It was hard to anticipate a lockdown pitching performance Sunday at Santa Ana Star Field.
The University of New Mexico got one.
Cody Dye and Nathaniel Garley combined to cool off Air Force’s hot-hitting lineup and the Lobos earned a 7-4 victory in the rubber-game of a three-game Mountain West series. Dye (2-3) worked seven impressive innings, and Garley finished the job to earn his first save of the season.
The two sophomore right-handers effectively controlled the Falcons, who had battered Lobos pitching for 21 runs and 32 hits in the first two games of the series. Air Force finished with eight hits and 10 strikeouts Sunday.
“I’m so impressed with our pitching staff right now,” Lobo coach Ray Birmingham said. “We simplified things today and just talked about nothing but hitting the catcher’s mitt. Cody Dye and Nate Garley went out and did it.”
With UNM’s bullpen left threadbare by the two previous games, Dye knew his team needed him to pitch deep into Sunday’s contest. He delivered, throwing a career-high 133 pitches and working out of a two-on, two-out jam in the seventh to preserve a 4-4 tie.
Asked how his arm felt afterward, Dye grinned.
“Tired,” he said, “but I feel good. We knew this was a big day because we needed a conference-series win. I had to keep us in it and give our hitters a chance.”
Dye was rock-solid, mixing his fastball and slider early and adding a cutter in the later innings. He walked two and matched a career high with eight strikeouts.
“He’s been commanding every pitch the last two starts,” UNM catcher Robby Campillo said of Dye. “He’s got so much confidence right now and we need him to be our Sunday guy.”
New Mexico’s hitters also delivered when it mattered. With the score tied at 4-4 in the seventh inning, Justin Watari smacked a two-out RBI double down the left-field line to give the Lobos the lead. Campillo added a two-run single in the eighth to give the home team breathing room.
The victory moved UNM (10-12-1, 4-5 Mountain West) into sole possession of fourth place in the league standings. Only the top four teams will advance to the Mountain West tournament in late May.
“This series was important because it keeps us in the hunt,” Birmingham said. “I think this team will figure it out by tournament time but we have to do enough to make sure we get there.”
The Lobos pulled out a dramatic 12-11, extra-inning win over the Falcons (9-14, 3-6) on Saturday and the momentum seemed to carry over to Sunday. Phillip Sikes’ two-run single highlighted a four-run first inning that gave UNM a 4-0 lead.
But Air Force starter Ryan Holloway then settled in, and the Falcons scored twice in the third inning and added two runs in the fifth. Rob Dau’s RBI double and a run-scoring single by Albuquerque Academy graduate Colby Brown tied the score and suddenly Dye seemed to be on the ropes.
“I was concerned that he might be getting tired,” Birmingham said. “But we were out of pitching and he told me he felt good, so we gave him a chance to prove it. He stepped up.”
Watari finished 3-for-5 to pace the Lobos’ 12-hit attack, while Campillo and Sikes each had two hits and drove in two runs. Saturday’s hero, Danny Collier, had another big day. Collier went 2-for-5 with a double off the center-field fence and made two impressive catches on the warning track in in left field. Collier hit a walk-off home run to complete a cycle Saturday.
The Lobos hit the road for their next series, which begins Thursday at San Diego State.
UNM returns home Monday to face Arizona, and plays host to Fresno State April 6-8.