By Derek Gonzales
In the 240th edition of the Battle of I-25 between New Mexico State and University of New Mexico on the diamond took place at Southwest University Park in El Paso, Texas, home of the Triple-A El Paso Chihuahuas. NM State, who has five players on the roster from the El Paso area, was able to cruise past the Lobos en route to a 9-6 win in front of 1,130 fans on Tuesday evening.
“It was awesome, the playing surface was off the charts, so it was a good night for us, and anytime you can beat the Lobos, everybody is going to get excited,” says Head Coach Brian Green, whose team continues a remarkable turnaround after going 10-38 just a year ago.
NM State (8-6), scored three runs in the first inning, another three in the second, and one more in the third, and did not look back after that.
The three Aggie runs in the bottom of the first were all unearned, as UNM (6-5) committed two errors in the opening inning. The Aggies came into the day second in the WAC in batting average at .293, and scored nine runs on 12 hits in the game.
“Being aggressive doesn’t mean going out there and swinging out of our shoes, it means that when you’re in there (at-bat), you’re ready to go, and I thought our guys did a really nice job of swinging early in the count,” says Green.
In the bottom of the second inning, Joseph Koerper and El Paso-native Cameron Haskins, (grandson of legendary UTEP basketball coach Don Haskins) both got on base to begin the inning, and infielder L.J. Hatch smashed the first pitch of the at-bat from UNM starter James Harrington into the right-center field gap, scoring Koerper and Haskins, while Hatch turned on the jets to reach third base for a triple. Brent Sakurai then grounded out to second base, but the play scored Hatch, extending the NM State lead to 6-0 after two innings.
NM State starting pitcher Dalton Shalberg had a solid outing on the mound on Tuesday for the Aggies, going only 3.2 innings, but was efficient with 43 strikes on 75 pitches while allowing four earned runs.
“He gave us a good effort, and almost got us into the fifth (inning), which is all you can really ask for when playing a midweek game,” Green says.
With NM State jumping out to the seven-run lead through three innings, it appeared that UNM was overmatched by an improved Aggie team that exchanged blowout wins with them last year, but the Lobos were resilient and were able to get back into the game.
Lobo infielder Dalton Bowers started the fourth inning off with a double, and Lu Gonzalez brought him home via single, and Chris DeVito then jacked a two-run homerun off of Shalberg, trimming the Aggie lead to 7-4.
The Lobos then tacked on a run by way of a balk call against Aggie reliever Andy Frakes on a play where it appeared that Frakes faked a pick-off throw to the runner on third base, and threw to first to try to get that pick-off, which is legal, but the umpire did not rule that way, and Lobo Dan Collier scored on the ruling to shrink the Aggie lead to two at 7-5.
UNM was unable to get closer, as the Aggie offense scored a couple more runs to keep the Lobos at bay and were able to get a win in the first of four meetings with the Lobos this year. Five players recorded multiple hits for NM State, and three raked in multiple RBIs.
NM State continues their nine-game road swing this weekend when they face the Baylor Bears and San Diego Toreros in Waco, Texas. Their next game at Presley Askew Field will be March 24-26, when they begin WAC-play against Chicago State.
“We are in the gauntlet, and our kids knew it last week that we had a tough stretch ahead, so to get this win, we now have a little confidence that we can go toe-to-toe with a high-caliber team,” Green says.
Derek Gonzales can be reached at email@example.com
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