Stevens: A Special Lobo Season Still Has Some Steps To Take

May 16, 2013

New Mexico Lobos Baseball - On The Mountain West Road

Who/Where: San Diego State Aztecs -- Tony Gwynn Stadium, San Diego
When: 7 p.m. (MT), Thursday; 7 p.m. (MT), Friday; 3 p.m. (MT), Saturday
GoLobos.com: GameTracker, box score, postgame recap, stats
Radio: ESPN Radio 101.7 The Team will broadcast all three games live with Robert Portnoy, providing the play-by-play.

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

In a season that's already special and for a team that could prove itself to be the best in New Mexico baseball history, there is a not-so-subtle point to be made.

The sign over at Lobo Field carved out by Coach Ray Birmingham as a motivational message to his Lobos does not point the way to Fresno State, the site of the Mountain West Championships.

It points to Omaha - the site of the College World Series and Birmingham's dream destination for his program.

It is that path to Omaha that could establish the 2013 Lobos as the best in UNM history. It also is possible to argue that this team might already hold that distinction.

What Birmingham's Lobos have carved out so far in 2013 is a season of distinction and accomplishment at a high level. The Lobos clinched the regular-season Mountain West title on May 5 with two MW series - at Fresno State and at San Diego State - still to be played. This is TCU-like domination.

For the Lobos, that title-clinching win was ho-hum. It was as expected as much as you might expect a Mitch Garver or a DJ Peterson smash. "That's what we expected from Day One," said UNM senior Josh Melendez of the title.

Birmingham was ho-hum, too. He knows it's important to win regular-season titles and he knows it is more important to win the Mountain West Tournament because that win brings with it the league's automatic bid to NCAA play.

On April 25, Birmingham was quoted on GoLobos.com as saying: "In the Mountain West, the only true window to a regional is the Mountain West Tournament. That's the only thing you can count on."

In 2013, that might not ring true for UNM. For sure, the MW title brings the only guaranteed NCAA bid. But what these Lobos of 2013 have done is taken up the mantle that usually accompanied TCU into the final Mountain West fray.

TCU won or shared the regular-season title from 2006 to 2011. When they failed to tag on the MW Tournament titles in 2012, 2011 and 2009, the Horned Frogs danced on with at-large bids. The Lobos are in that position in 2013. Consider UNM's impressive resume prior to this weekend's series at San Diego State.

  • The Lobos are ranked No. 16 in the nation.
  • The Lobos are MW regular-season champs and won that title with a seven-game lead with six games to play.
  • If the Lobos win the three-game series at SDSU, UNM will have won every series during league play. UNM also rolled out a 14-game MW win streak hitting .382 during that mighty run.
  • The Lobos are No. 1 in the NCAA in batting (.340), slugging (.513), on-base percentage (.427), hits (629), and doubles (132). They are No. 2 in runs scored (8.5) per game.

    The Lobos also have some national swagger. They were ranked No. 21 in Baseball America's preseason poll. This is the type of team you want in the NCAA postseason.

    Again, you can argue that already this is UNM's most dominate team and even though some coaches play down the importance of postseason play, Birmingham welcomes that additional measuring stick.

    For Birmingham, there is a final destination in mind. That's his drive and his nature. His fingertips help form his dreams. For a lot of Lobo baseball historians, a single postseason step would be a huge one - the step that takes UNM into the Super Regionals. No Lobo team has ever made that leap. It is a leap that needs to be made.

    Pressure? Not really. Remember, on Day One Birmingham showed his Lobos the miles to Omaha, not the miles to Fresno.