LAS CRUCES, N.M. - In front of a regional television audience for the first time in school history, the Pack put it all together, knocking off DI New Mexico State 7-6 Tuesday.
Behind embattled starter Joe Proto, who had started the season 0-4 and was the owner a 10.27 ERA, put up a gem in hitter-friendly Presley Askew Field. Proto threw 6-1/3 strong innings, giving up five runs to an NMSU team that came in ranked fifth in NCAA Division I in runs scored and ninth in home runs per game.
The difference in Proto's performance in this game and his other apperances throughout the season was simple, Pack coach Stan Sanchez said - the umpires.
"Proto throws the low strike real well, and that is something that they just haven't been calling in RMAC games," Sanchez said. "Today, they were calling it, and Joe was hitting his spots well and changing speeds, and it really forced them to keep locating out and spinning off foul balls."
With Proto holding down the mound with confidence, it was the Pack bats which had to engineer the lead, and it was a challenge they stood up to. Right off the bat, number-two hitter Jon Proesl slammed a solo shot in the first inning, giving the Pack a 1-0 lead early on. The ThunderWolves didn't slow down until they had built a 7-0 advantage by the fourth inning.
After Proto left with a 7-5 lead in the 7th, ace Mario Mattivi went to the mound in relief, giving up one more run to make it 7-6 going into the eighth.
Workhorse middle reliever Chris Garcia then came in and iced the Aggies throughout, getting out of a bases loaded jam in the eight and retiring New Mexico State with no problem in the ninth inning, securing the 7-6 win and earning the save.
"Garcia was lights out," Sanchez said. "He really located well and his breaking ball was absolutely nasty."
The win snaps the Pack's 12-game losing streak and marks the team's first victory over a Division I team since 2001. In the Pack's TV debut, airing across the Rocky Mountain region on the Altitude Sports Network, Sanchez felt the team proved a lot of things to doubters who were taking the team's struggles in 2008 at face value.
"It really gave people in the west region a chance to see what we can do and show them that we can compete," Sanchez said. "We wanted to make sure we represented Pueblo and the university in a first class manner, and be able to show people that we do have a good program here, and I think we did that."
The ThunderWolves' win also helps them to build momentum for the most crucial part of their schedule as they try to earn a berth into the RMAC Tournament. The Pack is currently tied for the sixth and final spot in the playoffs with New Mexico Highlands and will entertain Colorado Christian Friday and Saturday for a four-game set at Rawlings Field. Christian is lowest ranked team in the RMAC, two games behind the ThunderWolves in the playoff race.
"If we can do what we did today, which is play with a lot of relaxation and flow, we could put together a nice little run here," Sanchez said. "We hope our momentum will carry over."