Aggies continue Cinderella WAC Tournament run with run-rule win over UTRGV
Head coach Mike Kirby hasn't denied the obvious: the Aggies are playing with house money.
The expectations weren't high for New Mexico State heading into the Western Athletic Conference Tournament, especially since the Aggies hadn't won more than two consecutive games since conference play began and needed to win two games against the worst team in the West Division just to qualify for the tournament.
So through the first two games of the WAC Tournament, the Aggies haven't hesitated to let it rip. And turned into a conference tournament Cinderella team along the way.
NMSU, the West Division's No. 4 seed, continued an already improbable conference tournament run with a 10-0 run-rule win over No. 3 seed UT-Rio Grande Valley Thursday evening, just over 24 hours after the almost-last-place Aggies stunned Southwest Division champion Sam Houston State 3-1. It marked the first time this season NMSU has won consecutive games against a team with a winning record since beginning conference play and the second time this year the Aggies have run-ruled an opponent.
"The guys finally realized they didn't have anything to lose, and it's just baseball," Kirby said. "I walked out and said, 'You know how far the mound is from home plate? Sixty feet, six inches. You guys are actually really good at throwing the ball 60 feet and six inches. You know how far (apart) the bases are? Ninety feet. This yard is made for us.'"
Nolan Funke, Cal Villareal and Logan Gallina all homered in the first six innings. Ian Mejia struck out six in seven shutout innings of work. And Kirby was 2-for-2 on challenges before the end of the fifth inning.
If it could go right, it did go right.
"The baseball gods are shining on the guys right now. A guy is stealing on the play, our guy goes to cover, and they hit the ball right to him," Kirby said. "Sometimes it just goes your way. That's just how it goes."
The Aggies stretched the lead to 6-0 in the top of the seventh inning when Kevin Jimenez singled home Gunner Antillon. Then, three batters later (and after Gallina singled home two more runs), the Vaqueros dropped a routine fly ball in foul territory in right field that would have ended the inning. Tommy Tabak cashed in on UTRGV's mistake in his next at bat by doubling home two more runs to give NMSU a 10-0 lead.
NMSU managed to avoid their plagued and depleted bullpen, which has struggled for most of the season, thanks to Mejia's 83-pitch day. He allowed three hits in his complete game.
"There's still a lot of baseball out in front of us, but no one is putting the cart in front of the horse at all, because the year hasn't gone nearly like we thought it was gonna go," Kirby said. "I'm not assuming what will happen or not happen."
The Aggies advance to play the winner of UTRGV and Sacramento State Friday at 5 p.m. MDT. NMSU can advance to the WAC championship game with the victory, but would play Saturday at 10 a.m. MDT with a loss.
Kirby said he was unsure of the pitching rotation the remainder of the tournament with no remaining starting pitchers and a bullpen which has struggled at times.
"Some stuff is going to have to go right. The offense is going to have to pick us up, and someone's going to have to do something special," Kirby said. "But some cool things are happening, and I'm just excited for the guys. It's nice to see some stuff go their way."