New Mexico blanks San Diego
House pitches seven innings of shut out ball to lead the Lobos
LOS ANGELES -- All season New Mexico head coach Ray Birmingham has said this is the best pitching the Lobos have had during his tenure at the school.
They proved that Friday afternoon against San Diego.
The Lobos defeated the Toreros 4-0 in their opening game of the NCAA tournament behind seven strong innings by Austin House and two by Hobie McClain.
“That’s what college baseball is about,” Birmingham said. “It was well-played on both sides … I thought that was a great game.”
“(I) just tried to get ground balls," House said of his approach. "And when they get on first, try to bust them in with two-seams, changeups. I tried to get them off balance and see if that works.”
It certainly worked as he was outstanding. He allowed only six hits and two walks in seven innings. He struck out five and recorded 10 ground ball outs.
The Lobos opened the scoring in the fourth. DJ Peterson led off the inning with a single up the middle for his 100th hit of the season. He advanced to second on a groundout by Ryan Padilla. Josh Melendez then lashed a double to left center that allowed Peterson to score with ease.
An infield single by Trey Porras put runners on the corners for Kyle Stiner. The Lobos’ second baseman executed a perfect safety squeeze bunt that sent Porras to second and allowed Melendez to score and increase the lead to 2-0.
The Toreros threatened in their half of the frame, but were unable to push any runs across. Kris Bryant, a Golden Spikes Award semifinalist, led off with his second single of the game. Connor Joe followed with a single of his own to put runners on first and second with nobody out.
But House settled down and retired the next three batters on a line drive to center, a strike out, and a weak grounder to Stiner at second.
The Lobos threatened to blow the game open in the top of the fifth and sixth innings but couldn’t increase their lead. Back-to-back singles by Ben Woodchick and Peterson and a walk by Padilla loaded the bases with two outs in the fifth. Melendez worked the count full and fouled off a couple of pitches before getting caught looking on a pitch on the outside corner.
One inning later, the Lobos left the bases loaded again. This time it was Woodchick who was the culprit as he also struck out to end the inning.
The struggles of the Lobo offense to come through with a clutch hit put even more pressure on House, but he rose to the occasion in a big way. Every time he needed to get a big out, he did. One inning after wiggling out of trouble in the fourth, he faced another potentially dangerous situation in the fifth. With two outs, the Toreros had a runner on first and Louie Lechich at the plate.
Lechich ran the count to 3-0 and House was in danger of putting two men on for Bryant, easily the most dangerous hitter in San Diego’s lineup. But House came back with a strike on the outside corner and then induced a weak grounder to Stiner at second to end the inning.
This proved crucial as Bryant led off the bottom of the sixth with a double to right center for his third hit of the game. But once again, House proved he was equal to the task. He got Joe to ground to short, and Alex Allbritton made a fine back-handed play in the hole and threw out the Torero’s first baseman by a half-step.
The next batter, Andrew Daniel, tested the Lobos’ shortstop again. He hit a hard, sinking line drive that Allbritton reached out to his right and snagged for the second out. House then induced yet another ground ball, this time to Porras at first, who flipped to the Lobo ace covering the bag to end the inning.
House simply ran out of gas in the eighth, though. A walk and a bloop single put men on first and second with no outs for Bryant. That was it for House, as Hobie McClain came in to try and stem the damage.
A wild pitch put both men in scoring position, but like House before him, McClain accepted the challenge and came through for the Lobos. He struck out Bryant, which may have been the biggest out of the game. Then he got a groundout to Peterson at third that caused both runners to hold. McClain finished the inning by striking out Daniel.
Peterson then gave the Lobos a little breathing room in the top of the ninth. Woodchick led off with a double, leaving first base open for UNM’s All-American. In a curious move, the Toreros decided to pitch to Lobos' star third baseman.
It turned out to be a poor choice.
Peterson launched a 2-2 pitch deep over the wall in left to cap a 4-for-4 day with his 17th home run of the season, and his 10th coming when he had two strikes on him.
"I just see ball, hit ball," he said. "I try not to think too much and it’s when you start thinking that you start hitting
bad. So I just try to go up and let it happen. Sometimes I get a little too big, but I’m just out there swinging. That’s my thought process right now."
Melendez and Woodchick each finished with two hits apiece as the Lobos pounded out 11 in total.
McClain ran into a little trouble in the ninth, allowing the first two San Diego batters to reach, but a double play and a fly ball to center finished off the victory for the Lobos. It was the third save of the season for McClain.
“Our team is playing well, but they’re all chipping in,” Birmingham said.
House’s performance was even more impressive considering the Torero’s came into the game hitting .310 as a team. He extended his scoreless innings streak to 17 1/3 before exiting in the eighth.