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Lobos Split DH to Close Out Weekend at Air Force

by Connor Gilbert

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. – New Mexico Baseball leaned on a four-RBI outing from Will Asby and a great start from RHP Brett Russell to tie up the series with a 6-5 win in Game One of doubleheader action on the road at Air Force, but the Falcons erupted for 18 hits and four homers and fended off a Lobo rally late to win Game Two 18-7 and take the three-game weekend series.

The Lobos (19-19, 9-9 MW) end the week at .500 overall and in conference play going into a midweek rematch with Texas Tech (28-13, 11-9 Big 12) in Lubbock on Tuesday and a home series against San Diego State (11-28, 5-13 MW) at Santa Ana Star Field April 26-28.  After an eight-game skid dropped them to 16-17 ahead of their series finale vs. Fresno State last Sunday, they’ve won three of five — with two being against the top two MW teams in the league standings and RPI –and are batting .314 as a team with at least eight hits in each of their last seven with double-digit hits in four. Over that eight-game losing streak, UNM batted .289 as a team and struck out 9.0 times per nine innings — they’re only punching out an average of 5.05 times per nine since snapping it on Sunday.

UNM remains in third place in the league standings at 9-9 with four series left to play — 3.5 games behind first-place Fresno State (14-7) and 1.5 games behind the Falcons (10-7).

UNM largely stifled Air Force’s bats in Game One, holding them scoreless for five consecutive innings after a two-run homer from AFA’s Jay Thomason opened the scoring in the third. The Lobos doubled them up on hits 12-6 and plated the next six runs of the game thanks to 3-for-5 outings from Will Asby (2B, HR, 2 R, 4 RBI) – who slammed his eighth homer this season and first since March 23 – as well as Tye Wood (3B, 1 RBI) and Jake Holland (1 R, 1 RBI). Wood’s triple came with two outs in the fourth, getting the Lobos on the board after falling behind two in the prior frame — the Lobos produced eight of their 12 hits in the five frames following. A pair of two-out home runs from Air Force in the bottom of the frame broke up both streaks, but the Falcons didn’t get any closer after Asby collected a deep fly to right to end the game then and there.

Russell improved to 3-0 with his best performance on the mound this season, holding the Falcons to just two earned runs while scattering four hits – one homer and three singles – across six innings at a high-elevation ballpark that has seen a lot of balls fly. The senior captain didn’t allow more than one hit in any single frame of work, striking out three and walking two.

RHP Wil Bannister picked up his third save in a row with three innings of relief, holding Air Force scoreless until a pair two-out homers – the only two hits he allowed – yielded three runs in the bottom of the ninth threatened to change the complexion of the game entirely. He induced a flyout to end the game without any further damage, finishing with one walk and one strikeout while retiring nine of 11 batters faced. In his last eight outings (14.2 IP), Bannister has posted a 1.84 ERA and held opponents to a .104 batting average, surrendering just five hits in total in that span.

Highlights from Game One of the DH.

In Game Two, Reed Spenrath homered in nearly the exact same situation as in Friday’s Series Opener – a solo shot to lead off the top of the second after Air Force plated two runs in the bottom of the first – to get UNM back within one. But the Falcons bats remained hot after their ninth-frame outburst in Game One as they plated 12 runs over the next four frames while holding the Lobos to just a three-spot in the fourth. Another three-spot on three hits and two walks for the Lobos in the seventh looked like it might keep them from getting run-ruled when they trimmed the deficit to seven, but Air Force pushed across four more in the bottom of the frame to end the game early.

Spenrath, Wood and Konner Kinkade all finished with two hits each and the Lobos cracked double-digit hits again, but UNM couldn’t stop the bleeding on defense as Air Force scored in each of the first five frames. Spenrath’s second-inning no-doubter made it three straight games in which the Lobos have gone yard at least once – they’ve done so in five of their last six. After getting the win with a shutdown seven-inning performance against Fresno State last Sunday, RHP David Lopez was roughed up in the start today, striking out four and only walking one but allowing 10 runs — nine earned — on nine hits over three frames. LHP Jaren Jackson (1.0 IP, 4 H, 3 ER, 1 BB, 1 K), RHP Andrew Neil (1.0 IP, 1 H, 1 ER, 0 BB, 1 K), RHP Wyatt Hardy (1.1 IP, 2 H, 2 ER, 0 BB, 1 K) and LHP Justin Still (0.0 IP [3 BF], 2 H, 2 ER, 1 BB, 0 K) took over the rest of the way.

Neil showed some progress in his one inning on the mound as he works his way back into the rotation following an injury just before the start of the season — he didn’t allow a free pass for the first time this season after walking nine across a total of 2.0 IP in his first three outings. The junior righty responded to a leadoff triple from Preseason MW Player of the Year Sam Kulasingam with three outs in succession, allowing one run to score on a sac fly in the next at-bat but picking up a strikeout and inducing a grounder to Devon Dixon at short to hold the Falcons below two runs in a frame for the first time in that game.

Highlights from Game Two of the DH.

Tye led all Lobos who appeared in both games in batting average (.714) with a 5-for-7 day that included two doubles and a triple, driving in two runs. Will Asby’s four RBI – all in Game One – led the day for UNM, with Reed Spenrath bringing in two more on a double and a homer and Konner Kinkade doing the same with a pair of base knocks. Jake Holland took a break from mashing big flies and tried his hand at some small ball for a 4-for-9 day at the plate, connecting on four singles and driving in one run while scoring two.

 In total, UNM batted .344 as a team in Sunday’s action with four doubles and two homers, but the Falcons mashed seven homers and four doubles – with four of those homers and all four two-baggers in the second game – while batting .348.

UNM heads to Lubbock, Texas on Tuesday in hopes of avenging its home loss to the Red Raiders (28-13, 11-9 Big 12) earlier in the year – first pitch is set for 1 p.m. MT, with streaming available via ESPN+ and live stats available at Follow @UNMLoboBaseball on socials for promotional/marketing and gameday updates, behind-the-scenes content and more.