The New Mexico baseball team finished atop the regular season standings for the third year in a row, but unlike the previous seasons, the Lobos won’t be the No. 1 seed at the Mountain West tournament.
That distinction belongs to the host team UNLV, who tied UNM for first place in the MW thus becoming co-champions.
Regardless, being the second seed doesn’t hurt the Lobo’s chances in the tournament Ray Birmingham, the team’s head coach, said.
“It doesn’t make a difference, it really doesn’t. If there was a lot of separation in terms of ability of the teams in our league, then I’d say it makes a difference, but there’s really not,” he said. “From top to bottom anybody can beat anybody. It’s been a very good league.”
If there’s one rematch the Lobos (37-18-1, 20-10 Mountain West) are looking for it’s against the Rebels.
UNLV (33-21, 20-10 MW) bullied UNM this season by winning the season series 5-1 and swept the Lobos when they visited Las Vegas earlier this season.
“We owe UNLV something. I think we’re probably going to see them in the semifinals and show the real way to play Lobo ball because they haven’t seem that this year,” Chase Harris, right fielder, said.
The Rebels have had a major advantage at home the entire season, compiling a 24-3 record at Earl E. Wilson Stadium. UNM has been the best road team of the MW this season being the only team to finish with a winning record at 15-9.
“They’re (UNLV) not really happy to be co-champs with us,” Birmingham said. “They’re on a mission and they’re on their home turf which is a major advantage for them.”
The MW tournament begins on Wednesday, but UNM doesn’t play until Thursday. The Lobos will face the highest remaining seed left in the field which could be San Diego State (No. 3), Nevada (No. 4) or Fresno State (No. 5).
UNLV will play the lowest seed remaining and UNM can’t play the Rebels, sixth seed Air Force or seventh seed San Jose State University until Friday at the earliest.
One thing the Lobos do know is that its ace Josh Walker will be on the mound looking for his 27th career victory, which would tie the MW and school record for most career victories.
Last time when Walker was on the mound he pitched 7.1 innings, allowing one unearned run on nine hits against Air Force. Walker has an overall record of 7-4 with an ERA of 3.86.
“Josh has been extremely unselfish about that. We didn’t get that one for him last Thursday and it didn’t bother him a bit. I’m sure it did but he didn’t show it,” Birmingham said. “He’s about Lobos and whatever it takes to help win out journey towards Omaha that’s what he wants to do.”
Last season, UNM didn’t lose any MW series and won the league by a record seven games, but lost the MW tournament by losing back-to-back games versus SDSU.
“Last year we completely blew away the regular season and San Diego State got hot and took those two games away from us,” Harris said. “I expect the top two teams to prove themselves again but anything can happen.”