RENO, Nev. – All seeason University of New Mexico head coach Ray Birmingham has wanted his young freshmen and sophomores to play like juniors and seniors. It seems his wishes are coming true in the Mountain West Tournament.
Freshman Carl Stajduhar hit two home runs, doubled and drove in three, and sophomore Carson Schneider was magnificent for 7.1 innings to leave the Lobos (32-25) just one win away from a fifth straight championship season and a berth in the NCAA postseason. UNM defeated Fresno State 9-1 to advance to the championship game in the tournament against either the Bulldogs (31-27) or San Diego State.
"This is a very, very, very young team," Birmingham said. "It might be one of the youngest in the country. With the injuries we've had, and with the youth ... the thing that is really impressive with these kids is the fight they have at this point in time. It's unbelievable."
Stajduhar had gone six straight games without driving in a run, but his three RBIs gave him 53 on the year to pass Jordan Pacheco and set a new UNM freshman record.
"I felt good at the plate," he said. "I needed some revenge because the last time we played them I struck out three times, so I came in with a good approach and stayed in the big part of the field."
Stajduhar and Schneider had plenty of help Saturday. Lane Milligan, another sophomore, hit a two-run homer, Reece Weber, a redshirt freshman, added a two-run triple, and sophomore Danny Collier had two hits and a walk in his first game of the tournament while playing on virtually one leg. UNM has now outscored its opponents 36-5 in the first three games of the tournament.
As good as the Lobo bats have been in the tournament, though, the pitching has been just as good, if not better. In the best, longest and, to this point, most important start of his career, Schneider (5-1) set a career-high in strikeouts with five while allowing just one run on four hits and a walk. Seventy of his 100 pitches went for strikes.
"He threw strikes," Birmingham said. "He's a soft(-tossing) lefty, so it's hard to get timing on him. He pitched and let his stuff work."
At one point during the game, Schneider retired 13 straight Bulldogs as UNM steadily built its lead.
"I was just trying to get the first strike over the plate, get ahead in the count and work my other pitches off that," he said.
The Lobos will wait to see who their opponent will be, and when they will play. If the Aztecs defeat the Bulldogs, UNM will play for the championship at approximately 8 MT later Saturday night. However, if the Bulldogs win, the championship game will be Sunday at noon MT. Either way the game will be streamed on the Mountain West Network and broadcast on ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM.
"We need to stay focused," Stajduhar said. "We're not finished yet. It's baseball so anything can happen. We still have to go out and play hard in the next game."
Notes: In 21.0 innings so far in the tournament, UNM’s starting pitchers have a 2.57 ERA (six runs) … the Lobos have one other two-homer game this season by Luis Gonzalez at Wichita State on April 25 ... Jake Cole retired the final five outs to be just the fifth Lobo pitcher used in the tournament ... Stajduhar and Voss each scored three runs.