Stevens: Lobo Softball Opens Mountain Race At San Diego State

March 27, 2013

New Mexico Lobos Softball - On The Mountain West Road - At San Diego State

Thursday: 7 p.m. (MT) - New Mexico Lobos (16-20, 0-0 MW) at San Diego State Aztecs (19-12, 0-0 MW)
Friday: 7 p.m. (MT) - New Mexico at San Diego State
Saturday: 2 p.m. (MT) - New Mexico at San Diego State Game recap, GameTracker, Complete Box Score

By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/

As the Erica Beach Lobos head off toward the hot waters of the Mountain West called the San Diego State Aztecs - the team picked to win the Mountain - there are several bottom lines for the Lobos to throw out in San Diego.

"We haven't done well in conference the past few years. We have to change that," said Beach.

Says senior Kaity Ingram: "It's time to put everything together. We all have to all start playing well at the same time."

Says senior Cassandra Kalapsa: "We have to be more consistent. We have relied on our pitching too much and we have to put together some complete games. But we're excited to start conference."

For Beach and her Lobos - for all athletic teams - the opening of conference play is a new season which allows teams a fresh start. There is a Mountain title - and an NCAA bid -- dangling out there for all seven MW schools that field a softball program and all teams stand in the starting blocks even.

Of course, there are favorites.

In the Mountain the edge goes to San Diego State until someone proves otherwise and the Lobos get the first shot. The Aztecs have five Mountain West titles and eight trips into the NCAA playoffs -- five consecutive NCAA trips.

"We aren't afraid to play anyone," said Ingram. "We know we have to play better, but we know we have the talent. Our schedule has prepared us to play anyone."

Kalapsa made a curious but encouraging point about the UNM pitching. That key aspect of the game hasn't been a UNM strength over several seasons, but in 2013 Beach has five arms to throw with a variety of looks. UNM's pitching has improved. The hitting, UNM's strength a season back, needs to step it up.

Freshman lefty Lauren Soles has been a huge addition in the circle and she leads the team with a 3.00 ERA and 77 strikeouts. She gives the Lobos that all-important power pitcher that can get a team out of a jam with a "K." She has pitched 81.2 innings.

Senior Kaela DeBroeck has picked up her game and plates a solid 3.03 ERA with only 18 walks with 33 strikeouts. She gives UNM a crafty, control pitcher. She had pitched 62.1 innings. Freshman Lisa Rodrigues has a 4.30 ERA, Carrie Sheehan is at 5.58 and Kari Gutierrez has a 9.24 ERA.

In conference play, a team often is satisfied with two solid starters and a good relief arm. Often, the two starters can alternate providing the relief in a 3-game stand. The Aztecs have gotten 200 of their 210 innings off two arms. UNM's Beach has options on the mound and all UNM stats have been tested by a challenging non-conference schedule.

"We have played one of the toughest schedules in the country," said Beach. "We haven't seen anything we won't see in conference."

The Lobos have cut their teeth - and their 16-20 record - on BCS teams such as Arizona State, Oklahoma (No. 1), Nebraska, Auburn, Kansas, UCLA, Washington, Oregon, Oregon State and Oklahoma State. UNM's March trek through the Pac-12 presented Beach's Lobos with six games against Top 25 teams.

The Lobos have been tested. Now, they find out if they can convert those tests into Mountain West wins and obviously the Lobos need to find the win column in San Diego.

"We want to go out there and win at least two-of-three," said Ingram. "We are confident we can do it."

Easier said than done. The Aztecs are a frosty bunch. They also played a challenging non-conference slate against BCS teams such as Kentucky, Oklahoma, Northwestern, Notre Dame, Virginia, Syracuse, Ohio State, Oregon, UCLA, California and Oregon State. A good reflection of the Aztecs' talent might be best seen in 3-1 and 3-2 losses to Top 10 Oregon team that boasts exceptional talent on the plate and at the plate.

The Aztecs are good. They softened their schedule a bit the past seven games and ride a seven-game win streak at UNM. Over that seven-game run, SDSU outscored its opponents 54-to-15. The Aztecs are confident, hot and at home.

The Aztecs hit .303 as a team and UNM hits .237. The Aztecs have seven batters hitting over .290 and UNM has one - Mariah Rimmer at .348. UNM's top hitter, Chelsea Anaya (.367) is out of the season with an injury. UNM has 10 home runs.

The Aztecs are led at the plate by Lorena Bauer with a .408 average and a .827 slugging percentage. She has eight dingers, 32 RBIs and 13 doubles. You don't want to allow Bauer to beat you with her power. Patrice Jackson hits at .385 followed by Kamerin May at .360 and Kayla Jordan at .333.

The Aztecs can hurt you at the plate but also in the pitching circle. They have two of the top arms in the Mountain in Danielle O'Toole with a 1.86 ERA and 77 strikeouts in 86.2 innings. O'Toole has yet to give up a home run in 2013.

The Aztecs' one-two punch in the circle includes Rebecca Arbino, who had a 1.91 ERA and 104 strikeouts in 113.1 innings. The Aztecs opponents have hit only .246 off those two SDSU hurlers. The Lobos need to change that.

Like the Lobos, the Aztecs' cuts at the plate and their pitches out of the circle have come against good competition.

Nevada and Fresno State are the only other two Mountain teams with winning records heading into league play. Nevada, picked to finish last in the Mountain race, is at 20-13 with a 7-1 home mark. Fresno State is 19-14 with a 10-2 home slate.

The Lobos have to play at Fresno State, but get Nevada in Albuquerque. UNM also plays at UNLV this season and plays host to league series against Boise State and Colorado State. The CSU Rams (14-14) were picked to finish second in the MW race.

It might look like a tough draw to open the Mountain at SDSU, but Beach says, "It doesn't bother me at all. I'm looking forward to the challenge. We have to beat them somewhere."

The stats comparison between Lobos and Aztecs obviously leans toward SDSU: Batting average: .303 to .237; home runs 21 to 10; ERA 2.10 to 4.00.

It also emphasizes what Beach has to say about her team's trip to San Diego State: "It's conference time and in conference time you have to step it up. This is the season that counts."