bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on receiving an at-large bid into the NCAA Tournament?
Rocky Ward: Two seed, pretty cool stuff huh? That was a shocker. I knew that numbers wise and strength of schedule, if they considered strength of schedule as a major component which it looks like they very much did that we were going to be a borderline two/three. I thought we might be a two, I guess I thought it was about a 1 percent chance. I thought that we had a small chance as a two seed until ESPN put us up there as a bubble team and I'm going, "Well, okay, maybe not." When it came up it was a shocker. We expected to be in Arizona. I think once New Mexico was put over in UCLA that if we were in we were going to be in Arizona. Oregon still could have been a possibility.
bc.net: The two-seed your team earned equates to one of the highest seeds any New Mexico State athletic team has ever received.
RW: I don't know if it is or isn't but it's a pretty high seed. It's different than in basketball because you have four 1's and four 2's so it's really hard to tell. We're proud of that accomplishment. We thought that maybe we lost that opportunity with some of our play late. Our entire season is looked at in the seeding and selection process and obviously the selection committee was impressed with our road wins and willingness to challenge. The funny thing is the three out of four against New Mexico were probably much more impressive with the selection committee looking at it than they were early in the year because New Mexico is playing good baseball.
bc.net: With a couple of other mid-major teams that got in and their at-large resumes it looks like winning a share of the regular sea on title was another big determining factor.
RW: I think so. Louisville had the same type of run that we did. I don't know their whole background but I looked at other teams that won their regular seasons and didn't do well in the tournament and I think Louisville was one of them. Sam Houston State who got in won the regular season and I think they won one game but I think they got knocked out relatively early. Overall I think strength of schedule and overall body of work, I think that the Baylor games, Rice games and Arizona games in particular that enhanced our strength of schedule. I think we got credit for going on the road to play Baylor, going on the road to play Arizona, going on the road to play Rice. I think the effort, even though in those games we went 2-4, I think just the fact that we attempted that was important. Then the overall strength of schedule with Wake Forest and things like New Mexico, Kent State, Sacred Heart, Rice, Arizona, Baylor were all conference champions, all of which we played. RPI is obviously an important factor in the whole thing and our 34 RPI put us in a pretty strong position. If you watch the end of the selection show the commissioner did not put us as one of the bubble people, last five in type deal and of course as a two-seed we wouldn't be [a bubble team].
I like the draw. I like the fact that we're going to Arizona. It's the only location where some of our fans can get there pretty easily. I like the fact that we've had recent success there. I like the draw with Louisville. I think we were a low two-seed, they were a high three-seed, that type of deal. I don't think we've ever faced them. I like new opponents.
At the same time, Missouri makes it a very strong regional, a very difficult one. Even though Missouri's RPI is low, they went through and won the Big 12 championship and had to knock off one of the hottest teams in the country, the Oklahoma Sooners.
bc.net: You're sitting there at the selection show and your name pops up on the screen. What was the emotion going through yours and your team?
RW: Well, I think that it's pure joy and relief all at the same time. It's very emotional but everybody thinks it's very emotional from a loud and cheering standpoint but it's emotional from a different standpoint because it represents not just one season and one group of players but it represents 16 years of work for me. It represents another step in the program that you've worked very hard for. And you're very happy and proud that your seniors are going to be able to play in a postseason. It's something that those NCAA athletes that have been able to play in the postseason in any sport it's something you never forget. It's quite an experience.
bc.net: What does making it back to a regional mean for the program?
RW: It's always a big deal. We're a mid-major. Facilities and budgets and all of those things are well below even most of the people in our conference. We feel like when we make it to a regional there are a lot more deterrents along our path than most other people. We carry a lot of pride in the fact that the road is much more difficult for us and when you do get through it and you make it, you've had to go through an awful lot to get it done. We're obviously very pleased for the program but I'm very happy for my seniors. I'm very, very happy they're going to get to do this. These are goals they set when they came in. They were goals that we though were very attainable when we started the season. We knew that we had the type of schedule that if we played it well that we could get an at-large bid. I think that was important. That was planned. We didn't plan to go into the conference tournament and go 0-2 again. But I know enough about tradition and history and tradition played itself out again with Fresno State number five and walking through and winning again without their number one pitcher again. Almost a replay of 2008 when they went to a regional as a four-seed and ended up a national champion. Tradition is a very strong thing. The effort was to make the schedule strong enough that our body of work and our non-conference performance would give us enough strength to be an at-large bid. That goal and that plan worked out well.
bc.net: Getting into the tournament the slate is wiped clean and everything that has happened in the last month doesn't matter anymore and it's a brand new opportunity for your ball club.
RW: We talked about that with the club yesterday. We've struggled at times, we've been outstanding at times. If we get a chance in a regional, if we get a second lease in life, if we get a second chance… a lot of times you don't get a second chance and if we do we need to start preparing for it. Any failures we had we need to shed, get rid of because they are meaning less at this point. We can be proud of our successes. We continue to be very proud of being the number one seed and WAC Champions but we also have to forgive ourselves for not playing well in the conference tournament and forgive ourselves for a couple stretches during the season.
bc.net: It's your first trip back to the tournament since 2003. In all the years that your dad went to the tournament and you as a player what are some of the things you can take away from those experiences and apply to this ball club?
RW: I think one of the things that I might have that my players don't is I know where Omaha, Nebraska is. I know that sounds silly. Anybody can look it up on the map and know where it is but I've been there, I've done that. It's not this far off fantasy land that's almost impossible to get to which is what happens sometimes to teams that are new to the tournament. They don't really realize how close this is. We're five wins away from going to this huge, very, very popular stage of the College Baseball World Series. I talked about that today. Don't think of Omaha, Nebraska as a place that's unreachable that only the great, greatest teams on the planet get to go to. We're in a position now where we're a five-game winning streak away from going and we have beaten these types of teams five games in a row a couple times throughout the season. It's not the first time we've put together that kind of streak and you don't have to win five in a row. You can actually lose a game in there. These are double-elimination, four team tournaments. I've felt like if we lose a game in the tournament we actually have the pitching depth where we're not just finished. We can compete and come back through a losers bracket if we have to. Then of course the Super Regional is best two out of three. It's a normal baseball format. More than anything maybe in dealing with my life experience of having been there is that it is not as far away as you think. If you realize that if you take it a game at a time and line it up and play your best baseball and move to the next game, that in itself will take care of it.
bc.net: What will you be working on this week with the team as you prepare?
RW: These two days, today is kind of a crazy day. We did the selection show and then went out and hit and pitchers have to throw. There's some standard, regular practice stuff you have to do. We're going to work a little bit, and we have already, a little bit more defensively than anything else to try to get us going with a little more confidence on the defensive side of the game. We know that's been a little bit of a weakness throughout the year at times. It's not been a glaring weakness but it's something we need to get a few more reps to make ourselves feel a little bit better about how our hands and feet are moving. We'll spend some time with our offense and really basically we've got one more practice day here at home tomorrow [Tuesday], we'll travel on Wednesday and try to get a practice arranged on Wednesday and the the regular tournament practice on Thursday. There's not a lot of time but a lot of that time will be spend on getting time on repetition. The team is going to be rested. That's a little bit of a silver lining to us not doing well in the tournament. Everybody had a couple extra days of rest. The pitching staff will be full go. Everybody's ready and more than anything it's about tuning our athletes' skill.
bc.net: Did you notice any extra energy in today's practice?
RW: Yeah, of course. Everybody is very pleased. This ball club has carried a lot of stress for the last month. From the point that we lost three at Hawai'i we've been battling every game. We've had some successes, enough obviously to get us a WAC championship, enough successes to get us a number two seed but it's been under duress. We haven't played our best baseball during that time and so today represent in body language of the players that day that you need where you kind of forgive each other. We've been on the road a lot this month. When we went to Hawai'i I knew that last stretch was going to be really difficult because of the number of road games we had left. That's all great but you get tired of each other. Even good teammates, you get sick of the small things that irritate you about your teammates and I think when a team isn't playing real well all that stuff gets enhanced. I think when you get selected for a regional all that stuff goes away. You kind of felt when the announcement was made, this big deep breath of, "Okay, I forgive you, you forgive me, let's get after it," and that's kind of how the practice was. Whatever little squabbles that happen within the family were forgotten and forgiven immediately and everybody's looking toward our next opportunity.
bc.net: What's the health of the team heading into Tucson? We touched on it a little bit but the silver lining to losing early in the tournament was you get a week in between games to recharge a ball club that had played a lot of games in a two week span.
RW: Yeah. Health-wise we're good. Zach Voight was down with a pretty severely sprained ankle. He was only able to be used sparingly in the tournament. He should be at full go by the time we play on Friday. That's a big advantage to get him back. Everybody else is pretty healthy outside of bumps and bruises but those bumps and bruises will have time to heal. The pitching staff has been pushed pretty hard and if anything, they needed to have a break and maybe our lack of performance in the tournament may have had a lot to do with that couple weeks leading into the tournament. You expect that the extra two or three days rest will let you heal up and get the soreness out of the way and mentally and emotionally recharge. I feel like our ball club is going to be at absolute full strength.