The number-one seed New Mexico State baseball team played its first game of the Western Athletic Conference Tournament against Utah Valley on Thursday night at Hohokam Stadium. Behind another great outing from the Aggie starter and a late surge by the offense, NM State defeated UVU, 7-1, to advance to the semifinals.
A pitcher’s duel opened the contest and remained for the majority of the game with Utah Valley (15-40) and NM State (38-15) being held scoreless through six and a half innings. Aggie ace Brock Whittlesey tossed a pair of one-two-three frames and saw the Wolverines strand five runners, including three in scoring position through the first seven innings.
UVU starter Paxton Schultz answered this strong performance from Whittlesey to open the game as well. NM State stranded three runners and managed two hits over its trips to the plate at the end of the sixth. Then in the bottom of the seventh the Aggie offense got on the board.
Logan Ehnes was the first runner on in the bottom half after beating out an infield single grounded to second base. Tristan Peterson then stepped to the plate and did what he has done all season; put a score up on the board. The first baseman crushed a double deep into left field that plated one run giving the Crimson & White a 1-0 lead into the next inning.
In the top of the eighth, the Wolverines then looked to put the Aggies into a jam. Runners stood on the corners with just one out and forced NM State to bring in a reliever. Keaton Graf came in from the bullpen and did not falter as he held the opposition scoreless getting a punch out and a fielder’s choice to end the frame and keep NM State ahead by one run.
Then in the home half of the eighth, the Aggies added to their lead. Braden Williams led off the frame with a base knock through the right side before he was moved into scoring position on a sacrifice bunt. WAC Player of the Year Joey Ortiz then showed why he deserved that honor lacing an RBI single up the middle moving the Aggies advantage to 2-0.
After Ortiz stole second and advanced to third on a wild pitch, NM State saw a base on balls and a hit by pitch load the bases with just one out forcing UVU to bring in its second reliever of the inning. Ehnes was the first batter the new pitcher faced and he made it tough battling with a full count before a ball four walked in the next run for the Aggies and kept the bases juiced. Peterson then sent a sacrifice fly deep into right field to plate one more run and leave men on the corners with two outs.
A runner stood 90 feet from home and the biggest pinch-hit at-bat of the season stepped to the plate. After battling back from injury, Caleb Henderson made his first appearance since March 9 and the team captain came through with an RBI single into right to expand the lead. Eric Mingus then roped a triple through the gap in right that scored the final two runs of the inning to put the NM State advantage at 7-0 into the ninth.
In the final inning, the Wolverines looked to mount a comeback and avoid the loser’s bracket. The opposition got the bases loaded with one out and NM State went to the pen. The reliever came in and allowed an infield groundout to score one run, but that would be all as the Aggies won their quarterfinal matchup, 7-1, notching the first win for a one-seed in the WAC Tournament since 2016.
Remaining perfect on the mound in Mesa, Whittlesey picked up the win and moved his WAC Tournament numbers to 19.0 scoreless innings with 15 strikeouts and just one walk allowed dating back to 2018.
The New Mexico State baseball team now heads to the semifinals of the WAC Tournament to take on conference rival Grand Canyon on Friday, May 24, at 8 p.m. MT back inside of Hohokam Stadium.