It was a good year - some would say even a great year - for the New Mexico State Aggie baseball team in 2009.
There should be some bitterness about how the year ended. It seems that NMSU should have beaten Fresno State on Sunday in one of the two games for the WAC championship - particularly Game 2, where NMSU blew a 7-2 lead.
Lets look at the big picture though. The team has improved drastically in the last handful of years. Three seasons ago, the Aggies weren't competitive at all in the WAC, missing out on the conference tournament and clearly being a notch below their league rivals.
Last season was a step forward. Although the Aggies didn't finish .500, they got into postseason play and head coach Rocky Ward, who entered the season in the final year of his contract, was given a new deal.
This year, the team continued to move up the ladder. The Aggies out-of-conference schedule was not against elite competition and I was skeptical the team could carry its strong performance into WAC play. They did finish 12-12 in league, but it wasn't an empty .500 record. The Aggies split road series' at Fresno State, Nevada and Louisiana Tech. At home, they split with Hawaii while falling in three of four to San Jose State. They also took three of four from Sacramento State.
Going into the WAC tourney, I didn't think NMSU could get past San Jose. I was wrong, as the Aggies took down the Spartans 10-9 in the second round. In my eyes, that made up for losing to the Spartans in the regular season and also moved the Aggies up the conference ranks. If they could beat the No. 1 seed, can't they beat just about anybody?
I was surprised that they lost in the finals to Fresno State. The Aggies were playing hot baseballl, and they also should have been confident against the Bulldogs. NMSU beat them in Round 1 and it seemed like a good matchup, as the Aggies truly felt like they should have taken the regular season series from Fresno as well. Again, after blowing the big lead in the opener, I knew it would be tough to comeback in Game 2. That's a quick turnaround and a tough mountain to overcome - although not impossible. In the end, Fresno State won the game. They're the conference champs, hands down.
It was still a good year for NMSU. Nobody expected an NCAA regional berth, let alone challenging for the WAC title, at the beginning of the year. Well, outside the coaching staff and the players in that locker room. The bar for Aggie baseball is rising.