Stevens: New Mexico Lobos Baseball 2013 Season Review
New Mexico Lobos Baseball --- 2013 Season Review
By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com
At the media's final gathering to question Coach Ray Birmingham on his New Mexico Lobos' 2013 season, one biting question just had to be thrown out:
Was this his best ever team at New Mexico?
Which really means: Was Birmingham's 2013 squad the best in New Mexico history?
This is always a tough question for any coach to answer because each team has special qualities. Some teams and individuals overachieve. Some teams have good seasons but maybe didn't reach their full potential.
The answer for Birmingham at the close of the 2013 season was a little bit of "yes," and a little bit of "maybe."
"You should say that," said Birmingham evaluating the impressive talent from the 2013 team that went 37-22. "But I try to put each team and each season into perspective.
"It was a successful season, but it didn't end the way we wanted it to end."
The ending saw UNM fall in the Mountain West Tournament and go 0-2 in the Cal State Fullerton NCAA Regional.
For sure, this was a New Mexico team that had the talent to finally advance past the NCAA first round and take a huge step down the yellow brick road to Omaha. UNM outhit Arizona State, but lost 4-3 on errors. UNM had a 5-0 lead on Columbia, but lost 6-5 in 13 innings.
For sure, that put a damper on what Birmingham calls a "successful season." This prideful coach is passionate about NCAA success. However, the sour NCAA ending doesn't hide the many marks of excellence throw out by this special UNM team.
There was a bad ending in Fullerton, but UNM also had a program record-tying six players named to the Mountain West Scholar Athlete Team and a program record 16 named to the MW Academic Team. These Lobos were smart hitters but also didn't strike out in the classroom.
The Lobos had a program record seven players drafted into Major League Baseball with DJ Peterson becoming an instant millionaire as the No. 12 overall pick. The MLB Draft also picked up Mitch Garver (9th round), Alex Allbritton (21st), Will Mathis (25th), Jake McCasland (26th) and Josh Melendez (37th).
"The draft is a reflection on the core of Lobo baseball," said Birmingham. "This is a blue-collar team with exceptional work ethics and pro baseball knows it is getting talented and motivated players who will work their butts off to get better."
Peterson and Garver ball-smashed their way to repeat Mountain West Co-MVP honors. Peterson was named to five All-America teams (four first-team units) and Garver was listed twice on All-America rosters.
Peterson hit .408 in 2013 with 18 home runs and 72 RBIs for a ball-mashing Lobo team that won the Mountain West regular-season title by a record seven games with a league-record 25 wins.
"I tip my hat to these kids. They won the Mountain west with a lot of problems in our pitching staff. We hit our way there," Birmingham said, referring to UNM's MW title and UNM's at-large NCAA bid.
Yep, the Lobos pretty much did exactly that leading the nation in hitting with a .334 team average which beat Kansas State's .322 average.
Mitch Garver, one of the nation's top catchers, joined teammate DJ Peterson as repeat Mountain West Co-MVPs.
When a player comes to New Mexico, he knows he will leave a hitter. UNM had three players in the NCAA Top 25 and four other Lobos hit .312 or higher. At one point in 2013, every Lobo in the starting lineup was hitting over .300. UNM had six players on the All-MW First Team and three on the second unit.
"The reason we win is we preach blue-collar, no prima donnas, and we have to fight that because of all the attention these kids get," said Birmingham, the 2013 MW Coach of the Year.
"Team beat individual talent and we have talent. But we also are a team. Everybody is pushing the rock in the same direction for each other."
If there was a flaw that created a few chinks in UNM's 2013 resume, it was in the bullpen. The Lobos found consistent arms in Sam Wolff (7-3, 2.90 ERA), Josh Walker (11-1, 3.66 ERA) and Gabe Aguilar was consistent in late-inning relief (2.58 ERA). Jake McCasland came on late, but only threw 19 innings in 2013.
Walker and Wolff were outstanding in their NCAA outings, but UNM often had trouble finding that third starter.
"Game three (in a series) was always us hitting our way back to win," said Birmingham. "We continue to grow every year, but it's always about pitching. Our pitching staff was slowly imploding throughout the year.
"We had three or four guys we could count on. The other guys, you never knew from day to day."
The Lobos hit .334 as a team and the opposing bats hit .282. UNM scored 487 runs and allowed 240 runs.
Birmingham said he appreciates the improvements to Lobo Field, but this Lobo team that powered its way into the Top 20 in 2013 (as high as No. 13) might have hosted a regional, if it had better facilities.
"It's now time for the state of New Mexico to decide if they want this program to move forward," said Birmingham. "I need help to help our kids."
Editor's Note: Richard Stevens is a former award-winning Sports Columnist and Associate Sports Editor at The Albuquerque Tribune. You can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org.