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The Daily Wildcat

The Daily Wildcat

 

‘Cats claw back to win 12th straight

The University of New Mexico baseball team was able to contain the Pacific 10 Conference’s top offense for six innings, but the Wildcats’ bats came alive when they needed to, coming from behind and took the game from the Lobos, 10-4, for their 12th consecutive win.

With the game tied up at four heading into the bottom of the eighth inning, Collegiate Baseball’s No. 19 ranked Arizona (17-4) exploded for six runs thanks to a two-RBI, bases-loaded single from freshman Alex Mejia and eventually a grand slam by freshman outfielder Joey Rickard.

“”I can’t say enough about them,”” junior second baseman Bryce Ortega said of the Arizona freshmen. “”They just keep trucking away. They’ve really bought into what we’ve asked of them.

“”We can’t really tell who the freshmen are anymore,”” added Rickard, who finished the game 3-for-5 with a home run, five RBI and two runs scored. “”Everybody’s playing like they’re, you know, fifth-year seniors.””

Rickard, who won the Pac-10 Player of the Week two weeks ago, not only hit the grand slam to put the game away, but also tied the game at four with an RBI single in the bottom of the seventh. The freshman now leads Arizona in RBI with 31 and is tied in big flies with four in 21 starts in center field.

“”Joey’s been putting up a pretty good 21-game season so far,”” said head coach Andy Lopez. “”He’s done some pretty special things defensively. Offensively he’s had a couple big hits. I thought these guys would be good enough to play as freshmen and so far they’re proving that.””

The Wildcats trailed for the majority of the game, but found a way to claw back from a two-run deficit and tie things up at four in the bottom of the seventh inning thanks to the small-ball Arizona style of play.

“”We were only down two runs and we know when we’re not going to hit the ball that well we can small game,”” said Ortega, who finished the game 1-for-3 and drove in the run that cut the Arizona deficit to one.

“”We’re going to manufacture a few runs. We knew we weren’t quite out of the game at that point.””

Freshman reliever Nick Cunningham (2-0), who picked up the win, struck out the side in the top of the eighth, allowing the resilient Wildcats to execute their late-game heroics.

In fact, the entire Arizona bullpen held steady after starter Daniel Workman was yanked after allowing two runs on four walks and three hits in 2 1/3 innings. The combination of Cunningham, Bryce Bandilla, Grayson Adams, Tyler Hale and Cory Bernard tossed 6 2/3 innings of two-run ball, buying the Arizona bats some time to wake up.

“”Our (hitters) struggled a little bit early but I’m really proud of what Bandilla, Cunningham, Hale, Adams and Bernard did,”” Lopez said. “”We made some big pitches in bases loaded jams. We kept ourselves in the game early.””

The Wildcats, who were hitting .438 during the 11-game winning streak, while outscoring the opposition 128-35, collected only two runs on two hits against Lobos (14-8) starter Kenny Toves until the bottom of the seventh.

“”I thought there first guy was outstanding,”” Lopez said of Toves. “”Boy, he was pretty good.””

But the bats came around eventually, and Arizona collected 10 or more hits for the 19th time in 21 games this season and scored 10 or more runs for the fifth time in the last seven games.

Although it took some time, the offense once again hit the cover off the ball, the defense made big-time plays and the bullpen got huge outs in some tough situations en route to Arizona’s 12th consecutive victory.

“”I said it a long time ago before the season even began: I like this group,”” Lopez said. “”They compete, they’re real teachable and they have good character. They don’t get down; they just keep plugging away.””

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