ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. -- New Mexico received its first national ranking of the 2014 season on Monday, and in the afternoon the Lobos showed why they were deserving of that ranking. John Pustay’s double off the second baseman’s glove on a hit and run in the bottom of the eighth scored pinch runner Kirby McGuire all the way from first to break a 3-3 tie and give the No. 30 Lobos (31-11-1) a 4-3 win against No. 23 Texas Tech (32-12). It was the ninth consecutive win for UNM and it snapped an eight-game winning streak by the Red Raiders.
“I hit it up the middle, which I’m not supposed to [on a hit and run],” Pustay said with a laugh, “but it worked out. It was great. This was a big-time win. … Today was a great game to grind it out. It’s big time for us to get nationally ranked now, and this [win] should solidify that.”
Victor Sanchez pitched 2.1 innings of scoreless relief to move to 3-0 on the season and lower his ERA to 0.98.
“It’s a little different going more than an inning today,” UNM’s breakout closer said. “I felt good. It’s good to get a win from these guys after they took two from us already this year.”
Texas Tech almost broke the tie in the top of the eighth, but a diving stop by Jered Meek at second saved a run, and the Lobos took the lead in the bottom of the frame.
“Jered Meek had a great game today,” UNM head coach Ray Birmingham said. “I’m proud of him. He saved a run and he drove in our first run. As the years go on he’s going to be an impact player, and I just need to get him to believe that. He’s a very good baseball player.”
Jack Zoellner was at the start of all of UNM’s rallies Monday, but none was bigger than in the eighth. He was hit with an 0-2 pitch to get things going. He was replaced by McGuire as Texas Tech had a meeting at the mound with reliever Cameron Smith (5-1) before Pustay’s at bat.
“We planned [the hit and run] before I got in the box,” Pustay said. “I was going to take a pitch to see if it was one I could drive out and hit over the wall. The problem was [Smith] was throwing me low and inside, so not good pitches for me to hit out of the yard. So we decided that if I didn’t get a good pitch on the first pitch we’d go with the hit and run on the second pitch, and that was the plan.”
Pustay’s bouncing ball glanced off the glove of Texas Tech’s Brant Burtleson, who had lunged to try and keep it in the infield. Unfortunately for him, the ball bounced into no-man’s land in left center. That allowed Pustay to hustle into second and McGuire to score all the way from first as he easily slid in ahead of the throw.
"That was a great read and some fantastic base running by Kirby," Birmingham said. "It was part of a great team win. Jack Zoellner was outstanding in getting on base, especially when down to two strikes and not swinging at bad pitches. The bullpen was phenomenal too. It was a total team effort."
The Red Raiders got on the board first, scoring a pair of runs in the top of the second of Lobo starter A.J. Carman, but the Lobos answered immediately. With one out Zoellner drew a walk, and he advanced to second on a single through the right side by Pustay. Pustay was erased on a fielder’s choice by Andre Vigil, which put men on the corners for Meek.
Meek laced the first pitch he saw up the middle for a run-scoring single, and Lane Milligan kept the rally going with a bloop single to center to score Vigil and tie game.
The score remained tied at two runs apiece until the bottom of the sixth. Zoellner again got things started with a leadoff single to left. Pustay then bounced a ball to second that Burleson booted. The ball got into right as Zoellner raced for third. Adam Kirsch fired to third but his throw bounced away, which allowed Zoellner to score an unearned run and give the Lobos a 3-2 lead.
Texas Tech tied the game in the top of the seventh on a double and a pair of singles off relievers Jake Cole and Kevin Baumgartner. That was the only run the bullpen allowed in 5.2 innings of work, though, as UNM’s relievers lowered their collective ERA to 3.09 on the year. UNM is now 27-0 when leading after six and 28-0 when leading after seven.