Although there is snow on the Sandia Mountains and the calendar reads the middle of February, it is officially baseball season as the University of New Mexico baseball team kicks off the 2018 season against Oregon State today as part of the College Baseball Classic in Surprise, Arizona.
The reigning Mountain West Conference regular-season champions are once again favored in a preseason coaches poll to finish first, despite losing multiple key seniors to graduation. With top hitters from a season ago Luis Gonzalez and Carl Stajduhar moving on, the Lobos will be led in 2018 by a trio of 2018 preseason All-MWC players.
Fifth-year senior Danny Collier will play outfield and designated hitter for head coach Ray Birmingham while providing experience and leadership for a young roster that includes 18 freshmen and seven sophomores. Collier hit .328 with three home runs and 51 runs batted in for the Lobos while hitting a ridiculous .396 in 24 MWC games.
Joining Collier in the outfield is junior Jared Mang, a 5-10, 205-pound native of Los Alamos, New Mexico. Mang led the Lobos in batting with a .373 average and 90 hits on his way to finished as a CoSIDA Academic All-American and a first-team All-Mountain West selection.
The lone UNM pitcher on the preseason All-MWC list is junior Christian Tripp. The towering 6-7 native of Spring, Texas, notched six saves and 26 strikeouts in 28 innings of work last season. Although his 5.14 ERA was a bit inflated, he tied for the conference in saves and was a critical part of the bullpen for Birmingham last year.
The Lobos will have their hands full today against the No.2 ranked Oregon State Beavers, a talented team coming off an appearance in the 2017 College World Series. The Beavers are unanimous picks to finish first once again in the Pac-12 after a school-record 56-win season in 2017.
Pat Casey’s potent offense is led by infielder Nick Madrigal and outfielders Preston Jones and Steven Kwan. Madrigal led Oregon State with 90 hits and a .380 batting average, while Jones posted an impressive .571 slugging percentage in limited action in 2017.
Senior left-handed pitcher Luke Heimlich will likely share the Sunday starting job with redshirt Junior Sam Tweedt. Casey used a bullpen by committee for save opportunities last season, with No.38 Jake Mulholland leading the team with six saves in 2017.
First pitch is set for 1:00 pm MT. Be sure to catch the game live and in crystal-clear FM stereo on ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM, with voice of the Lobos, Robert Portnoy on the call. You can also stream the game online at www.1017theteam.com, or on the ESPN Radio 101.7 The TEAM ap.