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Third time is a charm as Lobos beat Red Raiders

Senior John Pustay drove in the winning run in the eighth inning for the Lobos.
Senior John Pustay drove in the winning run in the eighth inning for the Lobos.
Courtesy of UNM, used with permission

The New Mexico baseball team found out it was finally ranked in two of the four college baseball polls Monday morning. Then the Lobos went out and showed just why Monday afternoon.

UNM battled its way to a 4-3 victory over visiting Texas Tech. The Lobos (31-11-1) had lost to the Red Raiders (32-12) twice earlier this season.

"It's a big win for us," coach Ray Birmingham said. "That's a very good ballclub that we just played. They've beat a lot of people. They're nationally ranked and so are we."

UNM was ranked No. 24 in the Collegiate Baseball poll and No. 30 in the National Collegiate Baseball Writer Association poll. Texas Tech was ranked No. 22 in the latter poll but unranked in the former.

"I feel like we deserved to be ranked earlier than this week," said sophomore right-hander Victor Sanchez. "So I kind of ignored the polls (before Monday)."

The key play in this contest for the Lobos came in the eighth inning. Jack Zoellner was hit by a pitch with one out. He was replaced by pinch runner Kirby McGuire as senior John Pustay walked up to the plate.

UNM's coaching staff sent in the hit-and-run sign. Pustay then chopped a grounder up the middle that deflected off the glove of second baseman Bryant Burleson into shallow left field. McGuire hustled all the way from first base to score the go-ahead run.

Pustay said it was not the plan to hit it up the middle, but in the end it worked out for him. The senior left fielder went 2-for-4 on the day, the only Lobo with multiple hits.

"I saw the hit-and-run (sign) there and it ended up scoring the run for us," Pustay said. "They were playing me to hit it to the 4-hole, so it's actually good I hit the hit-and-run up the middle, which I'm not supposed to, but it worked out."

Sanchez (3-0) earned the victory with 2.1 scoreless innings of relief. He retired the side in the ninth on a flyout, strikeout and groundout.

"It's a little different for me because I went more than an inning today," Sanchez said. "So that was a little different. But I felt fine and it was good to get a win against these guys because they had beaten us twice."

Texas Tech jumped ahead 2-0 on three singles in the second inning, only to see UNM come right back on back-to-back RBI singles by Jered Meek and Lane Milligan in the bottom of the frame. The Lobos went ahead in the sixth when Pustay hit a ball toward Burleson, but the ball bounced off his glove for an error. Right fielder Adam Kirsch then tried to throw out Zoellner at third base, but the ball got away from Ryan Long and Zoellner scored on the second error.

The Red Raiders struck back in the seventh as Tim Proudfoot hit a one out double, went to third on Stephen Smith's single to right and then scored on Tyler Neslony's single up the middle. That 3-3 tie would not last, however.

"Today was a great game to grind it out," Pustay said. "It was big-time for us. We're nationally ranked in a couple of the polls and this should solidify it."

The Lobos, who have won nine in a row overall, will hit the road for three games at UNLV starting Friday. UNM (14-4) holds a 2.5-game lead over the Rebels (13-8) in the Mountain West standings after UNLV was swept in three games at Air Force over the weekend.

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