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Peerman's Power Rankings: 10 best things in New Mexico sports this week (May 26)

May 26—Welcome to Peerman's Power Rankings (PPR), the 10 athletes, teams and story lines that have Journal sports editor Lucas Peerman's attention. Have a suggestion, complaint or compliment? Email lpeerman@abqjournal.com or contact me on X @LucasPeerman.

PPR, normally published weekly, will be transitioning to once a month during the summer. Look for the next PPR the last week of June.

10. Pascal Siakam

The former New Mexico State star (2013-16) helped lead the Indiana Pacers to the Eastern Conference Finals. Siakam is averaging a team-leading 21.8 points per game and 7.4 rebounds per game in 16 playoff games as the sixth-seeded Pacers upset the injury-riddled No. 3 Milwaukee Bucks and No. 2 New York Knicks. Siakam upped his scoring to 24.7 ppg in the ECF, though the top-seeded Boston Celtics hold a nearly insurmountable 3-0 lead. The Pacers likely aren't long for these playoffs but Siakam — who won a title as a role player with Toronto in 2019 and later became an NBA all-star before being traded to Indiana earlier this year — has transitioned nicely into a featured role with a team that will be a contender for years.

9. Coco Montes

The Isotopes, in stumbling out to a 16-35 record, have not had much to celebrate on the field. But Montes, a fan favorite, will always draw a cheer and is on a heater of late. He's reached base twice in 17 of 21 games in May and in his last 12 games heading into Sunday he was hitting .440 with 13 RBIs. Also, his .358 average is second-highest in all of Triple-A and he leads the Pacific Coast League in OBP (.447) and hits (62).

8. Gentleman's game

You know cricket, aka the "gentleman's game," right? The American view of the sport is "overseas" baseball, with derivative rules that extend games for days — or something like that. But cricket is the "original" base ball, having been played for centuries in Britain and her colonies. Americans exported cricket, along with taxes on teas and other things British, back in the day but the sport became a hit in nearly every other corner of the world. Cricket is making a comeback in the U.S. as the country is host to the Twenty20 World Cup (T20 being a version of the sport). This past weekend, the Cricket Club of the Southwest brought a tournament to Balloon Fiesta Park in Albuquerque, which has PPR bowled over. Questioning why cricket is on this list? Don't be a sticky wicket, hit it for six and enjoy a few good innings.

7. Andrea Howard

MLB's Home Run Derby X is coming to Isotopes Park on Aug. 23. The modified home run derby event features baseball and softball players hitting dingers — a lot of them, as many as 150 a night. Retired major leaguers Manny Ramirez, Nick Swisher, Ian Desmond and Jonny Gomes got the HRDX invite to Albuquerque, but the crowd favorite that night may be Howard, a local softball legend. She won a 2012 Little League World Series championship, a 2017 New Mexico state championship with La Cueva, is the all-time home run leader at UNM and in the Mountain West Conference and was an Olympian with Team Italy in 2021. The HRDX hit it out of the park by including a player of Howard's caliber.

6. Nick Gonzales

The Pirates second baseman went 0-4 in an 8-1 loss to the Braves on Sunday, an aberration in what has been an extraordinary couple of weeks. In the 12 games before Sunday, the first-round pick in the 2020 draft out of New Mexico State was hitting .333 (15 of 45) with 12 RBIs. That hot stretch has Pittsburgh fired up about their prospect.

5. Nathaniel Yazzie

This Grants native, a member of the Navajo Nation, is on the Santa Ana Thunder of The Basketball League. The Thunder wrapped up their inaugural season this weekend, splitting two home games against the Wichita Skykings, to finish 8-12 and out of the playoffs. Yazzie, a 6-foot-1, 165-pound point guard didn't see a lot of minutes to start the season but he wasn't going to let that discourage him, telling the Journal in an interview last week, "you only lose if you quit." Yazzie played a season-high 10 and 11 minutes in those final games, knocking down his first three of the year in the process. It may not be much, but to a player who didn't even get off the bench in the majority of his team's games, it's a chance earned through hard work and perseverance — and that's a story worth telling.

4. Monster Milam

One of the most highly touted baseball recruits out of Las Cruces, Steven Milam chose to attend LSU in part to follow in the footsteps of another enchanted ballplayer, Albuquerque's Alex Bregman, a member of the Tigers from 2013-2015. Milam, nicknamed "Monster" is doing a pretty good impersonation of Bregman, now an All-Star third baseman for the Astros. At second base, Milam made the All-SEC freshman team this year and recorded the biggest hit in the Tigers' season Saturday. LSU fell behind 8-0 to South Carolina early in a SEC playoff game. The Tigers clawed their way back to send it to extra innings, but in the 10th the Gamecocks took a one-run lead on catcher's interference and balk calls that fired up LSU coach Jay Johnson so much that he was ejected. Down 11-10 with one on in the bottom of the 10th, Milam stepped to the plate. He looked to assistant coach Nate Yeskie and thought he got the bunt sign. He didn't swing. Strike. Again, Milam looked to the bench and got what he thought was a bunt sign. Then, he heard the bench coaches tell him to "just hit." So, he did. Milam sent the next pitch over the wall for the walk-off two-run homer, sending the Tigers into the SEC championship game against Tennessee (The Vols won 4-3).

3. Habtom Samuel

UNM's freshman sensation continues to win just about every long-distance race he enters. This week, it was the 5,000 meters and 10,000 meters at the NCAA West Region Preliminaries in Fayetteville Ark. The wins ensure he'll compete for a national title in both events at the NCAA Outdoor Championships June 5-8 in Eugene, Ore. UNM's sports information department said in a recent news release that Samuel has "racked up accomplishments at a pace unseen by any true freshman in UNM history." Among his accolades this year: fastest collegiate mile ever at the Albuquerque Convention Center; 11th-fastest indoor 5,000m in NCAA history; second-fastest outdoor 10,000m in NCAA history.

2. NM United

United, 7-2-1, is atop the Western Conference in the United Soccer League Championship and is in the quarterfinals of the U.S. Open Cup. The Curse has to be feeling pretty good about their Black and Yellow, especially after nine straight home wins (eight at Isotopes Park and one in Rio Rancho) dating back to last season. This week, United beat New York City FC II in the Big Apple to set up a U.S Open Cup date with MLS Los Angeles FC in July. And a few days after the NYCFCII win, NMU held on for a home victory over San Antonio FC. United is 5-0 in May, recording three USLC wins and two Open Cup victories, including over MLS Real Salt Lake. Give this team its flowers.

1. Josh Kerr

The former Lobo (2015-18) and Scotland native ran a 3:45.34 mile to win the Bowerman Mile at Prefontaine Classic in Eugene, Ore., on Saturday. What's so special about that number? Well, it established the world-leading time. Also, no Brit has run a mile that fast. Ever. And would you believe this was Kerr's debut in the Prefontaine, in a race so stacked the New York Times alluded to it as the "Mile of the Century"? Believe it. Kerr's winning strategy seemed to include an early kick toward the finish line. "I think it scared the coaching staff because they told me specifically not to do that," Kerr told the New York Times. "And I said, 'If I feel like it's time, I'm gonna go.' ... I don't really listen to other people when it comes to race strategy. I'm going to go with my instinct." Sheesh. To the other Olympians trying to outkick him in Paris, good luck.

Honorable mention

UNM baseball: The Lobos' first Mountain West Conference Tournament appearance since 2017 turned out to be a dud as the Lobos went 0-2. Tournament aside, the Lobos had a remarkable regular season, landing three players on the All-MWC First Team — catcher Jake Holland, first baseman Reed Spenrath and outfielder Will Asby. Holland shared Tony Gwynn MWC Player of the Year honors with Air Force's Jay Thomason.

NMJC women's golf: A week after the New Mexico Junior College men's team won the NJCAA national title, the women's team took the course at Duran Country Club in Melbourne, Fla., for their chance at a natty. The women finished fifth. Not bad for Thunderbirds women's golf team in its first year ever.

UNM golf: Two years, two national championship appearances (meaning one of the best 30 teams in country). Well done, coach Jake Harrington. The team didn't make the Top 15 cut in the tournament either year, but third time's a charm, right coach?

Meet the sports editor

Albuquerque Journal Sports Editor Lucas Peerman will be visiting a different coffee house the last Wednesday of every month to meet with community members. This is an opportunity to discuss in person what you'd like to see in a sports section, or to just talk sports. This month, meet Lucas at Humble Coffee Downtown, 505 Central Ave NW Suite C, from 10 to 11 a.m. Wednesday, May 29. Look for the little guy.