bleedCrimson.net: A good win for the team last night against UNM. It's always good to get a rivalry win and you've had some success against them recently winning six of seven and nine of the past 13.
Rocky Ward: We're winning some important games. We're just not winning some of the ones we need. The game last night was good. It was good to see the ball leave the stadium. It was good to beat the Lobos. It was good to do it with power through the home run. That's been a long-running tradition. We've out-homered them pretty consistently in our contests. To get some quality pitching down the stretch and pitch around some challenges, it was just a good character-building game.
Quinnton Mack was out, my starting left fielder, so Brandon Cooper gets his first start as an Aggie in left and had really a plus-plus play in the first or second. Guys that hadn't been full-time starters, Joe Koerper hadn't gotten a lot of playing time lately got a start at first, Derek Umphres was out with a wrist injury. It wasn't my standard lineup that we'd been using and we kind of attacked them. Sometimes in baseball you can have game plans and sometimes you can't. We started Alex Foulon, he hadn't started since Blackstone had been back and he played well, had a key base hit early in the game. We started those three right-handed hitters with the idea that we had Blackston, Paulson and Haskins available as left-handers when they went to right-handed pitchers. The game plan kind of came together. It was overall a good win.
We used Omseth who had a little bit of a short outing this weekend. He came in and got some outs for us and when he got in trouble we had a chance to get Ryan Beck back to the mound after he had a real bad outing in his last out against Bakersfield. It's good to get a guy back on the horse, especially a guy like that who took a pretty good licking that had been one of the leaders on the ball club. He came in and got us out of a nobody out bases loaded jam. We got a good close out of Evan Mott and Bradley. Bradley has become pretty comfortable in the closing role. We scored the four in the bottom of the eighth that made it a non-save situation but that's still the New Mexico game. Not that long ago they scored six or seven late to beat us and we've done the same thing to them. There's some long running history of some crazy games between us. A five-run lead in the ninth to me is a close and emotionally it was a close. Just because it didn't count as a save doesn't mean it doesn't feel like it.
Some things got accomplished. I think Brandon Cooper proved to his teammates that he can handle the pressure of being thrown in the fire and that brings him to the forefront of being a more usable player. Alex Foulon proved that even though he's gotten very little playing time over the last couple weeks that he's ready to play when you ask him to. Just a lot of those good types of things that happen with a rivalry game. It was a true win-win thing. Rivalry games also generate the other end of the spectrum because of the emotion. If somebody in a rivalry game fails, it's a lot more difficult to get over. I thought the whole day was pretty solid across the board for everybody.
bc.net: I thought Michael Ormseth had a real big inning for you after you'd left the bases loaded and then obviously Ryan Beck's inning coming in with bases loaded nobody out and throwing a really dominant inning to get out of that jam. Two key moments in that baseball game.
RW: Yeah, you're right. Ormseth's one clean inning was about as important. They'd gotten it to 6-5, we leave the bases loaded, we had second and third, nobody out and couldn't score. It ended up being a bases loaded one out situation and we hit into a double play but second and third, nobody out is by statistic a 92 percent chance to score. For any team. It was crushing so for Mike to pitch clean on top of that.
I talk to guys and this is the time of year that they'll listen. You talk to guys early in the year, when you leave the bases loaded, when you hit into a double play to end the inning, when you fail offensively when you've gotten the opponent against the wall, you better come loaded for bare on the defensive side because you've given them momentum because you've failed in that situation. So it was a big deal all the way around. Both kids did a nice job. Michael pitched in the Sunday game, he didn't get the win but he left the game with it scoreless and we eventually won 5-4 late.
I thought it was really important for Ryan Beck to come in and do what he did. You couldn't script it any better. There's no value in success unless there's significant risk of failure. There was significant risk of failure and when you succeed it has much more value.
bc.net: You got some good production out of your three, four and five guys which has been a little inconsistent compared to what you've had from those spots in years past.
RW: Yeah it was nice to see them all clicking in the same game. Each of them homered. The initial scoring with Rust breaking the seal, Parker's home run to give us back the lead and Lecounts home run to pile on and kind of give us some cushion. They were all big. We haven't had very many games where all three of them were after people.
Rust has been really, really good for about a month. Bobby has probably been as consistent as anybody else. The only thing with Bobby is he strikes out just a little too much but he's been pretty consistent driving runs in. Parker's kind of been up and down but he's getting hot again. He gets the game tying run against Bakersfield in the Sunday game which was a big hit for him. Those three guys have been quietly started moving to where we can hope they can be a dominant middle of the lineup. Maybe it all coming together for the New Mexico game is something they can jump on and ride.
bc.net: One of the things that has emerged over the last week going back to the Texas Tech game is that your team is starting to score against the other team's bullpen late in the game which has been a staple of your offenses.
RW: It's been a frustration for me is the fact that our offensive philosophy has been about getting the starter out as soon as we can and doing damage on the way out the door and then finishing off the opponent's bullpens. The sooner you get the starter out, the weaker the bullpen is, the longer they have to go and we just hadn't done very well with it. I jumped the team pretty hard after the Sunday loss to Texas State because we didn't challenge at all. We got no-hit the last four innings in a game we led at home 7-5 and had not played well early but had come from behind again. In that game we had a big home run out of Bobby and Kyle Phillips and then we go empty. We worked all weekend to get to the Texas State bullpen and when it came we couldn't do anything against them and so I was really frustrated with it. It's not just about how guys perform but the way they approach it and feel about it. The Bakersfield game Sunday was a late win, the Texas Tech game was a late win and this one wasn't a late win but we put them away late. We didn't just hold on for our life and keep them from scoring, we took them out of the game with the four in the eighth and that's a little more our style. I feel more comfortable with this team, I feel like more of the pieces are coming together.
We're 2-4 in league, we're 4-4 in our last eight so we're not on fire but some of the things like you're talking about are starting to happen. Over the long haul we're not going to go 4-4, we're going to start putting together some 6-2 eight game swings and that's what we need to do to get ourselves back in the conference race.
bc.net: With three of these last five games and being able to score late is there a little bit more confidence in the ball club offensively? Early in the year and even recently if you've had a three or four run deficit late it's really felt more like a four, five or six run deficit and now you're getting back to the point where a three-run deficit late is not an insurmountable type of lead.
RW: We've always felt like that as long as we can keep games within a grand slam, within four, we have a shot. We've kind of done that [keep it close] but didn't get any of those [wins]. So it was good to get them under our belt. I think it was important. What I liked more than anything is that this team, when you count the Texas Tech game, the New Mexico game and the Bakersfield game and even the Wake Forest Sunday game, those are all backs against the wall type of wins. They're starting to develop the type of personality that is really important down the stretch of the season, really important when you get into the playoffs. If you get knocked off in the loser's bracket you've still got a shot. The way the tournament is formatted this year a first round loss does not kill you. If you lose the first one and win the next two there's lots of ways to get into the final. I think it's important that we start feeling pretty good about that. When you get important conference games like you do later in the season and the league starts sorting itself out, in a couple weeks if we do what we're hoping to do and get back in the mix, there'll be a series where we lose on Friday and our chance to win the league title will depend on how well you bounce back on Saturday. These types of games help you to have the confidence to do it.
bc.net: Maybe lost a little bit in the offense and pitching performances in yesterday's win was that the defense played a pretty good game under high stress conditions.
RW: Bobby made two or three solid plays. He made one errant throw that Paulson dug for him. It wasn't a real tough play but it wasn't at his chest. Koerper missed a play that they gave a hit but he followed it up with a nice play on a hard hit ball. We played well in the outfield, outside of the ball hit hard in the gap that Cooper ran down on the warning track, everything else was pretty routine. Phillips made a pretty good play on a ball that was undervalued, he made it look easier than it actually was.
We played well. There were two plays that were maybe the best ones, actually it was one play. With the bases loaded and nobody out, Beck gets the comebacker, makes a real good solid feed to Tanner [for the force out]. When Tanner goes inside to throw to first, their runner is running a good yard and a half inside the base line and Tanner doesn't throw the ball. I argue the play but I know the rule. The rule says you can't call a runner out for running outside the box unless he interferes with the throw, so the throw has to be made. In that circumstance I've seen it too often where a catcher has gone ahead and made that throw, it hits the runner and the umpire doesn't make the call. The guy is clearly inside the base line and the umpire hardly ever makes that call. If you hit a runner in that situation the tying run scores. Instead, Tanner was the smart player and ate the ball and then we get the strikeout and the ground out and we get out of the inning. That was a pretty smart play on that ball. He could have tried to throw the ball way inside and may have had the out but if he hits the runner and the umpire doesn't make the call, then that could have turned into ugly.
I think we're growing up a little bit and if you go back through our last seven games I think we only have one error. That's good for a club that's struggled in that area.
bc.net: Looking at the Bakersfield game on Sunday, it's still pretty early in conference play but to me it really felt like a conference season-saving win.
RW: It was a big deal. We'd lost two of three at home so we're one down. When you start the year you know you have to win two out of three at home and at least one on the road and that puts you at .500 in league and puts you into the middle of the tournament. That's the baseline. That's the worst case scenario that you'll accept. So you lose two of three at home so you're down a game, then you lose two in a row on the road and you're looking at a sweep. You're looking at opening the conference season at 1-5 and being two games down from .500 before you can even consider competing for a conference championship. So yeah, the game was a huge game. Because of the fact that we were down 4-1 late in the game and we got the big home run from Parker to tie it, got a big inning to give us a zero to work on in the bottom of the eighth and then get one in the ninth and close it out. That's a big win because nothing had gone well. When I talked to the guys when I got back they said they'd really hit the ball pretty good, the ball just doesn't carry well there, they played very good defense against us and every time we squared a ball up it was at somebody. The kids kind of described it that way but any way you look at it, it was a 4-0 shutout the a 13-2 drubbing. Then you play five scoreless, you get a big blast out of Lecount to go up 1-0 but then you give it right back by walking a guy in. There were just lots of reason to say we shouldn't have won that game. We managed to get it done, we gutted it out. To start the game it was a must-win deal, you get to the front, we have a chance to front-run a little bit but we lose that almost immediately and it was actually two outs and nobody on and we walked a guy in in the inning. That's about as disappointing as it gets. It was important all the way around.
bc.net: When you look at this weekend with Dallas Baptist, you said last week that if you could go 1-2 out at Bakersfield that you'd at least be neutral and you're still in the conversation and nobody has run away with the league yet.
RW: No, nobody's running away. That's the good thing. I fought really hard to get the league where it needs to be and with ten teams in the league and 27 conference games to play, we're only six in. You have 21 to go. You still have lots of time in order to get yourself back to the top. You'd like to get there quick, you'd like to win three this weekend and get back above .500 and then set your sights on Sacramento but realistically you really just hope that when we get done with the next six that we're at .500. If we get done with the next six and we're at 6-6 in league, that means we've won both series at home, that's a reasonable base to work from. We have a slight advantage this year because we have five conference home series and only four on the road. It looks like right now that two of the three road teams look to be the weakest in the league in Seattle and LA Tech but you never know. If those guys kind of get the ship righted a little bit, Louisiana Tech has struggled mightily and Seattle doesn't have a real good record but they've played a pretty good schedule and they beat Long Beach two out of three a couple weeks ago on the road. Long Beach is not a great team but it's a traditional team. They basically had the third one won but lost it late. What that tells you is that they have enough that if they put it together they can beat you and I think that's how you can describe everybody in this league. I don't think there's anybody that's truly dominant. I think everybody's got some of the pieces but not all the pieces. Maybe I'm wrong, maybe somebody will materialize at the top and run away with it but I don't think so. I think it'll be pretty tight throughout.
With Dallas Baptist coming in for a weekend series we need to hold serve and we'll be okay. If we play good baseball and are able to sweep one of them and got 5-1 and we're 7-5 at the end of the run, then you feel like you've got pretty good momentum going into Louisiana Tech, the next road series. We all like to play around with the numbers but as all coaches say, it's about playing the next one.
Dallas Baptist has really good numbers, they've got a legitimate number one guy. He's pitched really, really well. They haven't lost on Friday since very early in the season. They've played pretty good baseball recently. They're second in the league in home runs behind us. They've got a pretty powerful offense. I think their weakness is in their bullpen but they've got a pretty good starting pitching staff and I think they're probably an average fielding team. I think it'll be a pretty good challenge. We need to put them behind us.
bc.net: With being able to hold down a pretty good New Mexico offense to just six runs yesterday, does that bode well for the team heading into the weekend with Dallas Baptist?
RW: I think that we still have to prove that we can beat a number one. I thought Texas State that their number one hadn't been going very well and they'd actually been getting better outings out of their Saturday guy. I think we have to prove that we can pitch well enough. Adam's pitched well but we haven't scored for him. You go back to the Oklahoma game, he pitched great and we lose 3-2 because couldn't score for him. We left people on base, we had opportunities. Bakersfield we get beat 4-0 and he pitched great. He gave up those runs late. We couldn't score for him. I think it's really important for us to get that off our backs. We need to go score for our number one guy.
Adam Mott needs an 8-2 win. Something like that where we go hit somebody in the mouth where he can go out and pitch on the front side with a little less pressure. We need a win like that. Obviously we'll take a win any way we can get it on Friday but if you ask me what I think this team really needs, we need to go score against a good pitcher, execute, means you've got to be patient, you've gotta take advantage of opportunities, you've gotta move runners when you can and you've gotta drive them in when you've got the chance. We need to put together a good hard-fought challenge at bat by at bat and go put up four or five runs on a Friday night guy. If we do that, we'll be the first team to do it to this guy in six weeks. He's gone out and pitched well and they've scored for him. We need to reverse that a little bit. We need to score for Adam and let him show what he can do with the lead. If you're going to win a conference regular season title you have to win on Friday. You can't consistently lose on Friday and have to win on Saturday and Sunday. We did against Texas State but it just wasn't the same. I want a 5-1 win, 6-1, 6-2, 8-2, something like that where we get a lead, get to the front side, let Adam keep us there and then add to the lead. We need to get that type of game soon, I'd rather it be this Friday than the next or the next one after that.