By Richard Stevens - Senior Writer/GoLobos.com -
In a way, the Lobos are exactly where they want to be and we're not simply talking about sitting on a spot in the 64-team NCAA Division I bracket that pits the upstart Lobos against the No. 1 seed - and the home team - in the Tempe, Ariz., regional: Arizona State on Friday, June 3 at 8 p.m. MT.
There are few other factors that just might favor the Lobos in this NCAA opening round game Friday in Tempe. Especially if the Lobos can throw out some dejà vu-type magic - the kind of magic that turned the Lobos into the undefeated champs of last week's Mountain West Tournament.
Doesn't it kind of look like New Mexico has its first-round opponents exactly where they want them? Consider:
* The Lobos went into San Diego as the lowest seed in the MWC tourney. They are the lowest seed in the Tempe opener, too. The Sun Devils are No. 1 followed by No. 2 Arkansas and No. 3 Charlotte.
* The Lobos have the worst record in Tempe, just like they did in San Diego. In fact, two teams in Tempe have fewer loses than the Lobos have wins. ASU is 36-16 and Charlotte is 42-14. Arkansas is 38-20 while the Lobos march into postseason at 20-39.
"But this is the postseason now and we're 4-0," said UNM's lone senior, Richard Olson.
Yeah, maybe the Lobos have the teams in the Tempe, regional looking past them. The Lobos stumbled into the MWC tourney riding a seven-game losing streak and were coming off a three-day hammering in Isotopes Park by TCU.
"We didn't want to get embarrassed again," Olson said, partly explaining UNM's turnaround in San Diego.
The Lobos used that TCU spanking to regroup, refocus and throw out that back-to-the-wall mentality that led to UNM playing the MWC tourney with a "nothing-to-lose mentality," explained Lobo pitcher, Bobby Mares.
"I think we'll go into Tempe the same way," continued Mares. "Nobody expected us to win in San Diego and I don't think anyone will be favoring us in Tempe."
No, the Lobos will not be favored in Tempe and won't be favored against the ASU team that swept UNM earlier in the season.
It also gets tougher in Tempe. ASU is kind of like TCU -- very good. Arkansas and Charlotte are better than the field UNM walked through in San Diego.
The Lobos also had a "payback" attitude against TCU and that attitude is there for ASU, too.
The Sun Devils sweep UNM 8-2, 7-5 and 8-1 Feb. 18-20 in Tempe, which was the season opener for Ray Birmingham's Lobos and the opening steps on that Marquis de Sade schedule Birmingham threw at his young pups.
It was a schedule that knocked the Lobos down plenty of times, but they kept getting up a better team. When the Lobos face ASU pitchers, those arms won't be anything different than what UNM saw against TCU, Oklahoma, Gonzaga, Arizona or even Oklahoma State. The Lobo bats have been steeled by fire.
When the Lobo pitchers go at ASU, Arkansas or Charlotte, well, they already have tossed their stuff at some of the top collegiate batters in the West.
"We'll go to Tempe with a lot of confidence," said UNM shortstop Alex Allbritton.
That confidence comes with throwing out four wins at the MWC tournament. That confidence comes from holding up a MWC championship trophy. That confidence comes from beating down TCU twice and holding the hot Horned Frogs to three runs and two runs.
At the 16 regionals, the four teams play a double-elimination tourney. The regionals will be held from Friday (June 3) to Monday (June 6). The eight super regional hosts will be named Monday (June 6). The 65th Men's College World Series begins play Saturday (June 18) at the new TD Ameritrade Park Omaha in Omaha, Nebraska.
The top eight seeds in this NCAA postseason dance on the diamond are Virginia (49-9), Florida (45-16), North Carolina (45-14), South Carolina (45-14), Florida State (42-17), Vanderbilt (47-10), Texas (43-15) and Rice (41-19.
Virginia has the most wins in the field and New Mexico has the fewest.
Yep, the Lobos are right where they want to be. Nobody sees the Lobos as a threat except the Lobos.
Ticket Information: All session passes are on sale Wednesday, June 1 through Sun Devil Tickets. Single game tickets go on sale May 31 and are available by calling (480) 727-0000.