It was cold and quite windy when New Mexico and visiting Northern Colorado squared off Friday night.
Lobos starting pitcher Drew Bridges didn’t let the elements faze him one bit. The sophomore right-hander allowed just one run in 7.1 innings as UNM defeated NCU 5-2 in the opener of a four-game series.
“It felt better than last weekend,” Bridges said, referring to the six shutout innings he threw in a 12-0 win over Northern Illinois on Feb. 21. “I think that’s just the main goal, to go out there and have a better week and keep competing.”
Bridges (2-1) retired the first nine batters he faced before giving up back-to-back singles in the fourth inning. After a sacrifice bunt moved the runners over, Nick Miller drove in the Bears’ first run with a sacrifice fly. From there, he only gave up two harmless singles in the fifth and seventh innings and a walk in the eighth.
“He’s really good,” coach Ray Birmingham said. “We played good (defense) and Bridges pitched his tail off.”
Two major keys for Bridges were being able to consistently throw his curveball for strikes and keeping the ball down on a windy night.
“Especially with the altitude we’re at, especially with the wind, it’s going to carry,” Bridges said. “It’s just getting ground balls and letting the infield work.”
While Bridges was dealing on the mound, the UNM hitters were slowly chipping away, though some baserunning blunders and a little bad luck conspired to keep the Lobos (5-3-1) from every blowing open the game.
“I thought we should have scored some more runs, but obviously the inconsistencies and then we get snakebit,” Birmingham said. “That’s a result of frustration, guys trying to do too much.”
Jered Meek hit a one-out double in the first inning and later scored on Alex Real’s RBI double, but Real tried to stretch that into a triple and was thrown out.
John Pustay singled and Chris DeVito doubled to start the fifth, with the former then scoring on Aaron Siple’s single. DeVito was then thrown out at home on a failed bunt by Jared Holley while Siple was later caught stealing.
The Lobos had two on with one out in the sixth, only to see Pustay line out to first base for a double play.
They would add two insurance runs in the seventh and one in the eighth.
The Bears (2-7) led off the ninth with back-to-back singles, forcing UNM to pull reliever Taylor Duree in favor of A.J. Carman. The senior then walked the bases loaded and Birmingham did not hesitate to pull him immediately in favor of freshman lefty Carson Schneider.
“Duree kept the ball down, he just gave up some harmless singles,” Birmingham said. “A reliever can’t come in and walk a guy. That hurt. And Carman’s a senior, so come on, baby, throw some strikes.”
Schneider got the job done, allowing just an RBI groundout before getting a foul pop-up and finally a force play at second base to end the game and earn his first save.
“We needed to see that,” Birmingham said. “He said he’s over being scared so we’ll see what he can do. And he got it done. That’s what we need. He’s the only left-hander we have with a good breaking ball to get us out of a left-hander situation like that.”
Siple went 2-for-4 with two RBI, snapping out of an early season slump. He was one of five Lobos with two hits apiece.
“It felt good, it finally felt right,” Siple said. “The swing felt good, it was short, to it, going the other way, finally.”
UNM and NCU will play a doubleheader Saturday starting at 1 p.m. Due to the Lobo women’s basketball game happening at 2 p.m., all fans are asked to park in the dirt lots south of Lobo Field. As a result, admission to the doubleheader is free for all fans.