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Bridges lifts Lobos to shutout victory

Sophomore Drew Bridges struck out a career-high eight batters in six shutout innings of work.
Courtesy of UNM

New Mexico sophomore Drew Bridges' first start of the season went awry for reasons completely beyond his control.

A thick fog engulfed the field on Feb. 14 in San Diego, postponing his first start after he had pitched just 2.1 innings, allowing one run and leaving two runners on base when play was halted.

The Toreros would subsequently score those two runs the next day when the game resumed, and though Bridges was not on the mound, he was charged with the runs. That left the right-hander with an ugly 11.57 ERA.

Bridges managed to trim that down, and then some, by throwing six scoreless innings Friday evening as the Lobos won their home opener 12-0 over Northern Illinois.

"It was just nice to get up and down a couple innings, just kind of get in a rhythm," said Bridges, who lowered his ERA to 3.24 and set a career-high with eight strikeouts. "I was able to make some adjustments throughout the game and let my defense play a little bit."

Getting a big start out of Bridges was exactly what UNM (3-2) needed to start its weekend off on the right foot.

"Big, big job; that's what would have happened if we hadn't had the fog-out in San Diego," coach Ray Birmingham said. "He pitched downhill, that's what he does, pitches downhill with leg movement. Throws all of his pitches for strikes, the Lobo way, pounds the zone."

The three relievers that followed Bridges were not too shabby, either. Taylor Duree tossed a scoreless seventh inning, while Matt Villalobos, in his Lobo pitching debut after converting from catcher, threw a scoreless eighth inning. Tyler Gibson then made the most of his first outing for UNM by striking out the side in the ninth.

"Our kids did a great job of pitching," Birmingham said. "What they did today on the mound, Duree, Gibson, Villalobos, that was impressive."

Of course, nothing makes a pitcher's job easier like having his lineup churn out hit after hit.

"Especially when we score in the first, it takes a lot of stress, a lot of pressure off you as a pitcher, helps you relax a little bit," Bridges said.

Alex Real put the Lobos on the board in the first inning with an RBI single, followed by John Pustay's sacrifice fly.

UNM would pick up three more runs in the second inning, highlighted by Chase Harris' RBI triple.

"That's the goal of Lobo baseball is to always lead everybody in hitting," Harris said. "When we put together a performance like that is everybody buying in and believing in what Coach B preaches.

"Today felt a little bit like last year."

UNM would tack on two runs in the third, three in the fourth and two more in the seventh. They would finish with 16 hits. Jared Holley led all players by going 4-for-5 with two RBI, while Harris was 3-for-5 with two RBI and Ryan Padilla went 3-for-5 with two runs, two doubles and a triple.

"We worked really hard on it (Thursday)," Birmingham said of the team's hitting approach. "They executed it today, going the other way and staying inside the baseball. It's going to get better. It's not anywhere close to where we hope to be."

The Lobo Invite will continue Saturday with Northern Illinois (0-5) squaring off with Missouri State (3-1) at noon, followed by UNM versus MSU at 4 p.m.

Fans should be aware that due to the Lobo men's basketball game Saturday night, parking will only be allowed in the dirt lots south of Lobo Field. Admission to the baseball game will be free for all fans.

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