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Lobos gear up for home opener

Senior John Pustay led the Lobos in hitting in their first four games, batting .421 (7-for-17).
Senior John Pustay led the Lobos in hitting in their first four games, batting .421 (7-for-17).Courtesy of UNM

The New Mexico baseball team is glad to be back home, even if home was not terribly welcoming.

Amid the cold wind that blew across Albuquerque on Thursday, the Lobos practiced in advance of their home opener today at 4 p.m. against Northern Illinois in the opener of the Lobo Invite.

It has been some time since UNM has played host to a tournament, but it is something that coach Ray Birmingham wants to become a permanent fixture on the schedule.

“I want to have a kickoff tournament to start the season,” he said. “I think the hardest part won’t be getting the tournament (set) or the weather, I think the hardest will be trying to coax LSU or UCLA or any of those guys to come here and play us.”

For now, Lobo fans will have to settle for Northern Illinois (0-3) and Missouri State (2-1). The Huskies were swept by Minnesota in a series played in Glendale, Ariz., last weekend, while the Bears took two of three at Central Arkansas.

“I don’t ever worry about the team in the other dugout,” Birmingham said. “All I want is our guys to play blue-collar, hard-nosed baseball the right way.”

UNM (2-2) lost two of three at San Diego over the weekend, including a 17-2 loss last Sunday, but the Lobos bounced back with a 7-1 win at Arizona State on Tuesday.

“It’s very big, especially after the spanking we received on Sunday,” said senior outfielder/designated hitter John Pustay. “It also showed that if we don’t make mistakes like we did on the weekend, we can play with anybody. We played a good game, we won, cool, but that’s all in the past.”

Pustay hit .421 (7-for-17) with two RBI in UNM's first four games to pace the lineup that was otherwise a bit lacking to start the season.

“The things we need to work on is not getting ahead of ourselves,” Pustay said. “We just need to relax and do our jobs. That’s what hurt us this weekend. I think every single person had a little mix-up or problem that cost us some runs. We just need to get out of our own way and play our game. As you saw on Tuesday, when we did that we played very, very well.”

As for the pitching, sophomore Drew Bridges will start today's game. He ended up taking the loss and being charged with three runs in 2.1 innings at San Diego after the series opener was postponed from Friday to Saturday due to fog. Bridges did not retake the mound a day later.

Junior Colton Thomson, who allowed just one run in 5.1 innings last weekend, will get the nod Saturday at 4 p.m. against Missouri State.

Sunday's doubleheader starters will be sophomore Mike Gould at 1 p.m. versus the Bears, followed by senior Josh Walker in the second game against the Huskies. Walker will hope for a rebound after allowing nine runs in four innings last Sunday.

“I want to see them play hard, I want to see them play as a team,” Birmingham said. “I want guys to get better and move forward. There were 19 guys on this club that got their first taste of Division I baseball. I want to get that out of the way.

“No matter how many times they insist they put their pants on one leg at a time, there’s 90 feet or whatever you say, it doesn’t matter. It’s their first Division I baseball game and they get the jitters. Now we’ve gotten that out of the way for most of them.”