For two games, New Mexico didn’t have much to sweat. The Lobos had fallen behind in the top of the first inning of their first game at the Mountain West Conference Tournament when Nevada designated hitter Hugo Hernandez hit a two-run homer, but trailed for all of maybe 10 minutes. They tied the score in the bottom of that inning, took a lead the next and were up through that game and a win over UNLV.
It appeared they would make quick work of San Diego State on Saturday in the championship game, as well, taking a three-run lead in the very first inning. But the Aztecs worked their way back and into a lead on a booming three-run homer by Matt Munoz in the fifth inning and once challenged, the Lobos lacked the necessary response in falling 8-7 at Beiden Field.
New Mexico and San Diego State, the No. 1 and No. 3 seeds, will play a final game in the double-elimination tournament on Sunday at 1 p.m., the winner taking the automatic bid into a NCAA Regional.
Opportunity was there for New Mexico (37-19). But the Lobos failed to score with runners at first and second and one out in the fifth inning, with the bases loaded and only one out in the seventh and could come up with only one run in the eighth when again leaving the bases loaded.
San Diego State left-hander Mike Robards, in his sixth inning of work, gave up a run in the ninth, but with the bases loaded got Chase Harris to ground into a game-ending double play.
‘’When you have those big situation, you just kind of take a deep breath, take a step out and just realize, hey, if I make good pitches here, keep the ball down and good things are going to happen,’’ said Robards, who threw 123 pitches in getting through 5 2/3 innings and some huge messes.
‘’That’s what I kept telling myself – keep the ball down and things were going to work out, let my defense play. I wasn’t trying to blow away these guys, obviously. These are the best hitters in the nation, so I was just trying to work the process and luckily it went well for me.’’
San Diego State (30-29) had to beat UNLV to get a shot at New Mexico for the MW Tournament title, winning that game Saturday afternoon 6-2. But the Aztecs, who before Saturday had been above the .500 mark only once this month, had plenty left.
They scored one run in the second another in the third and then in the fifth blasted its way into the lead. Danny Sheehan opened the inning with a walk against the Lobos’ Kevin Baumgartner and Tim Zier doubled to put runners at second and third. Ryan Muno then walked, loading the bases, and that was the end of Baumgartner, who had an ERA of 7.76 during the regular season.
Jonathan Cuellar came on and gave up a run on a sacrifice fly by Tyler France and Munoz followed with his three-run homer over the wall in left center.