UNM baseball feeling good ahead of its home opener – Albuquerque Journal

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UNM baseball coach Ray Birmingham was pleased with the Lobos start to the season despite a 2-2 record. (Roberto E. Rosales/Albuquerque Journal)

Throw out two innings and the University of New Mexico’s 2020 baseball season would be off to a dazzling start.

The Lobos played 34 outstanding innings at last weekend’s Collegiate Baseball Classic in Surprise, Arizona, more than holding their own against quality opponents Oregon State, BYU and Gonzaga. However, those other two innings counted, too, forcing UNM to come home with a 2-2 record.

Coach Ray Birmingham’s team opens its home schedule Friday, facing Northern Colorado to start a three-game series at Santa Ana Star Field. It will serve as a chance to get something of a sweet-and-sour taste out of the Lobos’ mouths.

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“I felt like we should’ve won the tournament,” Birmingham said of last weekend’s event. “We found out we can pitch, our catching was pretty good and the defense was solid except for the last play. If we make that play, we win the tournament, but overall it was a good start.”

That one play, a two-run, two-out throwing error on a ground ball to shortstop in the bottom of the ninth inning against Gonzaga, prevented UNM from finishing 3-1 and winning the College Baseball Classic. That inning and Oregon State’s nine-run first in an 11-4 season-opening loss, were exceptions for the Lobos, who allowed just eight runs over the remaining 34 frames. Thirteen pitchers worked for UNM in the tournament.

“Our pitching staff was phenomenal,” junior catcher Shane Podsednik said. “We’ve got a lot of variety, guys who know how to pitch and it was a whole-staff effort out there. All the pieces are there for us to be a very good team.”

Podsednik, one of numerous junior college transfers on UNM’s roster, hit .571 in three games at the CBC but the Lobos’ offense was largely quiet against top-flight pitching. Birmingham is confident his hitters will break out and he’s hoping it happens against Northern Colorado.

“I want to see us more aggressive at the plate,” he said. “Credit to the pitchers we faced but I felt like we were kind of passive and took too many pitches. We need to come out swinging.”

Northern Colorado (2-2) also competed in a four-game series last weekend, twice defeating Houston Baptist and losing twice to host No. 3 Texas Tech. The Bears scored 26 runs in the tournament, which was enough to get Birmingham’s attention.

“They play a tough schedule and you have to respect them,” he said. “They can obviously hit.”

UNM plans to start Aaron Makil, Tristin Lively and Justin Armbruester on the mound against UNC. Makil earned Mountain West Conference Pitcher of the Week honors after working six shutout innings in a 2-0 win over BYU.

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Fans attending the series are likely to see lots of new faces in Lobo uniforms, both because of the number of new players on this season’s roster and because Birmingham and his coaches are still trying different combinations. Podsednik smiled when asked about making his Albuquerque debut.

“We’re excited,” he said. “It’s a great opportunity to show fans what we can do – play baseball the right way and battle. Last week was a good start but if we can just execute the small things a little better, people won’t be able to stop us.”

EARLIER STARTS: UNM will play home games at either 3 p.m. or noon for the first month of the season to avoid cold evening temperatures. The Lobos’ first 6 p.m. home start is set for March 17 against Texas Tech.