R. Stevens: New Mexico Lobos Baseball 2012 Season Review

June 8, 2012

June 8, 2012

New Mexico Lobos Baseball -- 2012 Season Review

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

Because of his competitive fire, because of the passion to succeed that burns in Ray Birmingham's prideful core, the Lobo coach looks back on the 2012 season and says his emotions are "mixed."

There are team still marching down the road to Omaha and the College World Series and Birmingham's New Mexico Lobos are no longer on that road. Birmingham doesn't like that.

But for observers more emotionally removed from the day-to-day bonding and the blue-collar drive that comes with being a member of this Lobo family, it was a Lobo season with maybe no equal.

Where do you start the list of accomplishments that came to Lobo baseball in 2012?

  • Birmingham's Lobos reaching the NCAA championship bracket for the third straight season. To put this accomplishment into better perspective, remember that UNM snapped a 48-year postseason drought when it went NCAA dancing in 2010.

  • The Lobos won their first ever Mountain West regular-season title and their first league title since 2000.

  • The Lobos repeated as Mountain West tourney champs going 3-0 in Las Vegas with wins over UNLV, TCU and San Diego State. The Lobos grabbed the league's NCAA automatic bid while TCU tumbled out of the tourney as the third-place team. The Frogs lost to the San Diego State team that UNM pounded by 19 runs in the championship game.

  • The arms on the 2012 team posted the program's lowest ERA in 35 years.

    The Lobos walked away from the 2012 season with championship rings and championship trophies, but the gravy on any team's season is to march into the NCAA postseason and give yourself a chance to battle for a national title.

    The Lobos did this - for the third straight year which is an accent mark on both a team and a program.

    Mitchell Garver - Co Mountain Player of Year

    "I was hoping to get to Omaha this year," said Birmingham. "I'm a little disappointed in that. The good thing is that more today than ever, I know it can happen. We can get this done."

    The Lobos went into postseason with probably Birmingham's best balanced team to date. The Lobos had hitting (No. 4 nationally at .333), pitching and defense. For sure, the Lobos did not get a favorable draw in the 64-team bracket when they were shipped to the UCLA Region in Los Angeles - a region won by the Bruins, the bracket's overall No. 2 seed.

    The Lobos' highlight in regional play was pounding a Top 25 San Diego team in the first round, a win which was just another accent mark on a stellar season. UNM finished 37-24 on the season, a mark that tied for the fourth-best wins in a single season.

    "The University of New Mexico baseball program is one of the best in the country," said Birmingham, whose Lobos have won 30 games in four of the past five seasons. "This was a special season for us, but we still have some work to do.

    "Right now, we are above 90 percent of the teams in the country, but the top ten percent is where I want to get. We're close and we're getting closer."

    Said senior Ben Woodchick: "We've accomplished a lot. It means a lot to have been able to help to move this program forward."

    You don't throw out the season the Lobos just threw out without being loaded with individual talent. That individual talent also draws individual recognition. The individual honors flowing into the UNM program are impressive.

  • DJ Peterson and Mitchell Garver were Co-Players of The Year in the Mountain West and both were named to the Louisville Slugger NCAA Division I All-American teams: Peterson on the First Team, Garver on the Second Team.

  • Peterson was the third Mountain Player to win the league's Triple Crown: .422 average, 14 home runs, 68 RBIs. He also was a Golden Spike Award semifinalist, a Dick Howser Trophy semifinalist, and was named to the USA Baseball 2012 Collegiate National Team.

  • Garver also was named one of three finalists for the Johnny Bench Award presented by the Greater Wichita Area Sports Commission Monday. "He's going to be a professional catcher someday, I can promise you that," Birmingham said.

  • Coach Birmingham was the Mountain's Coach of The Year and 11 Lobos made the All-Mountain Team and five Lobos were played on the All-MW Tournament Team.

  • Josh Melendez was the Most Valuable Player in the 2012 Mountain tournament.

  • La Cueva High product Ryan Padilla was named to the Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American team by the Collegiate Baseball newspaper.

  • Junior pitcher Austin House, another La Cueva High graduate, was drafted by the Oakland A's in the 14th round of the Major League Baseball draft.

    There is no question that Peterson and Garver had exceptional seasons and led the way at the plate for New Mexico. But this also was a balanced club and that improved depth helped UNM turn an up-and-down start into a powerful finish. The Lobos went 21-7 in the final 31 games. They took a nine-game winning streak into the postseason.

    The strong finish came down to playing baseball the right way. House explained the finish by saying the Lobos were swinging the bat a little better, pitching a little better, and fielding a little better.

    With Lobos, there also is a strong pride factor that kicks in that blends in nicely with the expectations of this program and their coach.

    For Birmingham and his Lobos, there should be much pride in looking back at what they did on the diamond in 2012: championship rings, titles and the postseason.

    The mixed feelings that hit Birmingham at the end are to be expected. His Lobos ended the season with a loss. This prideful coach has yet to roll his team into Omaha. He has an itch to scratch.

    His itch and his dream are contagious because, finally, Lobo fans can see the growth and potential. Still, New Mexico baseball fans who have waited so long for Lobos to return to NCAA play and become a player on the national stage probably can sum up the season of 2012 in two words:

    Thank you.