Newcomers, freshmen impact New Mexico's fast start to season
Opening weekend did not go according to plan for New Mexico.
It did go well. The Lobos won three of four at the Surprise College Baseball Classic, including two victories against an Oregon State program that was the No. 1 overall seed for last year's NCAA tournament.
Such success was not necessarily shocking for a Lobo team picked to win a Mountain West title in 2015, but few might have anticipated UNM's blueprint. Newcomers led the way, including a pair of freshmen playing their first weekend on collegiate baseball.
|NEW MEXICO OPENING WEEKEND|
|Michigan State 9, New Mexico 3|
|New Mexico 5, Northwestern 3|
|New Mexico 7, Oregon State 4|
|New Mexico 5, Oregon State 2|
Gonzalez, a left-hander from Tucson, played two games in the outfield, hitting .375 with a pair of doubles and pitching four hitless innings of relief to pick up a win against Oregon State.
"It was an awesome experience," Gonzalez said. "We had three freshmen starting but we got it going and the team played well. It's a huge confidence booster for us."
Stajduhar, an infielder/catcher from Fort Collins, Colorado, started all four games at four first base and provided needed offensive pop. He hit .389 for the weekend with a homer, two doubles and five RBIs.
"I was a little bit in shock at first," Stajduhar said, "but once we got the first-game nerves out of the way it was great. I'd been looking forward to playing Lobo baseball and it's off to a great start."
Gonzalez and Stajduhar will play their first game at Lobo Field today as UNM opens a three-game series against Air Force. They technically won't be home games as the series was moved from the Air Force Academy to Albuquerque because of weather concerns. The Falcons will be the designated home team.
Even so, fans will be able to get a look at a number of new -- or relatively new -- Lobos playing key roles. Starting pitcher Toller Boardman, shortstop Dalton Bowers and designated hitter Chris DeVito all will figure prominently against the Falcons.
Boardman, a junior left-hander, turned heads with a strong performance last weekend in Arizona. He worked seven strong innings, allowing two runs and striking out five in a 5-3 win against Northwestern.
The 6-foot-3, 215-pound Boardman transferred from Texas' San Jacinto Junior College but played a season at Texas prior to that.
Bowers, who played prep ball at Volcano Vista, spent two seasons at New Mexico Junior College before returning to Albuquerque. His proficiency was enough to bump junior Jared Holley (a preseason All-Mountain West shortstop this year) to third base.
Lobo fans may have seen DeVito last season but glimpses were fleeting. He had just 27 at-bats as a freshman.
He hit a team-best .429 in Surprise with six hits including a double and a home run. DeVito has arguably the team's best nickname: "The Red Hercules."
Lobo coach Ray Birmingham was pleased to come back from Arizona 3-1, but said his team has plenty of room for improvement.
"Some of our veteran guys struggled," Birmingham said, "and we didn't execute that well overall. But some new guys really stepped up and we went 3-1 against good teams. That's very encouraging."
Air Force comes to Albuquerque 0-4 having dropped road games to The Citadel and Savannah State. But the Falcons gave New Mexico fits last season behind pitchers Griffin Jax and Steven Trojan, both of whom figure to start this weekend. UNM won two of three from AFA in its final home series of 2014, earning two one-run victories and dropping a 3-1 decision.