This weekend, Nevada baseball accomplished what the Lobos could not — take the rubber match of the series and get back in the Mountain West race.
After getting swept in a three-game series by conference leaders San Jose State, the University of New Mexico baseball team found itself facing an uphill climb.
But playing host to the visiting Wolf Pack, who came to Albuquerque with a 6-9 conference record gave the Lobos hope that they could make an upward move.
Instead, the Lobo baseball team sits alone in last place in the MW standings.
Nevada and UNM split the first two games, making Sunday's matchup even more pivotal — with the winner holding an opportunity to catapult into fifth place in the conference.
New Mexico (16-19, 7-11 MW) got off to a good start, turning a double play on defense in the first inning and getting back-to-back doubles from Jared and Connor Mang to seize an early 1-0 lead through one.
The Lobo pitching staff continued to be a strikeout machine — recording 13 Ks on Sunday to see its three-game punch out total swell to 40.
But swinging and missing early and often wasn't enough to derail Nevada, as the Wolf Pack took full advantage of when they did make contact with the ball — scoring more runs (14) than they had hits (12).
The first damage came in the top of the third inning, when the Wolf Pack touched up Lobo starter Nathaniel Garley for four runs. A hard-hit one-out double got things going for Nevada, but Garley got Jaylon McLaughlin swinging to get the second out of the frame and hoped to escape things unscathed.
But he walked the next batter on five pitches and watched a pair of doubles sail into left-center, then right-center as the Wolf Pack took a 3-1 lead. Nevada added another run, following a balk and a single to seize a 4-1 advantage entering the home half of the third.
New Mexico tried to answer in the bottom of the third. Tyler Kelly hit a lead-off single to get on base, but his teammates were unsuccessful in their attempt to advance him into scoring position. He tried to accomplish that feat himself, but was caught stealing while trying to swipe second base to end the inning.
Both teams had a 1-2-3 inning in the fourth, but the Wolf Pack broke the game open with some more offensive output in the top of the fifth to increase things to a 7-1 advantage.
That spelled the end of the day for Garley, and Tristin Lively came on to close out the fifth — though he didn't remain in the game for long.
New Mexico got two runs back in the bottom of the fifth to pull within 7-3, but the sixth inning was was a nightmare for the Lobos — surrendering seven runs as the Wolf Pack batted around in the frame. A hit batsman to start things off eventually yielded an unearned run, followed by another score thanks to a pair of walks and a single.
With the bases still loaded, Nevada appeared to deliver a death blow with an Otis Statum grand slam to left field to clear the bags and make it 14-3.
UNM went three-up, three-down in the bottom of the sixth, but showed signs of life in the seventh. Kelly led the charge, starting a one-out rally that included four-straight base hits to inch closer.
Jared Mang scored Justin Watari, who had walked earlier in the inning. A Connor Mang single scored another and a Hayden Schilling double made it 14-6 and kept the rally going. But UNM left two men on base as Nevada's Bradley Bonnenfant got a crucial strikeout and induced a ground ball to quell the rally.
New Mexico engineered another mini-run in the bottom of the ninth, but didn't have enough in the tank to overcome the sizable deficit. Schilling managed to keep the ball fair and double to left field, taking third and scoring Connor Mang off a throwing error to make it 14-7. Ediberto Reyes hit a sacrifice fly to get Schilling home as well, but the Lobos ran out of chances in the next at-bat as Bonnenfant closed the door with a game-clinching strikeout.
The final punch out preserved a 14-8 Wolf Pack victory and improved the pitcher's record to 5-1 on the season, despite just 2.2 innings of work. Garley netted six strikeouts, but saw his record fall to 4-4.
Nevada's win propelled the Wolf Pack into fifth place in the MW standing, sitting at 8-10 and just one game back of UNLV for fourth place. Only the top four teams in the conference at the end of the season will receive a shot at competing for the MW title.
Robert Maler is the sports editor for the Daily Lobo. He primarily covers basketball and baseball and contributes content for various other sports as well. He can be contacted at firstname.lastname@example.org or on Twitter @Robert_Maler