By Derek Gonzales
The New Mexico State baseball team appeared to have hit a wall early this season, but they returned to form with a 7-6 win on Sunday at Presley Askew Field by way of a Austin Botello walk-off homerun, avoiding a four-game sweep at the hands of the Stephen F. Austin Lumberjacks.
The defense has struggled this season for NM State, as their .938 fielding percentage ranks 270th out of 287 Division-One teams. They had 23 errors on the season coming into the series with SFA, and committed nine more in the four games played this weekend.
“We have to do a better job with our interior defense and defense on the mound, and we have the talent and the athletes to do that, but our guys are trying a little too much right now,” says Coach Brian Green.
Freshman left-hander Steven Butts took the mound for NM State, and he had a solid outing Sunday, going 4.2 innings, throwing 52 strikes on 84 pitches, while giving up four earned runs on eight hits.
“He did great, he got us into the fifth (inning) again, and since he’s gotten here, he’s pounded the (strike) zone, and he throws a lot of strikes, and those guys are comforting, especially on the last day of the weekend,” says Green.
Not helping matters in this series was an NM State offense that has struggled a bit since their mid-week win against nationally ranked Texas Tech, but they had their best offensive day of the series on Sunday, as they were able to muster up seven runs and 13 hits on the day, and avoided going the whole series without recording double-digit hits in a game.
The Aggie offense got active in the bottom of the fourth inning, when Brent Sakurai struck a single into the outfield, scoring Cameron Haskins. Trey Stine was up next for NM State, and he was able to produce a sacrifice fly, scoring Joseph Koerper. That closed the Lumberjack lead to 5-3, and with runners on first and second, junior outfielder Daniel Johnson hit a single to right field, scoring L.J. Hatch.
The SFA lead shrunk to just one at 5-4 at that point, but in the top of the fifth inning, NM State had the opportunity to get out of the inning without allowing a SFA run, but a throwing error (third NM State error to that point) on Hatch allowed a runner to score, increasing the Lumberjack lead to 6-4.
NM State answered back in the bottom of the inning with a Koerper single that scored Haskins, as Koerper, the Oñate High recruit, had a nice day at the plate after being absent from the lineup in the Saturday doubleheader, as he went three-for-four from the plate with an RBI.
Reliever Joe Galindo came into the game in the eighth inning with NM State still within a run at 6-5, and he was able to get out of a bases-loaded, two-out situation by getting SFA infielder Kyle Thornell to strike out with a full-count.
Galindo came back out for the ninth, and got himself out of another bases jam, and the Aggies went into the bottom of the ninth down a run.
Johnson led off the bottom of the ninth, and he got a deep shot to right field, but it died out at the warning track for the first out. Hetzel was next up, and he smashed a double to center field that almost cleared the fence. Botello went to the plate and smashed the two-run walk off homerun to center field, as the Aggies got their third walk-off win of the year.
“Before that, I was about zero-for-four, so I tried to stay on the positive side and look for a pitch I could get in the gap, and it happened to go a little further than that,” says Botello.
Galindo got the win for the Aggies, his first of the year, as the Aggies improved to 7-6 on the year. The Aggies now turn their attention to I-25 rival New Mexico on Tuesday, in El Paso, at Southwest University Park at 6:30 p.m.
“It’s a big region for us (El Paso), so it’s going to be a huge one. We wanted to do it for recruiting, we wanted to bring that community in because we are the only division one team in this region, so we know it’ll be exciting, and it’s a great opportunity to grow our brand,” says Green.
Derek Gonzales can be reached at @email@example.com
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