June 4, 2010

Richard Stevens -- Senior Writer/GoLobos.com

FULLERTON, Calif. -- The Stanford Cardinal probably are wishing the Lobos NCAA drought was 49 years instead of 48. On Saturday, the Lobos will be looking to make one more NCAA team unhappy to see "New Mexico" on the NCAA World Series bracket.

A handful of Cardinal pitchers found out pretty much what most pitching staffs find out about the Ray Birmingham Lobos. Eventually, these guys will mash you -- or simply find a way to get it done.

The Lobos found their way through four Cardinal pitchers in the top of the seventh inning to score four runs on two singles. The Cardinal-aided rally -- three walks and one Lobo hit-by-pitch -- pushed the Lobos up 7-4. UNM held on for a 9-5 win in a first-round NCAA game at the Cal State Fullerton Regional.

The big blow in the inning was a single by senior Chris Juarez that drove in Rafael Neda and Justin Howard. Both those Lobos reached base on walks. The Lobos' first score in that game came when Cameron Smith scored on a sacrifice fly by Adam Courcha. Smith was on base after leading off the inning being hit by a pitch.

UNM's Daniel Gonzalez was the only Lobos in that inning who scored after reaching base on a hit. He was pushed across the plate when Ryan Honeycutt was walked with the bases loaded.

The Lobos advance to play the winner of tonight's contest between Cal State Fullerton and Minnesota. The Fullerton Titans are the No. 1 seed in this regional.

The Lobos and the Cardinal opened the game with some long-ball fireworks with UNM getting a solo shot in the first inning and Stanford getting two homers to go up 3-1. The game soon settled into more of a small-ball affair, marked by pitching mistakes. It was the Cardinal who made the mistakes on the mound.

This is something you don't want to do against a New Mexico team that was one of the nation's top hitting teams in 2010.

UNM got a solid game from senior starter Willey Kesley, who gave up only four runs on 11 hits. The Cardinal staged several nice threats against Kesley, but failed to capitalize when the Lobo was in trouble.

Juarez led UNM at the plate going 3-for-4 with three RBIs. Neda went 1-of-2 scoring four runs and blasing a solo homer in the first. Willett went 2-for-5 with two RBIs.

Jason Oatman came out of the bullpen to get the save, going 3.1 innings allowing one run on one hit.

The game featured a good start for the Lobos and a better start for the Cardinal. UNM cracked the scoreboard early when Neda pounded a homer to right field to hand the Lobos a quick 1-0 lead in the top of the first inning.

The Cardinal also went long in the bottom of the first -- twice. Tyler Gaffney opened the NCAA postseason at the plate for Stanford with a solo shot. Ben Clowe made it 3-1 for the Cardinal with a two-run shot that pushed in Stephen Piscotty, who singled.

The Lobos staged a nice rally in the top of the fourth. Howard led off with a single and stole second. He was joined on the bases when Neda was hit by a pitch. Juarez pounded a double to score Howard and push Neda to third. Neda scored on a grounder to the right side by Max Willett. UNM's Smith struck out to end the threat, the rally and the inning.

The bottom of the fourth started out well for Stanford. The Cardinal got two runners on with no outs and used a sacrifice bunt to push those legs to second and third. Kesler then got Dave Giuliani to ground out to second and Gaffney folowed with a fly ball to right.

The Lobos went down one-two-three in the fifth. Stanford was doing a good job of scratching out tiny threats in most innings. They did it again in the bottom of the fifth when Colin Walsh singled and stole second. He got company on the bases when Piscotty was hit by a pitch. A long fly pushed Walsh to third and he scored on a single by Kenny Diekroeger. The Lobos got a double play to get out of the jam.

The Lobos had a good chance to tie the score in the sixth. Honeycutt walked with two out and was pushed to second on a single by Juarez. Willett slapped another single into center field, but Honeycutt was gunned out at the plate trying to score from second.

Stanford scratched again in the bottom of the seventh. Cardinal Jake Schlander reached on a walk and a single by Gaffney and a passed ball put Cardinals on second and third with two outs. Stanford lost the opportunity to score when Walsh pushed a grounder to short.

It definitely was a game in which both teams scratched their way into scoring opportunities. The top of the seventh was UNM's turn. Smith reached first after getting hit by a pitch. Alex Allbritton bunted Smith to second and Gonzalez singled Smith to third base with one out. Stanford pulled Pries off the mound and brought in Danny Sandbrink.

Sandbrink lasted for three Lobos. He gave up a long fly into center field to Courcha which pushed Smith across the plate and formed a 4-all tie. Sandbrink then walked Howard and Neda to load the bases with two out. He was pulled for Scott Snodgress, who was facing Honeycutt with the bases loaded.

Four pitches later, Honeycutt was on first with a walk and Gonzalez was in the dugout with UNM up 5-4. The Lobos' Juarez then pushed UNM up three runs with single up the middle that scored Howard and Neda. UNM was up 7-4.

Stanford used a leadoff double and a single to cut UNM's lead to 7-5 in the bottom of the seventh.

The Cardinal continued to provide help for UNM in the ninth. Howard led off with a walk and scampered to second on a passed ball. Neda walked and then Stanford intentionally walked the red-hot Juarez to load the bases with one out. Willett then beat out a bunt to third to score Howard and keep the bases jammed. UNM was up 8-5.

The comedy of Cardinal errors only got worse. Allbritton was hit by a pitch with the bases loaded. Neda strolled home and UNM was up 9-5.

Beating Stanford's Pries was a major statement for the Lobos. The Cardinal came into the game with humble numbers and a 4-3 mound mark, but the Cardinal is considered to be one of the top arms in the Pac-10. He went into the ninth inning to post a win over No. 2 Arizona State and also threw a complete-game win over UCLA, snapping a 22-game win streak for the then-No. 2 Bruins.

Pries gave up five runs off seven hits in 6.1 innings against UNM.