The University of New Mexico Lobos like the view from the top.
Even though Mountain West rival UNLV is getting far more national attention, UNM goes into today’s series opener at San Jose State percentage points ahead of the Rebels atop the conference standings.
It’s the product of an extended roll. The Lobos (27-11-1, 11-4 MWC) have won five straight games and 18 of their last 22.
But the hot streak hasn’t been as satisfying as one might expect.
“We’re not even close to playing our best baseball,” outfielder Chase Harris said. “A lot of guys are contributing, which is great, but we’re capable of more.”
The Lobos, who are unranked but receiving votes in two national polls, visit No. 20 UNLV next week for what’s shaping up as a Mountain West showdown series. The Rebels took two of three in Albuquerque on March 7-9 to hand UNM its only league series loss in two seasons.
Coach Ray Birmingham’s Lobos have work to do before then. It starts with three games against a San Jose State team that’s been peskier than its record (12-25, 6-12) may indicate.
The Spartans have not been swept in a three-game series all season, including in a set at UNM. SJSU has taken two games from UNLV and one from No. 17 UC Santa Barbara.
“They don’t make it easy on anyone,” Birmingham said. “If we start thinking about UNLV, this will be a very long weekend.”
Harris does not plan to let that happen. He sees sweeping UNM’s first MWC series in San Jose as an important challenge.
“We lost a game to (the Spartans) at home, and I think we learned from it,” Harris said. “We’ve worked hard to get in first place, and we want to stay there. The only way we can be sure of that is to sweep.”
BACK ON THE BUMP: Sophomore right-hander Drew Bridges pitched effectively during batting practice Tuesday. Bridges has been dealing with shoulder discomfort and had not pitched since leaving a March 14 game at Fresno State in the second inning. A recent MRI on Bridges’ shoulder revealed no structural problems, Birmingham said.
“Very encouraging,” Birmingham said after Bridges’ mound session. “Drew can be a difference-maker if we can get him back.”
LIGHTS OUT: UNM’S bullpen has been remarkably successful at closing out games in 2014. The Lobos are 23-0 when leading after six innings, and their relievers have a combined 3.30 earned-run average.
HOLIDAY OFF: The Lobos and Spartans will play Thursday through Saturday to avoid competing on Easter Sunday. UNM will get just one day off before hosting Texas Tech for a single game Monday.