By Dave Wagner: Freedom Newspapers
PORTALES — Eastern New Mexico University baseball coach Phil Clabaugh has already accomplished something he hadn’t in his previous 13 seasons at the helm — start the season with two victories.
Now the Greyhounds, who won the first two in their season-opening three-game series at Sul Ross State last weekend before the finale was rained out, take aim at Colorado School of Mines in their home-opening series this weekend at Greyhound Field.
The teams meet in a pair of seven-inning games on Saturday starting at 1 p.m. — Clabaugh said the first game may be changed to nine innings — before concluding the series with a nine-inning contest at 1 p.m. on Sunday.
Mines has struggled mightily in recent seasons, but the Orediggers opened by taking three of four at home from York (Neb.) last weekend.
They’ve enjoyed recent trips to Portales, winning three of four from the Hounds in both 2002 and 2003 despite posting records of 22-31 and 13-34 in those seasons. Last year, when the teams didn’t meet, Mines suffered through a 9-44 mark — including 0-28 in the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference.
Despite their general struggles, Clabaugh said the Orediggers have simply outplayed ENMU.
“They play winning baseball,” he said. “They get bunts down, they hit behind runners, they throw strikes — they’re a well-oiled machine.”
Clabaugh said he was fairly pleased with his team’s performance at Sul Ross. ENMU won 8-2 on Friday and 9-6 on Saturday before rain wiped out the second game of the twin bill with the Hounds leading 2-0 in the fourth.
“The guy we beat on Saturday (Victor Lozano) threw a nine-inning complete (game) against us two years ago and beat us,” Clabaugh said. “We kind of hit the ball around a little bit. We hit it foul pole to foul pole, which I was pleased with.”
He said the team was jittery early on Friday, but settled down and played well after that.
“I thought the kids showed a great deal of composure for the opening weekend,” Clabaugh said.
Junior righthander Kelly Crain, who earned the win on Friday with seven solid innings, will start Saturday’s opener with either senior Brett Scherer or sophomore Josh Brazell going in the nightcap. Senior Trevor Davis will work Sunday’s game.
If ever there was a good time for a rainout, it’s probably this weekend.
The Zias were slated to play doubleheaders at Midwestern State on Saturday and at Cameron on Sunday, but heavy rain in those two venues led to the cancellation of those games.
Then, during Thursday’s practice, new head coach Armando Quiroz backed into a batting helmet while coaching third base during a scrimmage and suffered a dislocated right ankle. He is scheduled to have surgery today in Amarillo, and will probably spend the night there.
ENMU went 1-4 in the season-opening Angelo State Classic last weekend, beating Colorado State-Pueblo and losing twice to Washburn and once each to University of Science & Arts of Oklahoma and Oklahoma Panhandle State.
“We made an inordinate amount of errors,” Quiroz said of the tournament. “We’re a much better team than we played overall. This week we’ve stressed defense quite a bit in practice.”
Quiroz said he was a bit surprised at the caliber of competition at ASU, the defending Division II national champion. Science & Arts, which routed ENMU 14-0 and went on to finish second in the tournament, was fifth in the NAIA national tournament last season.
“They were just better than we were,” he said. “I was shocked at that.”
The Zias’ next scheduled outing is Wednesday in a 1 p.m. doubleheader against College of the Southwest at Hobbs.