Mojo Risin’ For New Mexico, Missouri Baseball Teams

May 27, 2011
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Bubble Teams Not Fans Of Lobos, Tigers…

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Heading into this week’s Mountain West Conference Baseball Tournament there was no reason to be thinking highly of No. 6 seed New Mexico. Someone forgot to tell head coach Ray Birmingham.

Ray Birmingham

The Lobos had lost seven straight games heading into the MWC Tourney, but the first four of those losses came at Oklahoma and the last three setbacks were to conference rival TCU. Both of those teams have already eclipsed 40 wins this season as they shoot to get back to Omaha after trips there last year.

Birmingham’s Lobos have been seemingly unfazed by their late season misfortunes since arriving in San Diego, and now find themselves one win away from a return trip to the NCAA tournament. New Mexico (19-39) has beaten #3 seed BYU, #1 seed TCU and #2 seed Utah in succession to advance to Friday’s MWC Championship game against either TCU or Utah.

“This team has been through a lot,” Birmingham said after Thursday’s win over the Utes. ” There is a method to my madness and we’re getting there.”

That “madness” has included a brutal schedule this season after Birmingham guided New Mexico to its first NCAA bid in nearly five decades in 2010. The Lobos started the season by dropping three games at Arizona State (a fourth game was rained-out). Their non-conference slate also included games against Oklahoma State, Arizona, Texas Tech, Gonzaga and Oklahoma, finishing just 1-17 against those teams which are all in the NCAA conversation this weekend.

The Lobos also faced TCU, which was a preseason #1 team in some polls, six times (going 1-5) in conference play during the regular season.

“A lot of blogs said we had the hardest schedule in the nation and I believe we did,” Birmingham said after his team’s tournament win over TCU. “We’re not afraid to face the best now. We know how to face the best.”

New Mexico, a team with an RPI of 158 entering the week, is just the second No. 6 seed to advance to the championship game of the MWC Tournament. The only other team to do it was Utah in 2009. The Utes claimed the title that year.

TCU and Utah play at 6 p.m. ET Friday. New Mexico faces the winner at 10 p.m. A Lobo win would give them the tournament title and automatic NCAA bid. If the TCU/Utah winner beats UNM they would play an “if necessary” winner take all game on Saturday at 4 p.m. ET. All games are televised by the Mtn. Network and CBS College Sports (channels 616 and 613, respectively on DirecTV).

Missouri players celebrate after Thursday's win (courtesy Big 12).

Missouri is another team that is causing migraines for NCAA bubble teams this week. The Tigers brought just a 24-30 record into this week’s Big 12 Tournament, but they won four of their last five conference series to close the regular season. Those wins all came against teams with higher seeds in this week’s tournament: Texas A&M (2), Baylor (5), Kansas State (6), and Texas Tech (7).

Two teams Missouri did not beat during the regular season were No. 1 seed Texas and No. 4 seed Oklahoma State. The Tigers dropped all six match-ups to the Longhorns and Cowboys in back-to-back weekends at the start of April, but their fortunes changed in rematches this week in Oklahoma City.

Missouri knocked-off top-seeded Texas 6-4 on Wednesday and then held-off OSU 6-5 on Thursday to advance to the tournament semifinals. Missouri led Oklahoma State 5-0, only to see the Cowboys score five runs over the last two innings to tie the game before Eric Garcia‘s walk-off hit with one out in the bottom of the ninth inning.

“I’m really proud of these guys, not just this weekend, but the last five or six weeks,” Mizzou head coach Tim Jamieson said after his team’s fifth walk-off win of the season. “These guys read the blogs and read the websites much more than I do. They know we have to finish above .500 or win the tournament. We can’t finish above .500, so it’s pretty simple math.”

The Tigers now have Friday off and wait until Saturday morning at 10 ET to face the winner of Friday’s Texas-Oklahoma State elimination game. The eight-team Big 12 Tourney is formatted similarly to the College World Series, so if Mizzou wins Saturday it moves on to Sunday’s championship game (Texas A&M is 2-0 in the other four-team pool). If the Texas/OSU winner beats Missouri Saturday morning there will be a rematch that afternoon.

The Big 12 Championship game is Sunday afternoon at 2 p.m. ET on Fox Sports Regional Networks.

Elsewhere…

Auburn and Georgia were both teams with work to do to heading into the SEC Tournament, but the bubble has already burst for one of those teams. Georgia (29-29) eliminated Auburn (29-29) in more ways than one with Thursday’s 3-2 victory.

Since a team must finish above .500 to receive an NCAA at-large bid, Auburn’s season is now done. With that in mind, Georgia must not only beat South Carolina on Friday, but they would also have to beat Florida Saturday afternoon to meet the above .500 requirement. South Carolina fell 7-2 to Vanderbilt Thursday night, while Florida is 2-0 with wins over Mississippi State and Alabama.

The fact that Georgia and Auburn could both finish below .500 after qualifying for the SEC field could indirectly help the at-large cases of two teams that didn’t make it to Hoover. Three-time defending SEC champion LSU (36-20 overall) is home this week with an RPI of 23, while Ole Miss (30-25) awaits selection Monday with an RPI of 40.
The only realistic shot the Big East had to get two teams in the NCAA Tournament was for someone other than Connecticut to win its conference tourney. That’s closer to happening after defending champion St. John’s (34-18 and this year’s #2 seed) downed Pittsburgh 6-4 Thursday to improve to 2-0, while UConn (40-16-1) was upset 4-3 by #4 seed Seton Hall (31-23) to fall into the elimination bracket.

The Huskies (38 RPI) are still in good shape for an at-large bid, but anything other than a conference tournament title would all but kill any chances of hosting a regional for a second straight year.
Houston pulled-off its second straight upset at the Conference USA Tournament Thursday. The No. 6 seed Cougars downed No. 2 Southern Mississippi 7-6 a day after downing No. 3 East Carolina 8-5. As we reported earlier this week, Southern Miss. is without two of its top three starting pitchers, Geoffrey Thomas and Jonathon Thompson, who are suspended for academic reasons. Houston (27-30) now faces No. 7 Tulane (30-26).
It didn’t quite match Wednesday’s 20-inning marathon between Western Carolina and Elon in the SoCon Tournament, but Georgia Tech outlasted North Carolina State 6-5 in 15 innings Thursday at the ACC Tourney. Yellow Jacket Matt Hyde stole home in the top of the 15th to give his team the win in the longest game in ACC Tournament history. Georgia Tech, NC State, Clemson and Florida State all are 1-1 in Pool B.

No. 8 seed Arkansas-Little Rock has clinched spot in Sunday’s Sun Belt Championship game. UALR (22-32) has wins over No. 1 Troy and No. 4 Western Kentucky.

 

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