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Spot starter Cuellar lifts Lobos over Spartans

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Senior Jonathan Cuellar tossed five scoreless innings in his first start of the season as the host New Mexico baseball team rolled to a 10-1 victory over San Jose State on Friday night.

Cuellar (2-1) scattered seven singles, did not walk a batter and struck out two while filling in for normal Friday starter Drew Bridges, leading the Lobos (15-7-1, 5-2 Mountain West) to their sixth straight win.

"Last year I started a bit, too, I went back and forth so I think that helped me a lot," said Cuellar, who had two starts out of 17 appearances in 2013. "So I kind of know what to expect. I just treated it like any other game. The mindset is keep attacking hitters, keep throwing strikes."

Bridges got the night off after dealing with some mild soreness in his pitching arm.

"It's not an injury, per se, a little tendonitis, but if he feels a tweak, he goes into total panic mode," UNM coach Ray Birmingham said. "And that's from not being a pitcher (until last season)."

If there was a starter Cuellar was reminiscent of it was not Bridges, but senior Josh Walker, who also tends to throw a lot of strikes, give up some hits but never walk batters.

"Minimize damage, that's what we teach here," Cuellar said. "Throw strikes. If you're around the zone, you're going to give up hits."

San Jose State (6-17, 3-7) had two notable scoring chances against Cuellar, but came up with nothing. They had two runners on with one out in the second inning, only for Cuellar to induce two groundouts to end the threat. In the fourth inning, the Spartans hit three straight singles with one out, but Jacob Valdez was caught stealing and Tyler Olivet struck out looking.

"That's what Dan (Spencer, pitching coach) said, Cuellar throws strikes and they're not a very good hitting team," Birmingham said. "We're a team that gives up a lot of hits but no runs."

Kevin Baumgartner gave up one run in 1.2 innings of relief, while Tyler Duree came in and earned his first save with 2.1 scoreless innings. The Lobos were ahead just 3-1 and the tying runs were on base when Duree entered the game in the seventh inning. He gave up a walk before getting Brett Bautista to ground out to second base, erasing the scoring chance.

While the UNM pitchers were faring well on the mound, the hitters were slowly building momentum throughout the game, while also taking advantage of San Jose State's mistakes.

The Lobos' first and second runs, in the first and fifth innings, respectively, were both unearned as the result of costly errors by the Spartans. UNM tacked on a third run in the fifth on Alex Real's RBI single.

Real finished the game 4-for-5 with four RBI, leading a 14-hit attack.

"It was a 4-for-5 night for me, but it was an even better night for the team," Real said. "After my first at-bat, I got lucky on a little dribbler past the first baseman, (so) I knew I had to make an adjustment. A slow lefty on the mound, good offspeed stuff, so I just told myself to stay back, see the ball deep, don't try to do too much and it worked out pretty good for me tonight."

UNM broke the game open with four runs in the seventh, including a two-run double by Real, and three more in the eighth.

Ryan Padilla and Aaron Siple each finished with three hits, while Siple and Chase Harris both had three runs scored.

"I think the hitting, we've matured a lot more. We've cut down on the strikeouts, I feel like we battle with two strikes," said Real after the entire lineup had just one strikeout in 34 total at-bats. "We're tough hitters, tough to get out. I hear it from other teams when they talk to me."

The Lobos and Spartans will meet again Saturday at 2 p.m. All fans should park in the dirt lot south of Lobo Field due to the bull-riding competition at The Pit. Admission to the game will be free as a result.

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