Lobo Offense: Best in the Nation?

May 8, 2013

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – In 2012 the Lobos were one of the top hitting teams in the nation. They hit .326, slugged .472 and reached base at a .391 clip. This year, though, they’re even better, and they deserve to be in the conversation as one of the top hitting teams in the NCAA.

UNM head coach Ray Birmingham certainly thinks his team is the best, and he isn’t afraid to let people know it.

Following UNM’s 11-10 win over Air Force on Friday, May 3, he said, “We have a heck of a lineup. We have the best lineup in the country.”

It helps that he has the statistics to back his claim up.

The No.16 Lobos currently lead the nation in hitting (.342), slugging (.505), on-base percentage (.427), hits (595), doubles (123) and doubles per game (2.62). They’re second in runs (402), triples (28), runs per game (8.6) and triples per game (.60).

UNM has nearly a 20-point lead over the nation’s second best hitting team, Kansas St. (.323), and their average is so high it bests the on-base percentage (.341) of Fresno St., their opponent this weekend.

It certainly helps, though, that the Lobos have two of the best hitters in the nation in All-Americans DJ Peterson (.410) and Mitch Garver (.396). Peterson is ranked in the top 25 nationally in 14 different offensive categories, and Garver is in the top 25 in seven. But they don’t do it alone. Every starter in UNM’s lineup is hitting over .300, and even the 2009 team that hit .363 did not have every starter at .300 or better.

“Everyone’s buying in, especially of late,” junior leadoff hitter Chase Harris said. “Everybody is starting to rise up, and it seems like every game everybody continues to rise up.”

UNM’s lineup is so stacked that Ryan Padilla, a freshman All-American in 2012, has been forced to come off the bench lately. Even John Pustay, who had hits in 10 of 11 at-bats at one point, has been reduced to a pinch-hitting role.

The Lobos are trying to lead the nation in hitting for the second time in the past five seasons after having never done so previously. They had five players hit over .400 during the regular season in 2009, and while the current squad likely won’t approach that number, there remains one constant between then and now: Birmingham.

“I think it’s obvious what he has done with the program,” Harris said. “When you follow his approach it seems to work out and when you get away from it you don’t seem to see as many results.

“And as much as you want to fight it you know he’s right.”

Senior Alex Allbritton has been with Birmingham for four years and is enjoying a career year. Like Harris, he also credits his head coach with the success the team is having at the plate.

“We know we’re doing well and we trust what Coach Birmingham tells us to do,” he said. “A lot of guys’ swings are feeling good at this point.”

While the Lobos play in a hitter-friendly environment a mile high, they have faced numerous elite pitchers and pitching staffs this season and have found plenty of success. They opened 2013 against Jason Hursh of Oklahoma St. who is projected to be a second- or third-round pick in June’s MLB draft and were in position to win until a late rally doomed them. They split a doubleheader at then-No. 10 Arkansas in early April, and the Razorbacks have led the country in ERA the majority of the season. The Lobos faced Nevada’s Braden Shipley, a likely Top-10 pick in the draft, twice this season and won both games. UNLV and SDSU also have potential first-round picks on their staffs, and UNM is 8-1 against those teams this season.

The Lobos are hoping to take their bats to a fourth straight NCAA regional, and their first ever Super Regional, so they’re trying not to focus too much on any statistical rankings at this point.

“We honestly rarely talk about it,” Allbritton said. “We just trust what Coach Birm tells us. But it does feel pretty good to lead the nation in hitting.”