CORVALLIS, Ore. (KTSM) – They’ve embarked on one of the most impressive and unexpected runs in college baseball in some time, but the only people that aren’t surprised are the ones directly involved.
New Mexico State was 18-31 entering the final series of the season on May 19 and needed to win two of three games at Utah Valley to even make the WAC Tournament. 10 days later, the Aggies had polished off a 6-1 stretch and had been crowned WAC Champions.
Now, NMSU will do something it hasn’t done since 2018: play in the NCAA Tournament, in the Corvallis Regional beginning Friday night against No. 3 national seed and perennial powerhouse, Oregon State.
Mike Kirby’s Aggies have adopted the mantra of “playing with house money” ever since embarking on their impressive stretch of play in the last two weeks and nothing could be more true as the Aggies step foot into Goss Stadium for Friday’s 8 p.m. MT first pitch.
“We’re playing really good baseball and this time of year baseball isn’t always about the best players, but about the best team,” said Kirby earlier this week. “We just won a lot of money in that last tournament so the boys are feeling good. We have zero to lose and everything to win.”
New Mexico State’s pitching staff had a team ERA of 6.69 during the season, but found an answer last week in Mesa, Ariz., at the WAC Tournament. In four games, the Aggies allowed just five runs and Friday night’s starter, Ian Mejia, was a big reason why.
Mejia pitched 10 innings during the week in Mesa with nine strikeouts and just one run allowed. Mejia will get the ball again vs. the Beavers on Friday night, looking to stymie one of the nation’s top teams that includes Pac-12 Player of the Year, Jacob Melton.
“There’s definitely going to be something bigger with the crowd, but you can make that adjustment early in the game. Once you do that, you can get rolling,” said Mejia. “We’ve been talking about this all season, winning a WAC championship and going to a Regional and now we’re here.”
When the Beavers are in the field on Friday night, NMSU will have to contend with what will likely be the best pitcher they’ll see all season in Cooper Hjerpe. A first-team All-American that could win National Pitcher of the Year, Hjerpe has been dynamite all season.
He had a 17-strikeout game vs. Stanford and enters the Corvallis Regional at 10-2 with a 2.33 ERA and 140 strikeouts on the year. Hjerpe will likely be a first round pick in the MLB Draft.
“Probably a top-seven pick in the Draft,” said Kirby. “I’ve watched a bunch of video on him and he’s spectacular. The boys will have to be ready to compete.”
It’s an opportunity NMSU has wanted all season, the chance to knock off a national power in the NCAA Tournament. Against all odds, they’ll be on the field in Corvallis on Friday night with the chance to do just that.
With all the success they’ve had the last two weeks, what’s one more roll of the dice?