June 1, 2012

CBI Live: #1 UCLA 3, #4 Creighton 0

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Lobos Blank Toreros

By Abbey Mastracco



LOS ANGELES – New Mexico head coach Ray Birmingham has been trying to sell his state on baseball for a long time. With the third-seeded Lobos’ 4-0 shutout of No. 2 seed San Diego Friday afternoon in Game 1 Los Angeles Regional, he may be well on his way.


Behind the big bat of D.J. Peterson and a stellar performance on the mound by Austin House (8-5), the Lobos (37-22) made all the right plays at the right moments, handing a 40-win team just its fourth shutout of the season.


House and Peterson both put up big numbers: House, the junior right hander, scattered six hits over seven innings and fanned five, while the third baseman Peterson went 4 for 4 with a two-run homer, his 17th of the season, in the ninth inning that effectively pushed the game out of reach for the Toreros (40-16).


It was a game that awed Birmingham, who was arguably the most excited person in the State of New Mexico after the win, fitting in quite nicely in shiny, happy Los Angeles.


“It was a great baseball game, that’s what college baseball is all about,” Birmingham said. “That’s as good as it gets – San Diego. They wowed me, they played the game absolutely right; they pitched right.”


The man on the mound for San Diego managed to turn a few heads.


Head coach Rich Hill, never one to shy away taking a risk, took a big one by throwing All-American closer Michael Wagner instead of staff ace Paul Sewald.


Through three innings, the risk looked to have been paying off, but Wagner got into trouble in the fourth, giving up two runs.


Hill stayed coy on the decision to start the NCAA saves leader.


“I was in the dugout for the first few innings saying to myself, ‘Thank God we started Wagner,’” Hill said. “But then he got tired, he was up around 90 pitches.”


The closer, who has gone for long outings a handful of times this season, first showed signs of fatigue when he gave up a leadoff single to Peterson in the fourth. After Peterson advanced on the sacrifice, Josh Melendez ripped a double to the left-center gap to easily score Peterson. With runners on the corners two batters later, Kyle Stiner laid down the bunt to score Melendez on the safety squeeze, giving the Lobos a 2-0 lead.


The two runs would be the only ones that Wagner would allow, as he was pulled with one out in the sixth. While it was not the worst outing Wagner had ever seen, he ultimately was tagged for the loss and will be unavailable for Saturday’s game.


The Toreros squandered the few opportunities they had but still managed to hold the Lobos to just the pair of runs until the ninth when Peterson pulled a 2-2 pitch deep to left, just barely clearing the foul pole for a two-run bomb.


“The first pitch my coach told me, ‘Swing for it, let me see what you’ve got.’ So I swung and missed,” Peterson said. “I was at two strikes, but then he left it up and in and I got a hold of it.


“Honestly I was not trying to get that out, I was trying to go to right field and it worked out good.”


The victory has New Mexico talking a big game. A deep run is on the minds of the Lobos and don’t tell them it’s not possible.


“I think we’re all pretty confident and the numbers are true: Just look at what we did at TCU this year,” Peterson said. “If they’re questioning it, just come play us at our place next year. We’d love the challenge.”


New Mexico will resume play Saturday when it faces No. 1 UCLA; San Diego faces Creighton in the hopes of staying alive another day.