Thursday, April 5, 2012
Aggies open league play this week vs. Nevada
(Photo of Aggie third baseman Robert LeCount by Niki Rhynes)
It's been a strong start to the season for the New Mexico State Aggie baseball team.
A 23-8 record entering Western Athletic Conference play — with some wins coming against very good competition — have given the Aggies the look of a legitimate squad.
Now, we take a look at what the Aggies did well leading up to the WAC schedule, and what they'll have to do going forward in order to sustain such success.
Pitching, pitching pitching: Always an offensive-heavy team, the Aggies have a better pitching staff in 2012. Ask yourself this question: when was the last time the Aggies had a deep-enough rotation to win mid-week games consistently? Well, it happened this past week in a 7-5 win over the University of New Mexico, two weeks ago in a two-game sweep over Arizona, and the week before against UNM once again. While last season saw No. 1 starter Ryan Beck featured as a one-man gang on the hill, this year the rotation consists of Beck, Michael Ormseth, Adam Mott and Casey Collins. And a bolstered bullpen has provided needed relief, anchored by valuable closer Scott Coffman. That, and a tip of the cap to new pitching coach Mike Evans is warranted. An improved staff of hurlers means a better Aggie team this time around.
History: We've seen this movie before. The Aggies storm through the early season, only to fall apart in conference play. But here's why this 23-8 team feels differently than before. For starters, they're beating better competition — the Aggies scheduled up this year, and have topped the No. 5 team in the country twice (Arizona), took three of four from an ACC program (Wake Forest), defeated a Big 10 club (Minnesota), and also won a game over Big 12 competition (Texas Tech). That and a they're 3-0 over in-state rival New Mexico this year, and also found a way to beat Kent State, an NCAA Tournament team in 2011. In other words, the Aggies have scheduled well this year — a good balance of competition — and have made their big wins count.
A fast start: At the outset of league play, the Aggies would serve themselves well by being the aggressors. It's a shorter conference season in 2012 — the WAC reduced its league series' from four games to three, and the schedule features just an 18-game conference docket. NMSU opens tonight against Nevada for a three-game set at Presley Askew Field and then hits the road next weekend at Sacramento State, which is statistically one of the worst clubs in the WAC. Time for the Aggies to jump on the competition early, and set the tone out of the gate.
Postseason chances: Well, there aren't any guarantees in this regard, although the Aggies have put themselves in a good position entering conference play. Again, the quality of scheduling and wins have been documented and the Aggies are currently ranked No. 16 in the RPI. The team is riding a 14-game winning streak entering tonight's game, and have been doing the job with or without head coach Rocky Ward and assistant Gary Ward, who have missed some bench time over the past month to tend to a family matter. The most simple mathematical equation for the Aggies to earn an NCAA Tournament berth? To keep playing the way they have been. Certainly a good showing in the WAC is required — perhaps a first or second place finish in the regular season — and the team has some critical out-of-conference games still approaching — a two-game road set against Baylor and a single home game against Texas Tech will be important. Still, to this point, the Aggies have given themselves a legitimate shot at postseason consideration.