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The Daily Aggie :: 08/21/12

The Aggie volleyball team kicks off their 2012 campaign this weekend when they travel to DeKalb, Ill to take on a very tough field in the Northern Illinois Invitational. Aggie play-by-play man Kyle Doperalski pointed out that the opening weekend is a tough one for the Aggies with three of the four teams participating (Northern Illinois, North Dakota State and Wichita State who is receiving votes in the AVCA's Top 25 preseason poll) having made the NCAA Tournament last season. In fact, the Aggies are the outsider in the group. Next weekend's home tournament doesn't get any easier with Northwestern, Cincinnati (receiving votes) and Drake coming to town and weekend number three will likely represent the toughest teams the Aggies will face all season when they head to Fort Collins for the Colorado State tournament where they'll take on host No. 25 Colorado State, No. 11 Pepperdine and Florida International.

As is always the case every season the Aggies' success will hinge on their ability to pass the ball well on serve receive and play strong defense (both blocking and floor defense). This year unlike years past the Aggies have some question marks at setter. The Aggies have had an embarrassment of riches at the setter position over the past decade-plus with Morgan Reeder, Jackie Choi, Alyssa Gintant and of course four-time AVCA All-American Jennah DeVries. The Aggies are absolutely loaded with arms this year across the board. WAC Preseason Player of the Year Meredith Hays is back, Bradley Nash is back from an ACL injury that ended her season prematurely last year, the Aggies have also added Cal transfer Lauren Loerch and in the middle is preseason All-WAC middle blocker Desiree Scott.

The Aggies have plenty of options offensively the question will be can they find a setter who can get them the ball. We'll find out over the course of the next three weekends before the Aggies enter WAC play.

WAC Commissioner Jeff Hurd announced (to no one's surprise, in fact he pretty much stated the fact at the WAC football media day) that the WAC will be dropping football (at least for 2013) after this season. Idaho already anticipated the move and made their intentions for playing football independently known last week. The Aggies, reacting to the news from Hurd yesterday, stated that they have also been making preparations to play football independently for 2013. As has been noted by both Jason Groves and Teddy Feinberg we know that the Aggies have at least four confirmed games (at Texas, at UCLA, at UNM and home vs. UTEP) plus an "agreement" to play Idaho twice (once in Las Cruces, once in Moscow). That's a total of six games out of the 12 needed for a full schedule. Dr. Boston stated to the Sun-News that the Aggies have agreements for between nine and 12 games. While we don't know who those other six teams might be, we do know that at least three of the games will need to be in Las Cruces. It's probably a safe bet that at least one of those games will be against an FCS opponent (and there could even be two games against FCS teams, it was done twice during the Hal Mumme era when the team played SE Louisiana and Texas Southern in 2006 and SE Louisiana and Arkansas-Pine Bluff in 2007).

The big question mark is, will the Aggies be able to survive financially as an athletic department for two years of independence (and what will the books look like at the end of those two years). Consider that there will be no conference bowl payouts (unless the Aggies make a bowl game) and there may not even be any BCS payouts (we're not sure how the payouts are handled with regards to Independent teams). It's also safe to assume that the WAC will lose its television contracts for all sports (with just three schools remaining assuming Idaho leaves for the Big Sky).

Then there's the question of whether the Aggies can command high six-figure payouts for "body bag games" as they have in the past. The Aggies received somewhere in the neighborhood of $925K to play at Georgia last year and they're likely getting good money for their game at Texas (which was inked several years ago) but the Aggies have now lost all leverage. They NEED games and those big schools know it. What's to prevent those big-time BCS schools (and even middle tier BCS schools) from offering the Aggies a "take-it-or-leave-it" amount that is half (or even less) than what they've been paying out previously? Perhaps those middle-tier BCS schools will start offering to just pay travel expenses.

We already know that the BCS schools hate supporting the "little guys" (hence the fight over sharing BCS monies, allowing the little guys to even play in the BCS games, etc) so you can be damn sure that these schools aren't going to feel sorry for New Mexico State and cut a million-dollar check for a football game when they know they can probably squeeze the Aggies for a cheaper game.

It's likely that fellow mid-major schools aren't (even now) paying out large amounts of money for home-and-home games (i.e. the Ohio series which concludes this year). So the question of financial solvency for the athletic department is a major, major concern (particularly since athletic budgets at New Mexico State are already at a bare minimum). These issues are not just pertinent to New Mexico State either. We're sure that Idaho is facing the same issues (and they're in an even harder to get to place in Moscow).

It will be interesting to see how this all unfolds over the course of the next few months.

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The Daily Aggie :: 08/19/12

The Aggie soccer team is back in action as they face Idaho State in Boise as part of the Boise State tournament. The Aggies are looking to get in the win column early this season. The Bengals from Idaho State are 1-0-0 on the season coming off a 3-2 overtime victory over North Dakota State. ISU's Rachel Strawn scored two goals in the match including the golden goal in overtime. The Aggies are still searching for their first score of the season.

The Bengals played 21 different players and two different goal keepers in their win on Friday and it will be interesting to see the strategy in this second game of the season.

From the looks of things the Aggies were able to get a few good looks at the goal in Friday's game against the Broncos it'll just be a matter of doing the same in this game against Idaho State. The Bengals are a very physical team so the Aggies will need to be able to play through that today.

Today's game is scheduled for an 11:30 a.m. (MDT) kickoff with Live Stats available via the Boise State athletic website.

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The Daily Aggie :: 08/17/12

Welcome back Aggie fans. Our summer hiatus is officially over. The Aggie soccer team opens up the 2012-13 athletic season for New Mexico State today. The Aggies take on Boise State in Boise at 6:00 p.m. As has been the case with the Aggie soccer program over the course of the past three seasons today marks another historic milestone in the program's history. This year's team has the first true senior class in the program's history. Six of the seven seniors on this year's squad were part of the very first freshman class at New Mexico State. Elise Nordin, Courtney Irwin, Cassie De Leon, Yolanda McMillion, Vanessa Thomas and Lauren Cope have all been with the program from day one. Additionally, redshirt junior goal keepers Jessica Schutter and Mikaela Bitner were also part of that first freshman class. When we spoke with head coach Blair Quinn earlier this week he acknowledged that having a senior class for the first time in the program's history was a big deal. One other note on this year's group, defender Courtney Irwin is the only player in the program's history to have started every game which will be something to keep an eye on throughout the season (consider her the Cal Ripken of Aggie soccer).

This year's club enters the season with a little bit of a chip on their shoulders. The squad was picked to finish eighth out of nine teams despite finishing last season in sixth and winning a conference tournament match (defeating Hawai'i and losing to Fresno State, two teams who are no longer in the WAC). We expect that chip along with the sense of urgency that will be created by the group of seniors who with every game will be one step closer to ending their careers, to fuel this year's team to a strong season. The team's primary goal this season is to win the WAC and we would not at all be surprised to see it happen.

Today's opponent Boise State is no stranger as they of course used to be in the WAC. Boise State now resides in the Mountain West and so it's been a couple of seasons since these two teams last met. The Broncos lose their top goal scorer from last season as well as their standout goal keeper Liz Ruiz.

The Aggies continue to make strides on the offensive side of the ball and it will be interesting to see how successful they can be against a young keeper for the Broncos.

Defensively the Aggies should continue to be strong. Last year the team posted seven shutouts last season behind a back line that includes Megan Hendler (the seventh member of the senior class), Vanessa Thomas, Courtney Irwin and Alexys Brownell (replacing Elise Nordin who has moved up into the midfield for her final season). The Aggie goal keeping will be a battle between Jessica Schutter and Mikaela Bitner. Neither one has had a tremendous amount of experience as Bitner redshirted her freshman season while Schutter played in just two matches (playing behind then-senior Katie Graul). Schutter redshirted her sophomore year due to injury and Bitner split time in goal. Bitner redshirted last year due to injury and Schutter was injured for a majority of the season but then started late as Erin Wosick (no longer with the team) suffered an injury late in the season.

Both are capable goal keepers but it will certainly be up to the veteran back line to help out whoever is in goal.

A couple things to watch for in today's season opener -- How will the Aggies start the game? Last year to get out of the gate in several games which caused them to have to play catch-up late in games (which they did very well). Second thing to watch for is the Agges' offense. From the beginning of last season to the end of last season the Aggies made marked improvement offensively. They started connecting passes better and getting better chances. Coach Quinn noted that the offense has taken a big step forward during the spring and preseason camp and we're excited to see how they look.

Today's game is scheduled for a 6:00 p.m. (MDT) kickoff. Live Stats will be available via the Boise State athletic website.

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The Daily Aggie :: 06/02/12

The Aggie baseball team lost 3-2 to Louisville in the opening game of the Tucson Regional. The Aggies played well but just couldn't get the knockout blow early against Louisville starter Justin Amlung. The Aggies had him on the ropes early but went 1-for-9 with runners in scoring position. The Aggies' pitching and defense which had let them down in Mesa was outstanding. Parker Hipp was outstanding and made at least three plus plays defensively. Tanner Rust was also excellent in the field for the Aggies. The Aggie pitching staff was fantastic and kept the Aggies in the game throughout. Freshman Robert Kraft was huge for the Aggies coming in to pitch with runners on second and third in the seventh with the Aggies trailing 3-2 and needing to keep the game at 3-2. He got a pair of ground outs and kept the Aggies within one run.

Despite the loss the Aggies can feel good about the way they played and hopefully that will carry over into today's game against Missouri who lost 15-3 to Arizona in the nightcap. The Tigers started out hot getting four hits and three runs through the first two innings off of Arizona ace Kurt Heyer but did not record a single hit in the final seven innings. For them it was a bit of what happened to the Aggies in Mesa.

It looks like both teams will receive a bit of a break in the weather this afternoon. Yesterday's first game was played under high skies and extreme heat (nearing 107). Today it's a little overcast and should that hold through game time it should keep the temperatures in the high 90s.

The Aggies need to jump on top of Missouri early in this game. The Tigers are probably still wondering what the license plate number was from the Arizona truck that leveled them last night. After hitting over .330 in the Big 12 tournament the Tigers were just 4-for-30 (.133) against Arizona.

The Aggies will send Adam Mott to the hill today and Mott has been dominant at times. The Aggies really need him to be dominant again today against a Missouri team that has struggled to hit over the course of this season.

For the Aggies offensively, they need to capitalize on their on base opportunities. As we stated earlier the Aggies had a chance to strike a knockout blow in the first three innings of the game but could muster just two runs. The Aggies had a fantastic opportunity to regain the lead in the fifth putting runners on first and second with nobody out but had a pop up and a double play and never really threatened again the rest of the game.

Today's game is scheduled for a 5:00 p.m. (MDT) first pitch and will again be aired on ESPNU.

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The Daily Aggie :: 06/01/12

Gameday. The Aggie baseball team begins their quest for a regional crown this afternoon at HI Corbett Field in Tucson. Make no mistake, this is a ball club that possesses the talent and ability to win this regional. The Aggies proved with their play in March. They've faced tough pitching, they've faced great offenses, they've played in hostile environments and maybe more importantly they've faced adversity and come through it.

That might be the most important piece of the puzzle for this ball club. There's been a lot of talk about the club getting a "new lease on life" or a "second chance" by getting an at-large bid and to a certain degree there's a lot of truth to that.

This is a club that was a lock to make the regionals prior to the start of conference play, they were a lock to make the regionals after the first half of conference play. Then a 4-10 stretch to close the season put that in jeopardy (though as it turns out the Aggies' overall body of work was enough to make them a number two seed in the Tucson Regional).

What do the Aggies will with this opportunity? Head coach Rocky Ward noted this morning that there's a different feel about this trip to the NCAA Regionals than the first two, a little more pressure this time because this is a team that "isn't just happy to be here," but a team that's capable of advancing.

This afternoon the team takes the field against Louisville, the three-seed in the regional but a team that just as easily could have been the two-seed. They're sending their ace Justin Amlung to the mound to start the game. Amlung was named the Big East Pitcher of the Year and yesterday was named a Third Team All-American by Louisville Slugger. Aggie catcher Zac Fisher was also named to the Third Team.

Amlung comes in with good numbers, an 8-4 record, a sterling 2.36 ERA with 100 strikeouts in 103.0 innings pitched. Our contact at College Baseball Daily who has seen Amlung in person noted that Amlung isn't overpowering but he "just gets guys out." The Cardinals also have a potent offensive lineup. They've got a team batting average of .292 led by Ty Young who is batting .349 with nine doubles, three triples and six home runs. They also run very well stealing 93 bases on 116 attempts and the Aggies will no doubt be away from Justin Engel who has successfully swiped 35-of-37 this year.

The Aggies will go to the mound with ace Ryan Beck. His outings have not been great the last three or four times to the mound but when Beck is on, he is dominating with his breaking ball and he may be the best pitcher in the country with a 5-6 record. The Aggie offense has started rounding back into form over the last two weeks and it'll be important for them to keep that rolling. This game should feature plenty of runs with both offenses very capable of putting up big numbers.

Perhaps one of the biggest keys for the Aggies today and this entire weekend will be their defensive play. They've struggled a bit defensively as of late and hit has cost them, the ten run inning against Fresno State being prime example. The Aggies' three errors in the inning led to eight unearned runs and effectively sealed the Aggies' fate in that game.

One other thing to watch for is the strike zone. If it's a tight strike zone that will tend to favor the Aggie hitters who show tremendous discipline at the plate (they lead the nation in walks with 342 and leadoff man Tanner Waite is tops individually in the nation with 69).

The game is scheduled for a 5:00 p.m. (MDT) first pitch and can be seen on ESPNU and streaming online on WatchESPN (ESPN3.com). The can can also be heard on KSNM AM 570 in Las Cruces with streaming audio online via Aggie Access (subscription required).

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The Daily Aggie :: 05/29/12

A two-seed. Surprised? We sure were. We laid out the case for the Aggies' inclusion into the NCAA Regionals early yesterday morning but never did we think they'd earn a two-seed. In reality, the difference between being the two and being the three is who gets to have the last at-bat. At this point all that matters is that the Aggie baseball team is in postseason play for the first time since 2003 and the team has a new lease on life. Obviously as a two-seed the Aggies were not in danger of missing the field (how can you be a two-seed and be "on the bubble", that would like being an seven or eight seed in the NCAA basketball tournament and being considered a bubble team, it just doesn't make sense).

The Aggies expect to be fully healthy, fully rested and ready to go come Friday afternoon in Tucson. Aggie shortstop Zach Voight is expected to be back at 100 percent after being hampered in the WAC tournament by his ankle sprain. The biggest benefactors could be the pitching staff which was pushed to the limit over the final four weeks of play. The Aggies played 16 games during a four week stretch, including eight games during a nine day stretch. Due to the rough showing in the WAC tournament, none of the pitching staff pitched significant minutes (particularly the starters) and nobody threw more than two innings against Fresno State and Adam Mott had the longest outing of the entire tournament at 4.1 innings.

If the Aggies play like they did back in March and April, this is a team that can win the regional. One area the Aggies definitely need to play better in is their infield defense. A couple botched plays cost them dearly against Fresno State in that 10 run second inning and they just were not as clean as they needed to be the entire tournament. That is one of the things the Aggies worked on Sunday and again yesterday so we expect that it won't be an issue come Friday when the Aggies take the field.

Be sure to check out our NCAA Regional Central page which has links to ticket sales, game schedules, team information for each team plus articles as they are published. We'll be adding to it all week so be sure to check back often.

The Daily Aggie :: 05/27/12

Selection Monday is upon us. The Aggie baseball team awaits their fate as the brackets are unveiled this morning at 10:00 a.m. (MDT) on ESPNU (also streaming online on ESPN3.com). It's no secret that the Aggies struggled down the stretch of the season. At one point the Aggies lost nine of ten games and of course the Aggies were sent packing from the WAC tournament after just two games this year. However, their overall body of work, an RPI (as of Sunday morning) that currently sits at 34 (four spots better than a projected "lock" in TCU).

The fact of the matter is that the Aggies were 5-5 in their final 10 games which is the same closing stretch record as projected** NCAA Regional teams Florida, Baylor, LSU, South Carolina, North Carolina State, Kentucky, Arkansas, Cal State Fullerton, Indiana State, Appalachian State and Southeast Louisiana and better than projected NCAA Regional teams Ole Miss
Clemson and East Carolina who all closed season 4-6 and two games better than Florida State who closed 3-7 and it's just one game worse than Miami, Rice, Georgia Tech, UCF, San Diego, Louisville, St. John's, Elon, Wake Forest and Sam Houston State who closed the season 6-4.

** Projections made by PerfectGame.org, Baseball America or ESPN Bracketology

The Aggies have also posted a 12-10 mark against teams that we know are in the NCAA Regionals (Fresno State, Arizona, Rice, Baylor and New Mexico) and that record would jump to 15-11 should Wake Forest make the tournament as projected.

Should the Aggies receive an at-large bid? Based on the numbers we just posted, there's no compelling reason that they should not. Did they finish the season strong? No but as you can see neither did at least a quarter of the projected field and only one game worse over the closing stretch than another ten projected Regional teams.

The Aggies also earned a share of the regular season championship in a conference that was rated the ninth best (RPI-based) ahead of the Big West (12th), Big East (13th), Southland (14th), Mountain West (15th) and Sun Belt (16th) and just one spot behind the WCC (which along with the Big East, Southland and Mountain West are expected to get two teams in the field).

Whether the selection committee rewards the Aggies' overall body of work will be found out this morning. Regardless of the outcome the Aggies put together a season to be proud of, arguably their finest regular season in history considering the level of competition.  Continue Reading This Post >>

The Daily Aggie :: 05/25/12

The Aggie baseball team lost their opening round game of the WAC tournament last night falling 15-8 to Fresno State. The Aggies and Bulldogs were scoreless through one before a couple of cheap singles was followed by three Aggie errors, two by shortstop Zach Voight on the same play (fielding plus throwing) on a fairly routine grounder and a throwing error by third baseman Bobby Lecount on a bunt. When the dust settled the errors plus the Bulldog batters lining up some Ryan Beck offerings led to a 10-0 deficit for New Mexico State. Not the start the Aggies were looking for. Fresno State added a couple more runs in the third and it appeared that after just three innings that the game was over.

The Aggies headed into the bottom of the sixth down 12-0 but put together a 6-run rally to cut the deficit to 12-6, all six runs coming with two outs. The Aggies actually stranded runners on second and third and had they been able to get one more base hit, there's a distinct possibility that the Aggies could have come back and won the game. The Aggies and Bulldogs would go on to trade runs back and forth the remainder of the game.

There are a few of positives that you can take away from the loss. The first, the Aggies used nine pitchers in the game and nobody on the staff should be unavailable the rest of the way, this includes starter Ryan Beck who lasted just an inning and a third and threw 38 pitches.

Second, the Aggies rallied. It would have been easy for the team to pack it in and let the game end via run-rule in the seventh and strategically it would have made sense, just from a pitching perspective. However, going into an elimination game coming off a 12-0 loss feels much different than going into an elimination game off a 15-8 loss. The Aggies would have been still trying to "get into" the tournament had they been shut out and run-ruled. Instead the Aggies go into this morning's elimination game with at least a small amount of momentum (and the Aggie pitching staff gave up just three runs in the final six innings).

The one other silver lining is that the Aggies should have the pitching advantage this morning and should they win the game they'd also figure to have the pitching advantage this afternoon. Both Louisiana Tech and Nevada have both used their top two starters (though we wouldn't rule out Nevada bringing Jameson back this afternoon for some relief work as he left five innings of work throwing just 81 pitches).

What do the Aggies need to do this morning? Get out in front. Don't give Louisiana Tech any measure of hope. This is a Bulldog team that probably feels like they owe the Aggies after losing a pair of walk-off games and a run-rule game in Las Cruces. The Aggies need an A+ performance out of First Team All-WAC pitcher Adam Mott and the Aggie bats need to strike early and often.

If the Aggies can just figure out a way to survive today's elimination games, they can feel at least a little better about their at-large chances in the NCAA tournament.

Today's first elimination game is scheduled for a 12:00 p.m. (MDT) first pitch. Should the Aggies win that game they would face Nevada at 4:00 p.m. (MDT).

The Daily Aggie :: 05/24/12

The Aggie baseball team opens the 2012 WAC Baseball Tournament tonight at 8:00 p.m. (MDT) against 5-seed Fresno State. The Bulldogs defeated 4-seed Hawai'i 8-2 yesterday riding a six-run sixth inning to victory.

As the top seed the Aggies will have seen a total of four games completed, including an elimination game today, before they even take the field. Head Coach Rocky Ward has talked to his ball club about that and has stressed the importance of "bringing it" from an energy level standpoint from the first pitch. "The only disadvantage of being the one seed is you don't play until game five. Each of the teams has played a game before you've taken the field. We've talked about it with the team and you have to come ready right off the bat," Ward has told his team. "You don't have time to ease your way into the tournament. You have to probably play harder in the first four or five innings then you have to at any point in the tournament. More focused, more determined. The first four or five innings will be pretty important to us. We need Ryan Beck to bring his stuff and we need the offense to get after them."

The good news for the Aggies is that during their last five games the Aggies have scored in the first three innings and grabbed leads and in four of the last five they've scored in the first inning. That will be a huge key for them in today's game. Get to the top side early. The Aggies only led once during the regular season series with Fresno State and that was after shortstop Zach Voight's walk-off home run in game two that gave them the 2-1 victory (during which he strained his ankled in the celebration).

Voight is expected to be back and starting tonight's game at shortstop. Ward said Voight experienced some soreness yesterday but will be ready to go tonight. "He was a little sore yesterday but we just got through working out and he looks good," said Ward. "Ankle strains are a unique thing and sometimes if you stay off of them a couple days it's worse. We had an opportunity for him to stay off of it which gave him some healing time, which was beneficial, but it also got a little bit tight and a little bit sore. Today he looked good. We expect him to be back in the lineup and in the four-hole and we expect him to play shortstop."

One big advantage the Aggies will have is that as the top seed they will be the home team in tonight's game and they will have the final at-bat which in tournament play can be huge. "This club will feel like no matter where we are we'll have a pretty good opportunity," said Coach Ward. "I think all of those things you try to build in a baseball team over the course of the season, we've done that. We've come down from big deficits, we've given up leads late and been able to come back and stabilize ourselves and win. We've won with pitching, we've won with defense, we've won with offense. All of those things bode well for us."

The Aggies will send ace Ryan Beck (5-5, 4.08 ERA, 90.1 IP) to the mound while Fresno State will counter with Justin Haley (6-3, 2.62 ERA, 78.2 IP). Haley pitched 7.0 innings allowing just five hits, walking six and striking out nine in Las Cruces. The Aggies are a different team than the one that faced Fresno State in Las Cruces. It might sound funny to say that since it was just two weekends ago but the Aggies have their offensive mojo back and the bottom of the order is producing once again. "We had some guys that were really struggling," said Ward. Karraker, Phillips in particular, Snowley and Rust, those four guys in the bottom of our lineup who had been so good through the first two-thirds of the season, which is what made us such a great offensive team, the quality that we were getting out of the bottom of the lineup, they were all struggling during that period. In the last five games all of those guys have been swinging the bat really well."

First pitch for tonight's game will begin at 8:00 p.m. (MDT) and can be heard on KSNM AM 570, streaming online via Aggie Access (subscription required) and can be seen streaming online via WAC.tv (subscription required).

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The Daily Aggie :: 05/21/12

The Aggie baseball team are WAC regular season champions. New Mexico State finished off San Jose State yesterday afternoon winning 15-2 in a run-rule shortened seven inning game. It's the Aggies' first regular season championship and the second step towards earning an NCAA Regional bid (the first step was completing a successful non-conference season against this schedule which they did). We asked Coach Ward for his thoughts on the regular season title, "Regular season champions, it just puts you in a different classification," said Ward after the win. "People look at you differently after you've been a champion and it changes recruiting, it just changes a lot of things. It just gives you a badge of honor that you get to wear around the rest of your life."

"I'm a big guy on firsts and I think the hardest thing to do is to do anything the first time. We've done a ton of first things in New Mexico State baseball history and to add another thing is great. We already have a conference tournament championship but to add a regular season championship and really that's probably more impressive because it's less random. It's over the course of the whole season."

Yesterday's championship clinching win was also important for several other reasons. First and most importantly is it gives the Aggies a first round bye and an extra day of rest. This is an Aggie ball club that has played eight games in the last nine days with just two days off, Monday and Thursday. The Aggies' pitching staff and in particular senior closer Scott Coffman (9.1 IP in that stretch) needed the rest. It also gives the Aggies an extra day of rest for shortstop Zach Voight to rehab his ankle.

We spoke with Coach Ward after yesterday's win and that the feeling with the club was the polar opposite of how they felt after the loss to UNM on Tuesday night in which he felt like the team had lost out on something special with a chance to tie the Rio Grande Rivalry standings, win his 400th game, sweep the in-state rivals. "There was a whole bunch to gain. Had we lost this game we would have been the four seed and had to play on Wednesday instead of Thursday. There was just a whole bunch on the line and in order to get it and be the WAC champion, that's a big deal," said Ward. "But more than anything to give us an extra days rest, to give us the advantage in the tournament, to put us in the premiere game on Thursday night. "

Back to the Aggies' situation at shortstop. We really cannot say enough about the way Bryce Griffin has stepped in and played in Zach Voight's absence. Not only has Griffin played outstandingly on defense, he has proven that he won't be an easy out at the bottom of the lineup. From Tuesday through yesterday's game against SJSU Griffin is 5-for-16 (.313) with two RBIs, two walks and at least one sacrifice bunt. Any manager in the country would take that from their nine-hole hitter, guaranteed.

"He's given us a great run," said Coach Ward. "He's played real quality defense which is what his job was and today he has a breakthrough day with the bat and had some key base hits. I'm really, really proud of the kid. It's very difficult to sit and not get very much playing time because Zach is one of our best players and to have to fill those shoes... He did a great job in those games."

Griffin's performance over the past week has also strengthened the team from the standpoint that the Aggies feel like even if Zach Voight re-injures his ankle (which we certainly hope will not be the case) they won't see too much of a drop-off. "Voight wanted to play today and was probably playable but I said, "No, the kid's [Griffin] been doing exactly what I wanted him to do and if he can play with Griffin another game, he's earned the right to and I can give you three or four more days rest then that will mean a lot to us."", said Ward. "That's exactly what we were able to do. Not only did he come in and fill a hole, you feel like that if Zach goes and twists it again, we're not going to miss a beat in a conference tournament or regional tournament. We're very, very pleased with what Bryce Griffin was able to do and he can be very, very proud of himself."

In winning their share of the regular season title the Aggies played just about as well as they could have played. In four games in California (including the non-conference tilt against CSU-Bakersfield) the Aggies did not trail at any point in the four games and they led for 32 of the 34 innings they played with only the first two innings yesterday being the exception (0-0 tie through two). If anyone thinks that the Aggies backed into their title they are sorely mistaken. The Aggies had to do one of the most difficult things in baseball and that is to sweep a road series in conference play. They had to win when everything was on the line. You can ask Nevada and Hawai'i how easy that is. All Hawai'i had to do was win a couple games at Sacramento State two weekends ago but they were swept. All Nevada had to do was win on Saturday night and they would have been solo champions but instead they lost 8-3.

After a three-week battle that saw the Aggies lose nine out of ten games, New Mexico State very well may be the hottest team in the league heading into the tournament. They've won four in a row and five out of their last seven games and some of the players that might have been slumping are now suddenly red-hot.

"You just feel like all the things that you talk about-- getting momentum going into the tournament, meeting the goals we had at the beginning of the year, it all happened and all came down to one game," said Ward. "It was really an all-or-nothing type game much like a conference championship game or regional championship game might be."

"We had four or five hitters that were really struggling. We feel like those guys, Phillips, Lecount, Snowley, Rust, all of those guys got themselves healthy," said Ward. "They all had key base hits and key defensive plays over the last few days."

The Aggies won't know their opponent until late Wednesday night. The top seed in the tournament gets the lowest remaining seed in the winner's bracket. They could get one of three opponents, 6-seed Louisiana Tech, 5-seed Fresno State or 4-seed Hawai'i. The one opponent they won't get is 3-seed Nevada. Sacramento State, the 2-seed, will draw the highest remaining team in the winner's bracket from Wednesday's games.

Going back to the importance of yesterday's win it gives the Aggies the ability to throw Ryan Beck on Thursday (nearly a full week of rest) and then they have the option of either throwing Adam Mott or Michael Ormseth (who only had to throw 70 pitches yesterday) depending on their opponent on Friday.

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