Sac State's five-run first inning proves too much for New Mexico State in series opener
LAS CRUCES — Lyle Hibbits' first pitch was a ball. His second pitch was a strike. And his third shot into the gap in left-center field for a leadoff double.
New Mexico State's last-minute senior starter's other 30 first-inning pitches didn't fare much better.
Two more Sacramento State batters doubled in a pair of runs. Another stole home on a wild pitch. And two more Hornet baserunners scored on an infield error with two outs.
The Aggies trailed 5-0 before Hibbits had time to blink. Junior right hander Cam Blazek could only hold the margin when he came on in relief in the second inning.
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Sac State's (14-15, 6-7) five-run first inning was too much for NMSU (11-15, 3-10) to overcome in Friday's 6-5 home loss. The Aggies strung together a handful of runs in the middle innings, but their six hits, and Blazek's five scoreless innings in relief, weren't enough to keep enough to keep NMSU from dropping the 12th of its last 14 games.
"I was really proud of the pitching, the guys that came in out of the bullpen," head coach Mike Kirby said. "Hats off to the guys that came in. The offense pounded away. ...It would have been easy to cash that game in and get 10-run ruled in seven innings, and they really stayed with it."
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The Aggie bats didn't catch up to Sacramento State starter Eli Saul's 97-mile-per-hour fastball until sophomore third baseman Gunner Antillon mashed his first home run of the season to lead off the fourth inning. NMSU pushed across a pair of runs in the bottom of the fifth before junior second baseman Kevin Jimenez struck out looking.
The Aggies threatened again an inning later trailing 5-3 when runners reached second and third with one out and loaded the bases with two outs but couldn't push a run across. Junior shortstop Brandon Dieter's solo home run in the bottom of the eighth was the final run of the night. He was one of two Aggie batters to reach base after the sixth inning.
The Aggies finished with six total hits.
"It wasn't our night tonight, and we'll see what we can bring tomorrow," Kirby said. "Everything we want is still in front of us. We want to get into the conference tournament. Winning the league championship is probably out the window, but to get in the conference tournament, all of that stuff is still in front of us. ...I still love this team and feel good about them, and just want to play our best baseball at the end."
The Hornets added an insurance run in the final inning to bolster the lead. Junior designated hitter Ryan Grabosch doubled home a runner with two outs, but Dieter grounded back to the pitcher to end the game.
"We believe we're a really good baseball team. If you watch our games versus just looking at the stat lines, it's pretty obvious that we're in every game. If not, we've made some little mistakes here and there," Blazek said.
The Aggies return to action Saturday at noon for the second game of the three-game Western Athletic Conference series.
Stephen Wagner is a sports reporter for the Las Cruces Sun-News. He can found on Twitter at @stephenwag22 and reached at SWagner@lcsun-news.com.
This article originally appeared on Las Cruces Sun-News: Sac State's five-run first inning too much for NMSU baseball in series opener