bleedCrimson.net will be conducting weekly in season interviews with Aggie head baseball coach Rocky Ward as the Aggies take aim at a conference championship and a trip to the NCAA tournament for the first time since 2003. This week in part one of our interview we talked with Coach Ward about the split with Hawai'i and Nate Shaver earning WAC Hitter of the Week.
bleedCrimson.net: You picked up a big split yesterday with a 20-9 victory and the game was really never in doubt.
Rocky Ward: You know, I talked to them the night before. Doubleheader days especially in league with the intensity of the games take a whole lot of energy out of you and to lose the second one the way we did, coming from behind and getting the lead then not being able to hold it, emotionally is pretty difficult on everybody. Coaches, fans and players. But when I talked to them I reminded them of what the goals were and that if we were going to stay in line for a conference title we were going to have to win the next day. It's not too many times that I put the team in a position where I tell them they have to win but I did and I thought we did. I thought we had to win if we were going to legitimately contend for a conference title and they came to play. Hawai'i was a little short on the mound because they had used [Jared] Alexander, the Sunday starter, to finish the game on Saturday night and it's the second team to do that to us. Fresno did it to us where they came in and used the Sunday starter against us on Friday to try to close out a game and it really put them in jeopardy. But it really shows how important we think each individual game is as far as coaches go in this league. When you're only playing 24 league games, it's hard to get yourself separated and every time you get a chance to win a game you've gotta pull out all the stops and think of where you stand now not necessarily what you've gotta do tomorrow. Get the win today and figure it out tomorrow. It should have cost Fresno and it didn't but in this case it did with Hawai'i. They were basically going with a number five guy and I know that they had a couple of their better relievers available but not for more than a couple of innings. They were trying to get five out of the starter and try to bridge it to Spengler who's one of their better guys. But it didn't work, we went out and got after it and guys swung the heck out of the bat and got an early 10-1 lead and they really didn't look back. It was a good baseball game. It seems like every time this ball club's been challenged they've risen to the occasion.
bc.net: The second game Friday night, you had a little bit of a tough time with the bats but had a seven run eighth inning to take the lead 7-5. It's the third game in each of the last three series where you've come back late in the game to give yourselves a chance to win the series after being down late all game.
RW: Yeah, you kind of look at ball clubs and seasons as teams that are winning or losing scenarios. When you start the season you're looking for the first come from behind win, you're looking for the first low run win, high run win, different types of games because when you get into postseason it's really important that your teams have experience in those different types of games and that they've had success. This team has had a lot of success in lots of different types of games. It's kind of the first thing that we've had to feel concerned about and that is that we've lost three games that way. We came from behind in that earlier conference game against Fresno State where they brought in [Holden] Sprague, the Sunday starter, and just blew him up and got a lead and had two outs in the ninth and made an error to allow the tying run to score. Two outs, bases loaded and up by a run and we get a squibber to first base. That tied it and we lost it on a home run in the 10th. And then in Nevada we scored six in the seventh and couldn't hold it. So it's happened to us three times but I've been in seasons where a lot worse things have happened to us. Those experiences, I know that the media and fans kind of look at those things and worry about them and as coaches we do as well. I'm not so sure it's anything except for people to write about. It would be nice somewhere in the next 12 baseball games that we have that scenario come up again, maybe not in a way where we have to score six or eight, but I wouldn't mind a 5-3 deficit erased with four runs in the eighth and then close it to get that sour taste out of our mouth from those failures. But that's the only disappointment. You've got to go back and be extraordinarily impressed by the fact that we've been able to put together those late inning rallies pretty consistently. We haven't lost them all. We have a really significant number of come from behind wins where somewhere along the lines we've trailed in the game. It's good because you always feel like with this offense and with the quality of our pitching staff that we don't worry a whole heck of a lot about what the score in through the first five or six innings. We're just really trying to set the game up, we're trying to score every inning but we're trying to weaken the opponent as much as we can along the way and we've done a nice job with that.
bc.net: The first game of that doubleheader you're coming off a loss in the Friday night game and you send Jared Jordan to the mound and pick up a nice 16-6 victory.
RW: He was outstanding. The thing that's funny about J.J. is he came to us as a catcher/first baseman type guy so he'd pitched a little bit. He didn't pitch much at all in the fall, just kind of got a few innings here and there just in case. We knew he was going to be a guy that was traveling as a position player. What happens if you have a couple extra inning games on the road? We needed to have a guy that we felt like we could use on an emergency basis. So we kind of looked at him as an emergency pitcher for a while. Then early in the spring we kind of put him in that role a little bit more because of the emergence of Chuck Howard as a catcher, it was going to be Jeff Farnham and Chuck Howard one and two there, so he had kind of fallen out of the mix there. We knew that at that time it was going to be Harty, Auten and Aguirre at first and so J.J. was kind of the four guy as a first baseman and he doesn't really have another position he can play because he's not a very good runner. So I'm saying, "I love this kid and I want him to be a part of the club but I don't see where I'm going to get him very much playing time as a hitter." So we started looking at him more as a mainstream guy on the mound and the rest is history. He's really performed well there and as it turned out Chris Auten is done for the year, Leo Aguirre hurt his knee and Jared Jordan was pretty important to us as a left handed hitter at first base. In a couple cases as a DH and I started him in game two at first. Ben [Harty] hadn't been very good and with the wind conditions I felt like I needed another left hander bat in the lineup and he was one of the early hitters in getting that big rally started. He's really been a valuable guy all the way along and he's kind of one of those kids who's just a gamer. He rises to the occasion when it's needed. We were all pretty comfortable with him going to the mound and we're going you know if J.J. gives us what we think he will and pitches a good baseball game, which he did, now we've got D.J. Simon to come up on top of him at night. We thought we could get back into the series and maybe win it. D.J. pitched really well in game two we just didn't score for him before he got out. He left the game trailing 5-0 and I thought Hawai'i did a very nice job offensively against him. He didn't give much but he made a couple mistakes and a couple mistakes he made they capitalized on. Jordan's outing was a good outing and it was an important win.
For some reason we've now established another kind of precedent in league, we've now lost three of the four Friday night games. So we're hoping that with Houston Baptist we'll get back on track and of course San Jose when they come in. It doesn't matter where it is, home or road. The Friday game sets the tone. That's why you line your best pitchers up that way. If we're going to win this league we're going to have to win the last two Fridays against San Jose and against La. Tech.
bc.net: Then in the Friday night game, it was another one of those close games. When you look at the series you tied 2-2 but all wins aren't equal and you blistered them in the two wins and in the two losses lost by two runs and by one run in extra innings.
RW: Yeah, we outscored them by 19 or 20 in the series, but it's a pretty severe differential in runs scored, but you only win two of them. But you're right, every game is different and every game, one of the things we work really hard with our players to get them to understand is it's just not every game. Every inning is different. It's an opportunity to build an inning. You start fresh with every inning, you start with zero outs, there aren't any real advantages or disadvantages except for maybe where you happen to be starting in the lineup. Whether you're starting in the one hole, four hole or nine hole that does impact things a little bit but they're all separate entities. But if you keep that in mind and in view, then you're not impacted as much by the fact that you've been shut out for four innings. It does impact the team and the opponent, but you really work hard to keep it from mattering because every inning starts the same way. Whether you're leading 10-2 or trailing 10-2, whether you're being no-hit or have ten hits. You have to continue to play the game with each inning as a separate entity and if you do that and attack games that way you usually do okay.
Back to the Friday game, we didn't pitch well at all. Tyler had a bad outing, he kind of gutted his way through it and it wasn't horrible but we need better from him and he knows that. You need to feel like on opening day that your starting pitcher can go out and go five or six innings and have the potential to only give up a run or two. He ended up giving up five or six in six innings. We got back in the game but we could never get on top. We trailed from start to finish and every time we made a move and scored a run or two they countered with a run or two. That's kind of the way the game went. We just never did get on top and I thought we really overall, that was one of our worst pitched games. The wind really wasn't a factor late in the game. In the Saturday and Sunday games the wind was clearly a consistent factor through all three games. We kind of got what we earned, we gave up what we gave up. I don't think we gave up any cheap hits because of the wind. That was something that we were a little disappointed with.
You look at the series overall and we pitched pretty good considering the above average offensive situation. It's not just wind, the humidity all weekend was like 7% and the lower the humidity, the more lively the ball is. It's probably much more a factor in games than win. The lower the humidity the farther the ball travels, it's as simple as that.
Overall on the series, am I disappointed? No, not really. I thought the kids did what they needed to do. I thought we played good quality baseball mostly throughout the series. Hawai'i is very very good. They're clearly the best offensive team that they've had. They've now hit 44 home runs. I read some stat somewhere that they've only had a handful of teams hit more than 40. I think we did a pretty good job against a pretty darn good baseball team. I feel a little bit the same way as I felt about the last two series. We've gone 6-6 in the last 12 games in league, they've been all battles, they've been good baseball games and in all cases we were in every single game. We've had a chance to win every single one. Really that's what you're trying to get to. This ball club has found a way to stay in games either through really quality defensive plays, good pitching performances, great offensive performances. We've done a nice job. I'm not disappointed. I know that it could be better but that just means we have to do better in the next three series. I still believe that if I go out and win 3 of 4 against San Jose and find a way to win 3 of 4 against La. Tech, I believe it'll win me a conference title. If not, somebody's going to have to play lights out between now and then in order to get it.
One of the things we always talk about when we're trailing in games, all we're trying to do is get the tying run to the plate. If we can get the tying run to the plate then we'll take what we can get. That's all you're trying to do when you're playing from behind and we've done a nice job of that throughout the year.
bc.net: Nate Shaver picked up WAC Hitter of the Week. Talk about his weekend and really you had your pick of about five guys who could have won that honor.
RW: He really deserved it. Bryan Marquez had great numbers, he's been Hitter of the Week. Jeff Farnham had great numbers, there's a lot of guys that had great numbers. Nate really did a great job. What made it better is Nate really struggled in Fresno. It's the first time all year that he really had a struggle. He struggled in Reno up until the last couple games, then he kind of got it going a little bit. It was good to see him not only get off the snide and get moving but have a great weekend. It's well deserving. That kid has really been a key component of this team. He's hit in the two hole, he's hit in the five/six hole. In fact, I don't really like him in the two hole because I think he's really a good RBI guy. In the two hole you don't have as many RBI opportunities as you do in the five or six hole. Once we get back to full strength and get Stout back and maybe get Sodders back as a 2B, then he may get back into the five or six hole where he'll be really important as a run producer.
When you look at overall stats, we've got four guys in double figure home runs and then we've got three more who are in range. We may have seven guys in our lineup that end up with double figure home runs. I've said all along that the value of our ball club is that we're not just about one guy. Our ball club is about a several guys doing their job. We share responsibility for getting on base, share responsibility for driving runs in and our statistics hold to that.