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Friday, November 28, 2014

Baseball: Pitching staff steps up game

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By Aaron Sweet / New Mexico Daily Lobo

UNM outfielder John Pustay sprints to first base as San Jose State first baseman Matt Lopez receives the ball for the out at Lobo Field
Sunday. The Lobos have won eight of their past nine games and will play Air Force this weekend in Colorado Springs

sports@dailylobo.com
@ThomasRomeroS

Experience was one of the major things that the New Mexico baseball team was lacking heading into the 2014 season.

Now 25 games into the year, it appears the youthful Lobos are starting to mature.

UNM (17-8-1, 6-3) has won eight out of its past nine games and are in second place in the Mountain West Conference, three games behind conference leader UNLV (17-7, 9-3 MW). The Lobos latest victory was a 14-4 decision at New Mexico State on Tuesday. It was UNM’s first win in Las Cruces since 2010.

Senior outfielder John Pustay said the team chemistry is the major reason why UNM is playing some of its best baseball.

“We’re doing really well actually. Probably a lot better than some of the expectations that we’ve and a lot of people had,” he said. “We’re feeling really confident but we still have to work on a lot of things.”

Over the past nine games, UNM has outscored its opponents by an average of four runs. As a team, the Lobos are batting .313 which ranks tenth in the nation and are scoring an average of 6.26 runs (21st in the nation).

Head coach Ray Birmingham said he’s particularly proud of how the young pitching staff has improved. UNM’s pitching staff has a collective ERA of 3.81 and opposing batters are hitting just .271.

“They’ve all stepped it up. A lot of guys have moved forward,” he said. “We’re getting better every series.”

The next three-game series for UNM is at a struggling Air Force (4-19, 1-8 MW) squad that starts today. The Falcons have lost 13 straight games heading into this weekend’s series and their last victory was on March 8 against Fresno State.

Air Force’s chief problem resides on the offensive side as the Falcons haven’t scored three or more runs the past 11 games. Junior outfielder David Thomas is the only starter batting .254 or better for the Falcons. Overall Air Force is hitting .212, slugging .279 and has an on-base percentage at .281.

On the pitching side the Falcons have an ERA of 6.22. Air Force pitcher Cameron White (1-4) has 42 strikeouts in 41.2 innings and has given up just four walks.

The Lobos have dominated the Falcons having won 30 out of the past 32 games, but haven’t swept Air Force since 2009. If UNM is able to sweep Air Force then the team would tie UNLV for first place in the conference standings.

“Air Force is scary at Air Force,” Birmingham said. “They’re a scary team because they’re talented and they always underachieve for a while then they have weekends that they take off. I don’t want that to be us.”

Harris Player of the Week

UNM outfielder Chase Harris took home his first career Mountain West Player of the Week after hitting .526 with seven runs and eight RBI’s for the week of March 17-23.

Harris helped lead the Lobos to a 4-1 record over the week including two wins over No. 18 Kansas.

This is the third MW Player of the Week award for UNM this season. Pitchers Josh Walker and Victor Sanchez were honored on Feb. 24 and March 17, respectively.