One could say reality caught up with the New Mexico State Aggies on Saturday. And one wouldn’t be wrong in saying so.
Yet, what NMSU has accomplished the past 16 days was no illusion.
Saturday in Corvallis, Oregon, Vanderbilt punished the Aggies 21-1 in a college baseball regional. New Mexico State ends its season with 24-34 record.
But what a ride the Aggies had been on since May 19.
After after taking two of three games from Western Athletic Conference rival Utah Valley, simply to sneak into the WAC tournament, the Aggies swept through that tourney — beating Sam Houston State, UTRGV, Sacramento State and Abilene Christian to claim the WAC title and qualify for regionals.
Then, on Friday, NMSU came astonishingly close to beating Oregon State, the No. 3 national seed, before falling 5-4 in 10 innings.
Saturday, well … the Cinderella run came to a crashing halt. Vanderbilt’s Spencer Jones had seven RBIs, Chris McElvain allowed one run with 11 strikeouts over seven innings pitched and the Commodores, the No. 2 seed in the Corvallis regional, hammered the fourth-seeded Aggies in an elimination game.
But the Aggies will always have Friday night, when they scared the tails off the Beavers.
After spotting OSU a run in the first inning, NMSU tied it at 1-1 in the second on a Tommy Tabak RBI single.
Oregon State went back ahead with a single run in the fifth. But in the seventh, the Aggies took advantage of lapse in control by Beavers ace Cooper Hjerpe. After a walk, a groundout and back-to-back hit batsmen, Tabak doubled, scoring two an giving NMSU an improbable 3-2 lead.
Oregon State regained the lead with two runs in the bottom of the seventh. But the Aggies weren’t done. In the top of the ninth, Nolan Funke singled, advanced to second on a groundout and scored on Preston Godfrey’s single, tying it at 4 and sending the game to extra innings.
The upset bid came undone when Aggies reliever Alex Bustamante (1-3) walked the Beavers’ final two batters on eight pitches, sending home the winning run.
New Mexico State starter Ian Mejia had kept the potent Oregon State lineup in check for most of 7⅓ innings. He gave up nine hits and struck out nine.
Saturday’s meltdown was slow in coming.
The Aggies trailed just 4-1 after four innings, but Vanderbilt struck for five runs in the fifth. By game’s end, seven NMSU pitchers have given up 18 hits. Starter Pablo Cortes (4-5) took the loss.
New Mexico State scored its only run in the third, when Carlos Villareal singled, took second on a wild pitch and scored on a Kevin Jimenez single.
The Aggies finished with seven hits. Funke went 2-for-4 with a double.
Before May 19, New Mexico State was 18-31 overall, 9-22 in WAC play. The Aggies had gone 0-4 against New Mexico.
Then came the Utah Valley series, the four consecutive victories in the WAC tournament and the almost-a-miracle against Oregon State on the Beavers’ home field.
Certainly, a 21-1 loss isn’t how anyone wants to end a season.
Just as certainly, lasting memories were made since May 19 — and some hope generated for the future.