Despite controversy and a late rally from the home team, the New Mexico State baseball team was able to hunker down and notch its program-best sixth-straight win over Battle of I-25 rival New Mexico 11-8 Tuesday night at Santa Ana Star Field in thrilling 10-inning match-up.
Joey Ortiz, the reigning WAC Player of the Week, started the night off for NM State (26-9) in the opening frame when he roped the first pitch he saw down the right-field line for a triple and scored the following at-bat on a flyout to center by his fellow infielder Nick Gonzales to put the Aggies up 1-0. However, New Mexico answered right back in the bottom of the first when Tyler Kelly tripled to the gap in left-center to score Justin Watari from first. The Lobos (16-20) then took the 2-1 lead after a double from Jared Mang – which plated Kelly.
After a scoreless frame from both teams, Gonzales once again tripled down the right-field line – this time scoring both Logan Bottrell and Ortiz to give NM State the 3-2 edge.
A scoreless fourth inning from Wyatt Kelley after coming in for Christopher Barraza led to a four-run frame in the fifth for New Mexico State. Ortiz led off with a single through the right side before Gonzales drew a four-pitch walk to put runners on first and second. After a punchout from UNM’s Blake Walden, Tristan Carranza lined a single down the left-field line to score Ortiz from second.
With two outs, Eric Mingus plated Gonzales before Braden Williams scored Carranza to make it a 6-2 lead for NM State. Kevin Jimenez made it a 7-2 edge in favor of the Crimson & White on the team’s fifth hit of the inning to score Mingus before Chad Smith was able to stop the bleeding for UNM after coming in for Walden.
Alex Reyes took the mound in relief of Kelley in the bottom half of the fifth and surrendered a run before Aldo Fernandez relieved him of his duties. However, a wild pitch to his first batter followed by a grounder to second scored another run and cut the Aggie lead to 7-4.
The Lobo comeback continued in the next three frames, bookending a crooked number in the seventh frame with a pair of a straight numbers in the sixth and eighth to take the 8-7 lead.
With runners on first and second in the top-half of the ninth, Logan Ehnes battled a nine-pitch at-bat before making contact to get the ball just over the reach of the shortstop to score Gonzales. A weird play during that at-bat led to Carranza being called out at third for the second out before Jason Bush flied out to right to end the threat.
Keaton Graf was lights out for the Aggies in the bottom-half of the ninth and retired the Lobos in order to force extra innings.
Then, in the top of the 10th with runners on first and second, UNM’s Hayden Schilling bounced the first pitch to Tristan Peterson – which allowed Ortiz and Gonzales to advance to second and third without being contested before Peterson drew a four-pitch walk to load the bases with two outs in the 10th inning.
With the bases loaded, Carranza took a 1-1 pitch to the side and scored Ortiz on the hit-by-pitch for the 9-8 advantage. On the ensuing at-bat, drilled a ball to short that bounced into center scoring Gonzales and Peterson for the 11-8 lead. Mingus flied out to center in the next at-bat to end the inning, but not before the Aggies tacked on three runs to lead Battle of I-25 rival UNM.
Graf returned to the hill for NM State in the 10th frame, striking out his second batter. With runners on the corners for UNM, Gonzales covered a ton of real estate to grab the second out by the right-field line to hold the runner at third. A wild pitch put runners on second and third before Graf loaded the bases with a walk to UNM’s Reese O’Farrell. However, the redshirt senior was able to get ahead of the count, 0-2, against Brayden Merritt before forcing a lineout down the right-field line to end the game and record his first win of the season.
Five Aggies recorded a pair of hits Tuesday night at Santa Ana Star Field while Gonzales led the team with three RBI and scored three himself with a pair of walks. Meanwhile, Ortiz finished the night batting 2-of-4 from the plate and scored four runs with a pair of walks himself.
New Mexico State will not get much time to enjoy the victory as it heads to the Beehive State for a three-game series earlier than usual against Utah Valley beginning Thursday, April 18, at 6 p.m. (MT) on the WAC Digital Network due to Easter Sunday.