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Saturday, December 20, 2014

Baseball: Birmingham fires up Lobos for two SJSU wins

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By Aaron Sweet / New Mexico Daily Lobo

Andre Vigil sprints to second base as San Jose State first baseman Matt Lopez dives to catch a line drive. The Lobos beat the Spartans 9-4 and have won seven of their last eight games.

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@ThomasRomeroS

Head coach Ray Birmingham thought it was necessary to pump up starting pitcher Josh Walker before Sunday’s series finale against San Jose State at Lobo Field.

Walker (3-1), the ace of the New Mexico baseball team’s staff, answered Birmingham with eight-innings of work, giving up just three earned runs on nine hits for a 9-4 UNM victory.

Birmingham said he decided to fire up Walker after Saturday’s starter Colton Thomson allowed seven earned runs in 5.1 innings of work in the Lobos’ 8-5 loss. UNM won the first game of the series 10-1 on Friday.

“That bothered me so Josh came out with that killer instinct today, you could see it in him,” Birmingham said. “He also decided to take the game by the shoulders and take all the popups in the infield.”

The Lobos cruised into the ninth inning with a 9-0 lead and appeared to be ready to shutout the Spartans with Walker on the mound.

Three infield singles later, SJSU (7-18, 4-8 Mountain West) had its first run on the board and Walker was taken out of the game for relief pitcher Victor Sanchez. The Spartans added three more runs in the inning, cutting the Lobos lead to five.

Sanchez finally ended SJSU’s rally by striking out first baseman Mitch Ravizza for the 9-4 win.

“I feel like we let up a little there at the end but luckily we had the lead we did,” right fielder Chase Harris said. “Hopefully we don’t let that happen again either.”

UNM torched SJSU starter Kalei Contrades (2-1) for five runs on nine hits in just four innings. Prior to facing the Lobos, Contrades had given up just three earned runs all season in 24.1 innings of work. Spartans relief pitcher Jackson Berumen also struggled giving up three hits for three earned runs in just one inning.

With the win UNM (6-3 Mountain West) has won seven out of their last eight games and is 16-8-1 on the year.

“I feel like we’re playing very well. Our pitching staff pitched very well today. With the exception of yesterday’s loss, I feel like we’ve been playing very well,” Harris said. “We haven’t hit our stride yet but we’re going to get there, and once we do it’s going to be scary for everybody.”

Harris started off scoring for the Lobos with a two-run homer in the first inning. UNM earned another two runs in the second inning with another RBI coming from Harris, who finished the day 3-4 with three RBI’s and a run scored.

Shortstop Jared Holley had his only hit of the day in the third inning, an RBI double down the left field line for a 5-0 lead. Holley left the game in the top of the sixth inning due to a hamstring injury.

“That’s exactly how we needed to come out. I’m glad I could come out and come through for us,” Harris said.

In the seventh inning, UNM tallied three more runs for an 8-0 advantage. Third baseman Andre Vigil brought in two of those runs with a single to center field.

The Lobos final run came in the eighth inning when catcher Alex Real hit an RBI single to bring home left fielder Danny Collier.

Then came the ninth inning where the Lobos were a little too comfortable with their lead, Birmingham said.

“You can’t take a pitch off. You saw today that we took some pitches off,” he said. “We do it to ourselves and that’s the part that bothers me.”