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SAN DIEGO, Calif. – The University of New Mexico Lobos scratched out of 1-0 and 3-1 deficits to defeat the Brigham Young Cougars 5-4 Tuesday in the opening game of the 2011 Mountain West Conference baseball tournament.
The Lobos used a solo shot by pinch hitter Jacob Nelson in the top of the ninth inning to grab their first lead of the game, a lead that didn’t hold. Nelson also walked and scored in the 11th inning to give UNM a 5-4 lead that did hold up.
It was a dramatic 5-4 comeback win for the No. 6 seed Lobos, who entered the 2011 MWC tourney needing a string of upsets in order to claim the 2011 title and the automatic NCAA bid.
Nelson’s homer in the ninth inning following a big two-run rally in the eighth allowed UNM to rally for the win and advance to tonight’s 8 p.m. contest with TCU’s Horned Frogs, the MWC regular-season champion.
TCU is coming off a three-game sweep of the Lobos at Isotopes Park.
“It was a wing and a prayer,” said Lobo manager Ray Birmingham of Tuesday’s comeback win. “I was proud the way the kids competed and fought back and that’s what they have done all year. It’s been a challenging season, but these Lobos never quit fighting. They keep coming after people and I’m so proud of that.”
The Cougars carried a 3-1 lead into the eighth inning before UNM battled back to knot the score at 3-3.
BYU scratched out a single run in the bottom of the ninth to force extra innings, but UNM would prevail and Nelson would be the hero, if not the only one.
Following Nelson’s walk in the 11th, Alex Allbritton pushed him to second base with a sacrifice bunt. Nelson scored on a single up the middle by Trey Porras to hand the Lobos just their second lead of the game.
BYU got out of the inning with a double play, but the Cougars wouldn’t be able to tie the game up in their final at-bat.
The loss drops BYU into the losers’ bracket while UNM faces the daunting task of beating a TCU team and a well-rested Horned Frogs’ pitching staff.
UNM starting pitcher Rudy Jaramillo went a solid eight innings before giving way to Gera Sanchez in the ninth.
Jaramillo allowed seven hits and struck out nine Cougars. Sanchez got the win in relief.
“I was just trying to throw strikes and throw quality pitches,” Jaramillo said. “I was able to hit the outside corner.”
The Lobo win over the Cougars is the first in a string of upsets UNM needs to claim the 2011 tourney title.
It gets tougher Wednesday against TCU, a team with 40 wins and a preseason No. 1 pick in several polls. If UNM had lost Tuesday’s game to BYU, it would’ve had to win six straight games in order to pick up the MWC title.
DJ Peterson also had a big game for the Lobos, going 4-of-5 with two RBI. Kyle Stiner scored a run and drove in a run.
Nelson had one hit and two RBI and Porras produced the game-winning RBI that scored Nelson from second base in the 11th frame.
UNM had 14 hits to nine hits for BYU.
Sanchez went three innings in relief, striking out five Cougars.
UNM is now 17-39 on the year.