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Lobos Gear For Showdown

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UNM, TCU Both 3-0 In League Entering Weekend

It’s only fitting that Albuquerque’s weather is expected to warm up for this weekend’s UNM-TCU baseball series.

The Lobos are expecting things to warm up on the field, too.

Not only is the three-game series an early first-place showdown in the Mountain West Conference race, it’s also the Horned Frogs’ final appearance in Albuquerque as MWC members.

Today TCU at UNM, Isotopes Park, 6 p.m.

“It definitely means a little extra,” Lobo senior Ben Woodchick said. “Last year when we played Utah and BYU, they were leaving the conference and our games got real heated. TCU’s been a conference rival, so I expect we’ll have some heated games with them, too.”

Both teams have played well lately. The Lobos (8-10, 3-0 MWC) have won six of seven, including series sweeps of Gonzaga and San Diego State. The Frogs (11-7, 3-0) have won nine of 10, including three victories at UNLV last weekend. TCU is 19th in this week’s NCAA rankings but has not cracked any of the polls.

“TCU is still TCU,” UNM coach Ray Birmingham said. “They’re the best team in the Mountain West, man for man.”

Conference race notwithstanding, both teams have reason to bring a little extra motivation to Isotopes Park this weekend.

For New Mexico, it’s simple. The Frogs have dominated the series. TCU is 37-15 overall against UNM – 17-4 in Albuquerque.

What’s more, coach Jim Schlossnagle’s club has ridden roughshod over the MWC it joined in 2006.

“They’ve won the (regular-season) league championship every year they’ve been in it,” Lobo senior pitcher Rudy Jaramillo said. “We’d really like to break that streak before they leave.”

It’s unlikely the Lobos will be able to sneak up on the Frogs. Sixth-seeded New Mexico did exactly that at last season’s MWC tournament, beating top-seeded TCU twice on its way to a championship.

Those two wins came just days after the Frogs shelled UNM in Albuquerque, sweeping three games by a combined 46-24.

“I’m sure they haven’t forgotten that,” Jaramillo said of the tournament.

Birmingham pointed out that this weekend’s games are far from make or break in the conference race. The teams meet again in Fort Worth in early May.

“What’s more important to me right now is playing the game right,” Birmingham said. “We haven’t played our best baseball yet as a team. We’ve got individuals playing well, but I want to see us really put things together.”

The Lobos have taken strides since a 2-9 start. UNM leads the MWC in batting average, and the middle of its order – D.J. Peterson, Josh Melendez, Ryan Padilla and Mitchell Garver – has been red hot. Better still, the Lobo offense has begun to produce timely hits.

“That was something we didn’t do early,” Jaramillo said. “We’d score eight runs and lose 9-8, or hold the other team to three and lose 3-2. Lately, we’ve started putting things together.”

TCU, as usual, has been winning with pitching. The Frogs rank just fourth in the MWC in batting average but lead the conference by a wide margin in most pitching categories. Preston Morrison (3-0, 0.83 ERA) and Stefan Crichton (3-0, 2.30) have been outstanding.

Birmingham hopes his pitching staff will perform well enough to give the Lobos a chance to win the weekend series. UNM’s pitching has been erratic to date.

“We haven’t pitched well enough yet,” he said, “but we do have guys who are capable. When you play a team like TCU, it’s all about having guys step up. With any luck, guys will step up this weekend and it’ll be a great series. That’s what I’m expecting.”
— This article appeared on page D1 of the Albuquerque Journal

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