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Baseball: Reigning champs again top Lobos

SURPRISE, Ariz. — It didn’t end with much of a bang but opening weekend was a hit for the University of New Mexico baseball team.

The Lobos went quietly in Monday’s 5-0 loss to No. 7 Oregon State in the Surprise Tournament in Surprise, Arizona. It was UNM’s second loss to the defending national champion Beavers in four days.

Even so, Lobo coach Ray Birmingham was upbeat as his team prepared to return to Albuquerque on Monday night. UNM earned a pair of wins in between its losses to OSU, defeating then-No. 24 Minnesota 11-1 on Saturday and topping Gonzaga 6-4 on Sunday.

“This was a championship tournament,” Birmingham said in a phone interview. “Minnesota’s the defending Big Ten champ, Gonzaga won the West Coast Conference and Oregon State was national champion. For a program that’s rebuilding right now, we held our own. It’s a good start.”

Birmingham was especially pleased with UNM’s pitching staff, which allowed 12 earned runs over four games.

Starters Justin Slaten and Nathaniel Garley permitted just one run in 12 combined innings, and Monday’s starter, Drew Gillespie, limited Oregon State to three earned runs in five innings.

UNM’s bullpen also performed well in the tournament, including a scoreless 5⅔-innings stint against Gonzaga.

“Our pitching was outstanding,” Birmingham said. “(Assistant coach Brandong) Higelin has done a great job with our staff. I’m very encouraged with that, because this team will hit.”

The down side, Birmingham said, was leaky infield defense.

The Lobos committed six errors, leading to four unearned runs and extending innings.

A two-out throwing error in the seventh inning of Friday’s 6-5 loss to Oregon State was particularly costly, leading to three Beaver runs.

“Our infield defense was not good,” Birmingham said. “We’ve got to shore that up in a hurry. But our kids stepped up and battled against some top-notch teams. If we pitch like we did this weekend, we’ll have a chance to win a lot of games.”

MWC HONORS: Garley and outfielder Jared Mang swept the Mountain West’s initial pitcher- and player-of-the-week honors Monday. Garley, a junior right-hander, allowed just one run and three hits in seven innings of UNM’s 11-1 win over Minnesota, striking out six.

Mang, a senior, went 6-for-11 with a home run, two doubles and seven RBIs, in the Lobos’ first three games.

MONDAY: Oregon State’s Preston Jones was the catalyst in his team’s 5-0 win. Jones went 3-for-3 with a solo home run, a double and a sacrifice fly as the Beavers outhit UNM 9-6.

Connor Mang went 3-for-4 to pace the Lobos, while Derek Marshall was 2-for-3 with a pair of doubles. But four OSU pitchers combined to shut out UNM and rack up nine strikeouts.