Nobody said winning a conference title would be easy.
Visiting Air Force gave the UNM baseball team all it wanted and then some Thursday night before the Lobos pulled a little late-game magic out of their batting helmets.
Aaron Siple’s RBI single drove home Andre Vigil with the winning run in the bottom of the 10th inning as New Mexico pulled out a 2-1 victory. UNM (36-17-1, 19-9) held on to its one-game lead over UNLV atop the Mountain West standings, as the Rebels defeated Nevada 8-1.
The Lobos raced onto the field to mob Siple after his winning hit, but there was more a feeling of relief than exhilaration in UNM’s postgame locker room.
New Mexico wasted numerous chances to score earlier and perhaps earn a milestone win for starter Josh Walker, who needs just one to tie the school and MWC records for career victories. Instead, Walker received no decision after allowing just one unearned run in 71/3 solid innings.
That missed opportunity nagged at Lobos coach Ray Birmingham and his players.
“I’m upset because Josh Walker pitched his tail off and should’ve got the ‘W,’ ” Birmingham said. “We made a lot of silly mistakes in key situations, which is why I’m mad after a win.”
Still, it could’ve been worse.
The Falcons (19-32, 9-19) were actually one accurate throw away from victory in a bizarre ninth inning that could easily have ended with either team celebrating a win. Air Force led 1-0 at the time, scoring the game’s only run on Travis Neubeck’s sacrifice fly in the fourth inning.
But UNM threatened in the ninth, when Siple got an infield hit and Chase Harris was hit by a pitch with no outs. John Pustay followed with a rocket that seemed destined to end up in the left-field corner for a game-winning double.
Instead, the ball drilled the side of the third-base bag and bounced straight up. Third baseman Tyler Saleck snagged it and touched third for a force out.
“I’ve never seen that,” Birmingham said. “None of us had. It was not a good mojo night for us.”
But the Lobos got a lucky turn of their own when Alex Real followed with a one-hopper back to Air Force pitcher Ben Yokley. He turned and fired to second for an out, but the relay to first pulled first baseman Seth Kline off the bag.
Meanwhile, Harris raced all the way home from second base to tie the game.
“I’d made up my mind before the play I was going,” said Harris, who was 4-for-4 before being hit by a pitch. “I didn’t even look at (third base coach Ken Jacome), I just ran as hard as I could.”
The Lobos then turned an Andre Vigil single, two walks and Siple’s flair single over a five-man Air Force infield into a winning rally in the 10th.
“I was just looking to get the ball to the outfield any way possible and poked one out there,” Siple said. “Air Force is all military guys and they’re always going to fight. I’m just glad to get the win.”