which is over 18 more than the highest Lobo (Sam Wolff at 34.1), and what is most impressive is that he has walked only two batters all season while strike out 33. Ben Bertelson, Saturday’s starter, leads the team in strikeouts with 49 in 38.1 innings. Sunday’s starter is freshman Steven Trojan who is 2-2 in seven starts. Closer Bo Wilson has two saves 11 appearances spanning 13.2 innings. He has struck out 11, walked only two and sports a 3.29 ERA.

• LOBO STAT RANKS ... Here are the categories in which the Lobos ranked in the Top 25 nationally as of April 1, including where those ranks fell among Mountain West teams.

CategoryNumberNat'l RankMW Rank
Triples 16 Fifth First
Triples per game 0.62 Fifth First
Slugging .468 Sixth First
OBP .415 10th First
Hits 305 11th First
Batting .319 12th First
Runs 200 20th First
Walks 132 24th First
Doubles per game 2.15 24th Second

• NEARING 1,000 ... Head coach Ray Birmingham has 998 career wins at three programs spanning a quarter of a century. He won 53 games in two seasons at College of the Southwest, 765 games in 18 years at New Mexico Junior College, and 166 in his first five seasons at UNM, which are the most ever in a coach’s first half-decade at UNM.

• REAL IS FOR REAL ... Sophomore first baseman/designated hitter Alex Real is having a breakout campaign in his second season with the Lobos. He has already passed last season’s run, hit and walk totals and has matched his home run and total bases numbers. His breakout truly began in last season’s Mountain West Tournament when he recorded a championship game-record seven RBI. In MW games so far he leads the conference in batting (.471), OBP (.571), hits (16), total bases (23), and walks (eight), and he is third in slugging (.676) and fourth in doubles (four).

• HIT PARADE ... Senior catcher Mitch Garver saw his career-long 26-game hitting streak come to an end Tuesday against Texas Tech. It was the second longest in Division I this season. During the streak he had 11 multi-hit games, including three games with three and two games with four hits. He leads the team in hits, is tied for the lead in doubles, triples and stolen bases, and is second in runs, RBI, slugging, OBP and total bases.

• BACK IN THE FIELD ... Baseball America released its Midseason NCAA Projection on April 4 and the Lobos were picked to win the Mountain West and earn a four-seed in Georgia Tech’s regional.

• 200 AND COUNTING ... Senior catcher Mitch Garver reached a milestone against Nebraska on Saturday, March 2, by recording his 200th career hit. He is only the second player in UNM history whose primary position was catcher to reach that plateau, and he currently has 232. Former All-American Rafael Neda holds the record for career hits for backstops at UNM with 233. 

 HALFWAY HOME ... Following their 10-3 win over Texas Tech on April 2, the Lobos have now passed the halfway point of the regular season. They currently lead the Mountain West in 14 offensive categories: batting, slugging, OBP, runs, hits, RBI, doubles, triples, home runs, total bases, plate appearances, at bats, walks, HBP, and sacrifice flies. Individually Lobos lead the MW in 13 offensive categories. On the pitching side, Josh Walker and Will Mathis lead the conference in appearances, and A.J. Carman is one of only two pitchers who have thrown enough innings that has not allowed a home run.

• DINGED UP ... UNM played its last two games against San Diego St. and both games earlier this week without the services of All-American DJ Peterson, who injured his right hamstring legging out his third double of Thursday’s game. The Lobos also played most of Sunday’s contest without All-American Mitch Garver, who was hit in the face with a ball while running the bases after singling in the first inning.

• MR. CLUTCH ... On March 19 vs. Missouri St. and again on March 22 vs. Nevada Mitch Garver delivered a game-winning, walk-off hit. After defeating the Wolf Pack, teammate DJ Peterson called him “Mr. Clutch.” Garver has now delivered a walk-off hit four times in his career.

• SACRIFICE ANYTHING ... Senior infielder Alex Allbritton is currently fourth in the nation with six sacrifice flies, which is already a career-high for the four-year starter. Meanwhile, freshman Sam Haggerty leads the MW with seven sacrifice bunts, which places him in a tie for 27th in the country.

• TARGET PRACTICE? ... Despite standing only 5’6, freshman Jared Holley has been hit nine times this season. That gives him the conference lead despite having 44 fewer at bats than the player in second, Air Force’s Garrett Custons. Holley is averaging 0.44 HBP per game, which is 18th in the nation.