The Lobos and Aggies squared off on a baseball diamond for the second time this season, and history repeated itself as NMSU gave up a sizable lead — only to reclaim it later and pull out a victory.
New Mexico gave up a grand slam in the opening inning before tying things up in the first meeting and allowed the Aggies to get on the scoreboard early again on Tuesday night at Santa Ana Star Field.
The Lobos got an immediate response in the bottom of the first inning, starting things off with a Justin Watari single and a Tyler Kelly triple to even things up at 1-1. Sophomore first baseman Connor Mang began an outstanding individual game effort with his first hit of the day — a one-one double to left-center — to plate Kelly and put the Lobos on top 2-1 after one inning of play.
It was the first of five extra base hits for the Lobos, as well as the start of a five-hit game for Connor Mang, who seemed to do it all, snagging stolen base and picking up 2 RBI along the way. The Lobos belted out 18 hits, but didn't do a good enough job getting them when they had runners on the bags. Mang was left on base twice —part of 16 UNM base runners that were stranded overall.
New Mexico State left 11 men aboard, but made the most of its 13 hits and quickly rebounded with some big innings to seize control in the game.
The Aggies took the lead again in the top of the third, chasing freshman right-hander Jack Murano out of the game in the process. Murano had pitched well up to that point, striking out four NMSU players in just 2.1 innings pitched. But he gave up a double, issued a walk and surrendered a 2-RBI triple before getting his final K and exiting the game.
NMSU tacked on four more runs in the fifth inning, claiming a 7-2 advantage — though things could have been much worse. UNM reliever Chad Smith came on to clean things up and got a big strikeout, retiring Logan Bottrell to limit the damage.
The Lobos got a pair of runs back in the home half of the fifth, starting with a ringing double from Connor Mang to score his brother, Jared. The younger Mang was able to advance to third base on a wild pitch, which proved to be a big play, as Zack Doak brought him home with a roundball to cut the deficit to 7-4.
UNM inched a little closer in the home sixth thanks to back-to-back singles after failing to execute a bunt to advance the leadoff man. The second single scored Watari to make it a two-run game entering the seventh.
Smith continued to pitch effectively, posting 1-2-3 innings in both the sixth and seventh innings to keep the Aggies at bay and give the UNM a chance to stay in the game.
And the Lobo comeback came to fruition after the seventh inning stretch.
Hayden Schilling started things off with a bunt single and promptly stole second base to get into scoring position. Tanner Baker doubled to record an RBI and later scored himself off an infield single by Brayden Merritt to square things up at 7-7. But the Aggies were able to get the force out and avoid further damage to get it a tie game heading into the eighth inning.
New Mexico State was unable to generate any offense in its half of the frame, but UNM capitalized in the bottom half — taking the lead back again. Jared Mang singled and his brother hit a comebacker that bounced off the pitcher. The brothers pulled off a double steal later in the inning, which allowed Baker to get the go-ahead run home with a ground ball for an 8-7 edge.
But the Lobos left the bases loaded, leaving five men on base during a crucial stretch in the seventh and eighth. Those potential runs would have come in handy, as the Aggies were able to tie things up in the ninth inning and force extras.
New Mexico State looked as though it might take the lead in the final inning of regulation, but had a runner called out after an umpire ruled the third base coach made contact with an Aggie player as he was rounding third base.
Aggie head coach Brian Green came out of the dugout to argue the call and was eventually thrown out of the game. But NMSU stayed the course.
Even though the Lobos were able to get out of the top of the ninth with the score still tied, New Mexico State rattled off three runs in the 10th — which ended up being the difference in the game.
New Mexico had its chances in the final inning, alternating hits and outs before eventually loading the bases again after Reese O'Farrell shared patience at the plate and was awarded a free pass. But with the potential game-winning run at the plate, New Mexico State was able to record the final out on a well-hit ball by Merritt — catching a liner to right field to escape with an 11-8 win.
The win gave the Aggies a season sweep over the Lobos and marked the seventh straight victory for NMSU overall in the rivalry.
New Mexico will continue its out-of-conference stretch with a three-game home series against UC Riverside, which begins on Thursday, Apr 18 at 6 p.m.
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