Midway through the Mountain West baseball season, it’s crunch time for the University of New Mexico Lobos and Nevada Wolf Pack.
The teams open a three-game series tonight at Santa Ana Star Field and it’s fair to say both are in dire need of a win. UNM (15-17, 6-9 MWC) and Nevada (16-16, 6-9) come in tied for sixth place in the conference standings. Only four teams will advance to next month’s Mountain West tournament on the Wolf Pack’s home diamond.
Granted, the sixth-place positioning is a bit deceiving. San Jose State (11-4) is in the conference driver’s seat but second-place San Diego State is just 7-6 in league play.
“The league is so tight except for San Jose State,” UNM coach Ray Birmingham said. “You can go from second place to last or vice versa in one weekend.”
The Lobos are coming off a weekend they’d rather forget after losing three close games in San Jose, Calif.. UNM’s pitching performed reasonably well in the series, but the same could not be said for other facets of the Lobos’ game.
“Our hitting and defense were not good,” Birmingham said. “Bad at-bats and errors at crucial times killed us. It’s strange because we’ve seemed to play better against the power conference teams on our schedule. We need to clutch up and start performing in conference games.”
UNM will try to change things up by juggling its pitching rotation against the Wolf Pack. Drew Gillespie will start tonight’s opener with Justin Slaten pitching Saturday and Nathaniel Garley slated for Sunday. Slaten has been the Lobos’ Friday night starter, followed in previous series by Garley and Gillespie.
Nevada, like UNM, comes into the series on a three-game losing streak. The Wolf Pack has struggled offensively, scoring just 141 runs this season (UNM has scored 205), but pitching has been a strength. Nevada’s team earned-run average is 4.26, and tonight’s scheduled starter, Ryan Anderson, is 4-1 with a 3.28 ERA.
– Ken Sickenger
• In Las Cruces, New Mexico State (22-9, 6-3) tries for its fourth consecutive win of a three-game Western Athletic Conference series tonight at 6:05 in the opener against Northern Colorado (7-20, 3-6). The Aggies are coming off a 10-5 loss Tuesday to Texas Tech in Midland, Texas.
WOMEN’S TENNIS: At McKinnon Family Tennis Stadium, New Mexico takes on New Mexico State today at 11 a.m., and the Lobos (10-8) are trying to finish their home schedule at 8-0. The lone senior on Senior Day is Ruth Copas (Dundalk, Ireland) at No. 1 singles.
NMSU comes in 12-8 and is the No. 2 seed out of the Western Athletic Conference.
MEN’S TENNIS: The Lobo men (9-6, 4-0 Mountain West) host UNLV (13-5, 2-2) today at 4 p.m. on the back end of the women’s-men’s doubleheader. UNM, seeking its first regular season league title since 2015, then plays its home finale Sunday at 1 p.m. against San Diego State. Senior Ricky Hernandez Tong is the reigning league player of the week.
SOFTBALL: New Mexico State (19-15, 3-3) begins a California road swing with doubleheaders today and Saturday at league opponent Cal Baptist (16-23, 3-6) in Riverside.
Kelsey Horton ranks second nationally in career homers with 63, and Volcano Vista alumnus Victoria Castro (WAC-leading slugging percentage, .719; on-base percentage, .492; walks, 22; doubles, 11) is building a resume for league player of the year.
• New Mexico (11-29) is idle this weekend after absorbing a 7-1 home loss Tuesday to UTEP (11-26).