The University of New Mexico baseball team was dealt its first home defeat after Nevada broke the game open with a big inning and held on for the win on Friday night at Santa Ana Star Field.
UNM sophomore pitcher Justin Slaten shouldered the loss as New Mexico (4-4-1, 0-1 MW) fell in its conference opener to the Wolf Pack by a score of 9-5.
Nevada (4-4, 1-0 MW) got on the board in the top of the first inning, plating a run after Grant Fennell was able to double home Daniel Perry in the top of the frame.
The Lobos responded with two run in the bottom half of the inning to take an early lead. Leadoff man Danny Collier got on base with a single and the senior left fielder wound up on third after a Hayden Schilling double.
Nevada's starting pitcher, Weston Hatten, hit the next batter to load up the bases and Lobo outfielder Chris Dunn singled home two runs to give UNM a 2-1 lead. But New Mexico missed out on an opportunity to add more and stranded a pair of base runners to end the inning.
After both teams went down in order in the second inning, Nevada broke through in a big way in the top half of the third.
The first two Nevada batters of the inning struck out, but the second still made it safely to first after the ball got away on strike three. That proved costly as Slaten walked the next batter and Perry stepped up to double both runners home.
Slaten walked the bases loaded, but the Lobos were able to throw the lead runner out at home in the next at-bat — an out that should have ended the Wolf Pack's inning if the first two strikeouts of the frame had been recorded as outs.
Instead, Nevada's Joshua Zamora ripped a bases-clearing double into left field, scoring three unearned runs and giving the Wolf Pack a 6-2 advantage.
New Mexico was able to get two runs back in the bottom half of the third. Dunn singled home another run and later reached home himself after a throwing error by Nevada. But the Lobos stranded two again and trailed 6-4 after three innings of play.
Slaten appeared to settle down after Nevada's big inning. He stayed on the hill and struck out the first two batters of the fourth inning, but then hit two consecutive batters. The right-hander was lifted for Drew Gillespie, who notched a strikeout to end the inning.
The Lobos had an opportunity to make something happen in the bottom of the seventh inning after Justin Watari drew a two-out walk to load the bases. But Nevada induced Conor Mang to hit a fly ball to left field to end the threat.
Gillespie provided the Lobos with some much needed support, recording 10 straight outs in relief. But the righty got into trouble in the top of the eighth inning. He put the first two batters on base after hitting the lead-off man, Mike Echavia, and then allowing Hatten to successfully lay down a bunt for an infield single.
It looked like he may be able to pitch his way out of the jam as UNM was able to get the lead runner out on the next at bat and recorded a second out at second base on the next at-bat to put runners on the corners.
Nevada was able to send the runner and steal second base to put another man in scoring position. With first base open, Gillespie went hard at Jaylon McLaughlin, but the Nevada shortstop showed great patience and eventually drew a walk to extend the inning.
McLaughlin's persistence paid off as Gillespie hit the next batter with the bases loaded, giving the Wolf pack another run and ending his night. UNM reliever Emond Malac inherited a bases loaded situation and surrendered a Conor Allard double that plated two more before he was able to get a strikeout to end the inning.
But the damage was done as Nevada was able to seize a 9-4 lead. The Lobos added an unearned run of their own in the bottom of the eighth, but couldn't get any more across home plate over the final two innings.
New Mexico hit just 3-for-14 with men in scoring position and stranded 11 runners on base for the game, spoiling a 13-strikeout performance by the pitching staff. That, coupled with the amount of unearned runs given up, proved to be too much to overcome as Nevada emerged with the 9-5 victory.
Nevada's Cooper Powell was awarded the win to improve his record to 1-1 and Jake Jackson picked up his first save of the season en route to the win, while Slaten fell to 1-2 on the year for the Lobos.
Game two of the three-game series between the schools is slated for a 2 p.m. start time on Saturday and can be seen on the Mountain West Network or heard on ESPN radio 101.7, the TEAM.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball, football and tennis. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Robert_Maler.