Prior to the beginning of the season, the New Mexico baseball team was selected by Mountain West coaches as the team to beat in the conference along with San Diego State.
Now it’s time to see whether or not the Lobos will add a third-consecutive MW regular-season title as they host UNLV this weekend for their conference season-opener.
The Rebels were picked third in that same preseason poll just two points behind the Lobos and Aztecs.
“It’s nice just to finally get out there and do conference to see how we fare up against everybody,” pitcher Drew Bridges said. “There’s a lot of pressure on us to keep doing what we’re doing. We have a big target on our back.”
UNM is the last MW team to start the conference slate, while UNLV (8-3 overall) currently is tied with Fresno State for the league lead with a 3-0 mark.
Air Force is in last place after getting swept by UNLV this past weekend, extending its win streak to four games. UNM (8-4-1) had a four-game winning stretch of its own after sweeping Northern Colorado over the weekend, but that was snapped after a 9-3 loss at Texas Tech on Tuesday.
“They (Texas Tech) caught a couple of lucky breaks. They had a few bloop hits and hit some balls hard,” shortstop Jared Holley said. “Our pitching was good we just left a few balls up and they hit them.”
The first contest of the three-game series will pit Bridges against UNLV’s ace Erick Fedde, who has been untouchable thus far with 25 strikeouts in 21.0 innings to go along with a 1.71 ERA.
UNLV’s staff as a whole has been quite dominant with a league-leading 2.21 ERA and are holding opposing teams to just a .224 batting average, which ranks second in the MW.
Bridges said it is a little hard not to get caught up in trying to outduel Fedde, one of the better pitchers in the MW.
“It’s a little bit of both. You want to go out there and compete and try to beat a guy like him (Fedde),” Bridges said. “At the same time you want to treat it like any other game and not trying to get too caught up beating a guy like him.”
Offensively, the Rebels have a .288 batting average for third place in the conference. They are led by outfielder Joey Armstrong (.391 batting average), outfield Edgar Montes (.375) and catcher Erik Van Meetren (.371).
The only major difference between UNLV and UNM is that the Rebels are a veteran-laden ball club, head coach Ray Birmingham said. The Lobos have won three straight MW titles (two regular season, one tournament title).
“We don’t plan on giving back the trophy,” he said. “We’re back-to-back-to-back and we plan on putting a four next to it. It doesn’t matter, Lobo baseball is trying to win a championship every year.”