Wednesday, May 29, 2013

ANALYSIS: Aggies stayed course, yet didn't dominate, in new-look WAC

(Sim Bhullar and the Aggie men's basketball team were WAC Tournament champions in 2012-13, their third such title in four years/AP photo)

It was a respectable year in New Mexico State athletics. Although it's not as if the department excelled entirely.

While reaching three NCAA Tournaments in 2012-13, the Aggies didn't win any Western Athletic Conference regular-season championships - all postseason berths came via WAC Tournament titles, which grant automatic bids into the NCAAs.

While NMSU continued to do reasonably well in it's non-football sports - men's basketball, women's volleyball and men's golf all returned to NCAA play - it's football program remained dreadful.
And in a revamped Western Athletic Conference - one that figured to be ripe for the Aggies picking, only to provide competitive balance with all 10 league members winning either regular-season or postseason titles in at least one sport - NMSU finished fourth in the 10-team Commissioner's Cup standings (a competition that divvies up respective points based on regular-season and postseason finishes amongst league members). The two years prior, NMSU finished in third place in the annual rankings.

In this package, we take a look at the highs and lows of the 2012-13 season, as well as what to watch for entering the 2013-14 academic year:

• Three WAC Championships: While men's basketball and women's volleyball were expected to perform better during regular-season play (the two teams finished third and fourth, respectively, in the conference standings) both were also talented teams that took control to win their respective WAC Tournaments. In men's golf, the Aggies won the WAC Championship in dominant fashion, beating second-place Texas-Arlington by six strokes in a three-day competition that NMSU led wire-to-wire. Despite the Aggies' six WAC golf titles in eight years, the 2013 victory was somewhat surprising, considering NMSU's struggled during tournament play in recent seasons.

• Sun Belt Conference football membership: While the Aggies put together an impressive 2013 independent schedule, the hopes of establishing such a docket long term would have been daunting. By landing in the Sun Belt as a football member, a league New Mexico State belonged to from 2001-04, the Aggies can at least have stability with a structured schedule to provide guaranteed home and away conference games. The Aggies were also competitive during their early days in the Sun Belt, although the league has picked up it's level of play over recent years.

• Aggie football: The Aggies were an improved team in 2011, before falling off the proverbial cliff a season ago. While some prognostications had NMSU competing for a bowl game this past fall, the team won it's first contest (a 49-19 victory over Sacramento State) before losing every one after (by an average score of 38-15) to finish with a 1-11 record. Other WAC teams on similar competitive ground as NMSU - schools such as Utah State and San Jose State - continued to take major strides on the playing field, with each playing in bowl games by season's end. Head coach DeWayne Walker departed following his fourth season at NMSU for an assistant coaching position with the Jacksonville Jaguars of the NFL. He has since been replaced by Doug Martin, as the Aggies start from scratch on the gridiron yet again.

• Spring sports: Aggie softball was clearly better than every other team in the WAC - aside from San Jose State and, more specifically, the Spartans' top pitcher Amanda Pridmore. NMSU held a first-place standing in the WAC throughout the year, only to lose five straight to SJSU to close out the schedule - three games to end conference regular-season play and then two more in the WAC Tournament. As for Aggie baseball, the team came off a 2012 NCAA Tournament appearance, although also competed in an under-rated WAC in 2013. Still, it was a ho-hum campaign, with the Aggies showing flashes of being better than the .500 team they were, but never able to seemingly win the big game. Aside from men's golf, other NMSU spring sports - women's golf, women's tennis and women's track and field - didn't finish well in the WAC standings.

What to watch for in 2013-14
• Aggie football schedule: While there was concern the Aggies wouldn't put together a quality independent football schedule for the upcoming season, the exact opposite took place. The team's home schedule could be the best in program history, or at least in recent memory: Teams such as Minnesota, San Diego State, Boston College and Rice all come to Aggie Memorial Stadium, as well as UTEP, Idaho and Abilene Christian. Such a lineup gives Aggie fans some marquee names to watch for this fall, and hopefully some competitive play from the home team.

• Basketball back to the NCAAs: New Mexico State's men's hoops team could very well make it's fourth trip in five years to the NCAA Tournament. For those who thought the WAC was weak last year, just wait until the 2013-14 version is unveiled, with team's such as Chicago State, Texas State, Grand Canyon University and Missouri-Kansas City as a handful of programs that'll make up the 2013-14 conference membership. The Aggies also bring back a talented team to the table, with Daniel Mullings, Sim Bhullar, Renaldo Dixon, Kevin Aronis, Remi Barry, Tshilidzi Nephawe, Terrel de Rouen and some reinforcements at point guard hopefully taking the court. While NMSU typically has the physical talent to be a quality team, the hope is this season they take the next step (as in, advancing in NCAA Tournament play).

• Taking home trophies: While the train of thought was the Aggies being a top-tier athletics program in the 2012-13 Western Athletic Conference, they should flat-out dominate next year's edition of the WAC. While the league might be bottom of the barrel from a competitive standpoint, it should at least give NMSU a chance to rack up plenty of conference-championship trophies and NCAA Tournament appearances.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Monday, May 20, 2013

Stepping away for a few days

Taking a break for about a week. The blog won't not be updated much during that time, although feel free to post comments throughout.

PODCAST: The Aggie presidential seat and it's impact on athletics, WAC postseason tourneys

Also looking at the end of the Aggie softball season, and looking ahead to the WAC Baseball Tournament in our weekly sessions with Click here to listen.

Wednesday, May 15, 2013

Bulldawgs, Knights face tough roads to state baseball championship

(Jonathan Joy and the Bulldawgs must continue their hot play at the state tournament this week in Albuquerque/Photo by Gary Mook)

The Las Cruces Bulldawgs and Oñate Knights face tough roads to a state baseball championship this weekend in Albuquerque.

We’ll start with the No. 6-seeded Bulldawgs, who’ve been playing excellent baseball of late. With that being said, the competition is about to get significantly more difficult, starting Thursday with their 3:30 p.m. quarterfinals contest against No. 3-seeded Sandia.

The Matadors are a powerhouse program, and one of the state’s finest. If LCHS is fortunate enough to get past that hurdle, they’ll likely face No. 2-ranked La Cueva in Friday’s state semifinals contest. Once again, another fine baseball team from Albuquerque that will provide a very tough test.

And then, once again, if the Bulldawgs can get past the Bears, they’ll likely face a handful of of possible opponents for a state championship: either No. 1 Carlsbad, No. 4 Volcano Vista or No. 5 Rio Rancho. Again, all good baseball teams.

Again, LCHS has put it all together it recent weeks and has played solid in all phases: pitching, defense and hitting. But there’s no denying the competition’s about to take a step up as teams dwindle down in tournament play.

As for Oñate, they’ve been a tough club to figure this year, simply because they’re very inconsistent. The Knights started off well, but seemed to level off in district play. Many figured Oñate would do what the Bulldawgs accomplished against fellow league members — yet it was LCHS that finished with an 11-1 District 3-5A record, and the Knights coming in second place at 8-4.

One thing to remember: It’s single-elimination baseball, which means literally anything can happen, and very little can separate a good day from a bad one for all the state’s competitors.

Some preview stories heading into this week’s state tournament games
Bulldawgs baseball ready for state’s top teams in Class 5A bracket
Las Cruces High seniors lead softball team to No. 1 ranking
Knights baseball hopes to put things together for state tournament run
A look at other local games unfolding in Thursday’s state tournament action
Keep up with all state tournament scores and matchups

Tuesday, May 14, 2013

2013 State Baseball and Softball Championship scores, matchups

Class A
First round
At home sites
No. 1 Capitan 3, No. 8 Floyd 1
No. 2 McCurdy 8, No. 7 Logan 4
No. 6 Jemez Valley 11, No. 3 Melrose 0
No. 4 Questa 2, No. 5 Magdalena 1
At Rio Rancho High School
No. 4 Questa vs. No. 1 Capitan, 11 a.m.
No. 6 Jemez Valley vs. No. 2 McCurdy, 2 p.m.
Class 2A
First round
At home sites
No. 1 East Mountain 15, No. 16 Mesa Vista 1
No. 2 Cobre 10, No. 15 Monte Del Sol 0
No. 3 Mesilla Valley Christian 6, No. 14 Laguna Acoma 2
No. 4 Eunice 18, No. 13 Santa Fe Prep 2
No. 12 Texico 6, No. 5 Dexter 4
No. 11 Estancia 14, No. 6 Santa Rosa 10
No. 7 Pecos 3, No. 10 NMMI 2
No. 8 Loving 6, No. 9 Tucumcari 2
At Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho
No. 8 Loving vs. No. 1 East Mountain, 7 p.m.
No. 7 Pecos vs. No. 2 Cobre, 1 p.m.
No. 11 Estancia vs. No. 3 Mesilla Valley Christian, 4 p.m.
No. 12 Texico vs. No. 4 Eunice, 10 a.m.
Class 3A
First round
At home sites
Best-of-three series begin today
No. 1 Hope Christian beats No. 16 Pojoaque Valley (2-0)
No. 2 Lovington beats No. 15 Santa Fe Indian (2-0)
No. 3 Silver beats No. 14 Raton (2-0)
No. 4 Robertson beats No. 13 Shiprock (2-0)
No. 5 Sandia Prep beats No. 12 West Las Vegas (2-0)
No. 6 St. Michael's beats No. 11 Taos (2-1)
No. 7 Ruidoso beats No. 10 Socorro (2-0)
No. 9 Bloomfield beats No. 8 Portales (2-1)
Second round
At La Cleveland and St. Pius High Schools
No. 9 Bloomfield vs. No. 1 Hope Christian, 1 p.m.
No. 7 Ruidoso vs. No. 2 Lovington, noon
No. 6 St. Michael's vs. No. 3 Silver, 3 p.m.
No. 4 Robertson vs. No. 5 Sandia, TBA
Class 4A
First round
At home sites
Best-of-three series
No. 1 Piedra Vista beats No. 16 Benanlillo (2-0)
No. 2 Goddard beats No. 15 Belen (2-0)
No. 3 Farmington beats No. 14 Centennial (2-0)
No. 4 Santa Teresa beats No. 13 Valencia (2-1)
No. 5 Los Lunas beats No. 12 Artesia (2-0)
No. 6 Albuquerque Academy beats No. 11 Miyamura (2-0)
No. 7 St. Pius X beats No. 10 Deming (2-0)
No. 8 Los Alamos beats No. 9 Aztec (2-0)
Second round
At La Cueva and Eldorado High Schools in Albuquerque
No. 8 Los Alamos vs. No. 1 Piedra Vista, noon
No. 7 St. Pius vs. No. 2 Goddard, noon
No. 6 Albuquerque Academy vs. No. 3 Farmington, 3 p.m.
No. 5 Los Lunas vs. No. 4 Santa Teresa, 3 p.m.
Class 5AAt home sites
Best-of-three series begin today
No. 1 Carldbad beats No. 16 Alamogordo (2-0)
No. 2 La Cueva beats No. 15 Cleveland (2-0)
No. 3 Sandia beats No. 14 Mayfield (2-0)
No. 4 Volcano Vista beats No. 13 Eldorado (2-0)
No. 5 Rio Rancho beats No. 12 Valley (2-0)
No. 6 Las Cruces beats No. 11 Cibola (2-0)
No. 7 Atrisco Heritage beats No. 10 Hobbs (2-0)
No. 8 Oñate beats No. 9 Rio Grande (2-1)
Second round
At the University of New Mexico and Rio Rancho High School
No. 9 Rio Grande/No. 8 Oñate vs. 1 Carlsbad, 12:30 p.m.
No. 7 Atrisco Heritage vs. No. 2 La Cueva, 12:30 p.m.
No. 6 Las Cruces vs. No. 3 Sandia, 3:30 p.m.
No. 5 Rio Rancho vs. No. 4 Volcano Vista

Class A-2A
Brackets to be determined next week
Class 3A
First round
At home sites
No. 1 Portales 15, No. 16 Socorro 1
No. 2 Silver 10, No. 15 Pojoaque 0
No. 3 Bloomfield 10, No. 14 Sandia Prep 0
No. 4 Hope Christian 16, No. 13 Wingate 1
No. 5 West Las Vegas 10, No. 12 Santa Fe Indian 0
No. 6 St. Michael's 11, No. 11 Ruidoso 4
No. 7 Raton 14, No. 10 Shiprock 5
Second round
At Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho, NM
No. 9 Robertson vs. No. 1 Portales, 10 a.m.
No. 7 Raton vs. No. 2 Silver, 10 a.m.
No. 6 St. Michael's vs. No. 3 Bloomfield, 10 a.m.
No. 5 West Las Vegas vs. No. 4 Hope Christian, (N/A)
Class 4A
First round
At home sites
No. 1 Piedra Vista 16, No. 16 Roswell 0
No. 2 Artesia 12, No. 15 Del Norte 2
No. 3 Gallup 6, No. 14 Goddard 0
No. 4 Aztec 5, No. 13 Deming 2
No. 5 Los Lunas 8, No. 12 Los Alamos 7
No. 11 Farmington 11, No. 6 Valencia 5
No. 7 Bernalillo 4, No. 10 Centennial 2
No. 9 Miyamura 7, No. 8 St. Pius X 6
Second round
Double-elimination format
At Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho, NM
No. 9 Miyamura vs. No. 1 Piedra Vista, 8 a.m.
No. 7 Bernalillo at No. 2 Artesia, 8 a.m.
No. 11 Farmington vs. No. 3 Gallup, 8 a.m.
No. 5 Los Lunas vs. No. 4 Aztec, 8 a.m.
Class 5A
First round
At home sites
No. 1 Las Cruces 14, No. 16 Atrisco Heritage 2
No. 2 Carlsbad 12, No. 15 Mayfield 3
No. 3 Cibola 5, No. 14 Hobbs 1
No. 4 Volcano Vista 13, No. 13 Eldorado 2
No. 5 Alamogordo 10, No. 12 West Mesa 0
No. 11 Rio Rancho 19, No. 6 La Cueva 5
No. 10 Oñate 7, No. 7 Albuquerque High 1
No. 9 Valley 6, No. 8 Cleveland 3
Second round
Double-elimination format
At Cleveland High School in Rio Rancho, NM
No. 9 Valley vs. No. 1 Las Cruces, 10 a.m.
No. 10 Oñate vs. No. 2 Carlsbad, 10 a.m.
No. 11 Rio Rancho vs. No. 3 Cibola, 10 a.m.
No. 5 Alamogordo vs. No. 4 Volcano Vista, 10 a.m.

Wednesday, May 8, 2013

Andrew Manley to transfer from New Mexico State

If you didn't hear by now, Aggie quarterback Andrew Manley will transfer from the football program following NMSU's 2013 spring practices.

The initial reaction was one of surprise. Manley had played well this spring, and was a veteran player entering his junior year.

But upon further review, Manley's departure shouldn't have come completely out of left field.

Even while having a good spring, he was No. 3 on the depth chart behind Travuaghn Colwell and Andrew McDonald. The reality is that it didn't have as much to do with Manley's performance as much as it had to do with the system being implemented by first-year head coach Doug Martin and first-year offensive coordinator Gregg Brandon: A spread-option attack, that relied on the quarterback to create with his legs as much as with his arm.

No, Manley is not a runner, but a drop-back pocket passer who could possibly flourish in certain offenses (preferably, those with a strong offensive line to protect him) but was not an ideal fit with what the Aggies want to do this upcoming season.

Entering his junior year, Manley finds himself in a tough spot from a timing standpoint: An FBS player who would have to most likely sit out a season if he transferred to another FBS school, or one who could take the field right away if he chose to play at an FCS program.

No matter what happens, we wish him the best in his future endeavors.

As for the Aggie quarterback position, we still believe it's pretty well set. The entire unit — Colwell, McDonald, Manley and King Davis III — looked good this spring, and should play well enough in 2013. The scheme will be better and the group should have a better plan in place as well. Ironically, it's one position on the roster that was relatively deep, all things considered.

Follow me on Twitter @TeddyFeinberg

Friday, May 3, 2013

Q&A: A skilled senior, Hipp's stood out all four years at NMSU

(A left-handed hitter, Parker Hipp’s flashed considerable ability during his New Mexico State baseball tenure. This year, his eight home runs and 40 RBI rank amongst the team leaders/Photo courtesy of NMSU athletics)

A four-year player at New Mexico State, Parker Hipp has been a good player for the Aggies as well.

A native of San Diego, Calif., Hipp has started throughout his career as a middle infielder, his first three seasons at second base and this year at shortstop (he’s currently designated hitter while nursing injury).

This year he’s batting .293, with eight home runs and 40 RBI (numbers which rank amongst the team leaders).

We sat down and talked to the senior about his Aggie career, and what made NMSU a good college experience. For a full list of Aggie baseball senior capsules, click here.

Sun-News: So you’re nearing the end of your Division-I career. What’s your perspective on baseball?
Parker Hipp: “I always thought it was going to be different. But I didn’t think (college baseball) was going to be like this. College baseball for me was kind of looked at as an opportunity to test your skills against the next level. It was everything I thought it was going to be. But maybe a little bit harder too. You think all the guys are all the same age. But they’re still better than high-school level. There’s still guys that are freshman that come in and, just because you’re a senior, doesn’t mean that you’re going to beat them. .... It was just a fun time, being able to compete with guys your age .... And then compete against other players.”

SN: What are some lessons you’ve learned from the game?
PH: “That nothing worth having is easy to come by. Everything you do, you’ve got to put in work. Baseball is very time consuming, very work consuming. Just because you go to practice, you still got to work before practice, after practice if you want to be good. That kind of correlates with life, I think.”

SN: You came here from San Diego to Las Cruces. What were some of the positives to such a move?
PH: “It was kind of a smaller atmosphere, smaller feel to the town and the team. There wasn’t much going on outside of school and sports for me. Back in San Diego, there was more to do, more activities, I guess. But for this town and this team, it was kind of just focused on one or two things. Kind of just simplified things for me.”

SN: Has your life changed during that time?
PH: “Yeah, it’s different. I know when I go back home, I act completely different. I don’t act like a California kid anymore. I’m more relaxed, I don’t have to go and always have to do an activity. New Mexico’s kind of calmed me down, I guess. Maybe that’s because I’m getting older too.”

SN: What are your plans for the future?
PH: “Right now, I want to try to take baseball as far as I can. If nothing happens with the professional draft, I’ve talked with other independent associations. They have me kind of penciled in, if I want to work with them or not.”

SN: Your brother Kyle (former Aggie football player) came to the school right around the same time as you. Did that contribute to you playing here?
PH: “It made a good difference. I wouldn’t say the only difference, but it made one of the differences. I liked the program, I liked the hitting system. The next one was that my brother was going there. I’ve grown up with him, going to every same school. It kind of made it a little bit easier for me.”

SN: You’re a very good hitter, a very good contact hitter. What do you attribute that to?
PH: “I’ve always been a good contact hitter. For me, personally, I hate striking out. I always want to make contact. My theory is, put the ball in play. Something better’s going to happen than striking out. .... The hitting system, Gary Ward and Rocky Ward, they’ve also trained me to be able to put the best swing on the right pitches. So you don’t have to waste weak swings on the wrong pitches.”

SN: What about working with a legend like Gary Ward?
PH: “Gary was awesome. I wish that we could have had him a little bit longer. The good thing is, I’ve learned most of my stuff the first two years or three years (from him). He just brings a different perspective to the field, and he knows how to relate. Every hitter’s different, so he’ll relate it someway different to every hitter. He’s not going to say the same thing, over and over. He’ll change his wording around, he’ll change his tone of voice to get you to learn it better.”

SN: You’ve battled through some injuries during your playing career. How has that affected your game and do you think those injuries affected you in terms of getting drafted professionally to this point?
PH: “I don’t think so. I think injuries are one thing. Luckily I haven’t had any serious injuries that will handcuff me for the future years. Just some nagging injuries. A knee injury a couple years ago was a quick fix. I think my play has been fine. It does suck to get injured, and it sucks to see your team compete without you. It’s kind of hard to sit by the side .... If (professional) teams like my style of play, then they like my style of play and they’ll pick me up. If not, then there’s something either I’ll change, or I’ll have to take a look at after the season, see what else I can do.”

SN: This year’s team’s struggled from a fielding standpoint. Why?
PH: “We’ve had a lot of guys in different places. Right now, we’ve had probably 20 different lineups in the infield. Shortstop, second base, everybody’s playing different positions. I know it’s my first year at shortstop. I’m just starting to learn it again since high school. You got shortstops like Blackstone and Fallon, who have played shortstop their whole life, but then they moved to second base. I still think it’s a little bit of a learning curve, hopefully they’ll learn to play all the positions, so next year .... whatever coach wants to do, they’ll be able to help him.”

SN: You’ve taken a ton of road trips as a player. How would you compare NMSU’s program — specifically clubhouse, facilities and fan base standpoint — compared to others?
PH: “We’ve been to some cool stadiums and cool facilities. Rice was probably one of the best ones, the Baylor’s, the Arizona’s, those are unbelievable. But this one, you come for the good coaching .... The atmosphere is kind of cool, kind of like a college feel, so I’m sure the team’s can relate to that. But the coaching and the team is always really close. I always got along with every one of our players, so that was a really good thing.”

SN: The Aggies have typically started very hot and faded late. Is this year, the reverse going to happen?
PH: “We’re hoping so, and everything that we’ve talked about is, we all know that when we go to the conference tournament, we’re going to have to play every team again. I haven’t won a game in postseason since I’ve been here. That’s all because we started hot and tailed off late. Hopefully this year it’s different and we’re prepared enough to beat the teams the next time around. .... So when we play a team again, we’ll know what to do to beat them.”

If you go
Who: San Jose State (14-30 overall, 8-10 in the WAC) at NMSU (24-21 overall, 9-9 in the WAC)
What: WAC baseball series, senior weekend at NMSU
Where: Presley Askew Field
When: Friday and Saturday games at 6 p.m.; Sunday’s series finale begins at noon
On the air: Friday’s opener will be televised on AggieVision, while the final two games will be on radio at KSNM-AM 570

Thursday, May 2, 2013

ON THE AIR: Radio interview with 610 The Sports Animal

We talk Aggie football, Gary Carruthers comments on the program's future and what to expect from NMSU in 2013. Simply click here and listen in.

PODCAST: Talking Aggie spring football, WAC softball and baseball analysis

We join to talk Aggie athletics, including cornerback Jeremy Harris' NFL Draft selection this past weekend. Click here to listen.