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. Coach Ward checks in from the WAC tournament in Honolulu, HI to talk about their first win in the WAC tournament, the emotional level of his ballclub and tonight's matchup against Louisiana Tech.
bleedCrimson.net: Congratulations on the win last night. You picked up your first WAC tournament win and you handed Fresno State their first loss in the WAC tournament in over three years.
Rocky Ward: Yeah, I'm kind of glad I didn't know that. I really had no idea that they hadn't been beaten in the tournament in three years. I had it in my mind that they had actually gotten beat last year and had to come through. But yeah, it was a neat day. We played good baseball, we got a great outing out of D.J. [Simon]. Their guy was really good and I thought my offense was outstanding against him. He really had command of three pitches. He was better than he was when we played him in Fresno I promise you that. We trailed in the game and got some key base hits and got a great performance off the bench from three or four guys. It was a good day for the Aggies.
bc.net: I thought there were a couple of the key notes coming out of that game, one you didn't have to burn up any extra pitching to get the win, you got the clutch performances off the bench highlighted by Steven Anderson getting a home run in his only at bat of the night in the 9th inning and also getting the monkey off your back in the first game and not having to play in the loser's bracket.
RW: Yeah, the first game is really important no matter what you do, how you paint it. It really is important that you win it. If you lose it, boy you've got such a huge hill to climb. It's hard to get back off of that. Obviously there are three teams right now in the loser's bracket and somebody's gonna win out of there but it's tough. It was a good start, it's important and in the 3/4 spot it's a unique bracket in that in the 3/4 if you lose, historically you've got to play the No. 1 seed. It's kind of one of those things where the advantage they give the one seed in a six team tournament is that you get to play the 6-seed and then the second game they play is against the loser [of the 3/4]. So as a 3/4 guy if you lose that game you're going to draw the 1-seed. The unique thing about this is I still dont' believe there's a dominant team in the league. I think think the 3:00 game today between San Jose and Fresno ought to be a pretty good baseball game. It's not a done deal. The 3/4 winner obviously gets the 2/5 winner so we're looking at the bracket and then it starts getting crazy after today if Fresno beats San Jose today and we win, we don't have to play again until tomorrow at 7:00 while everybody else has to play an additional game in front of us. The 3/4 guy, if you win your first two you kind of end up in an advantageous position. But to be honest it's designed to give the 1-seed an advantage the first two games then the 2-seed doesn't really have an advantage until he gets to game three.
bc.net: Obviously you've felt this way along, but obviously leading up to yesterday's game there were a ton of questions whether or not the Aggie offense could survive in the pitcher's park. I think last night proved what you had been saying all along that they could. You got 14 hits, only one was a home run and you scored seven runs which was the highest run total of any of the six teams.
RW: Yeah. I get it. I've said all along that we're a doubles hitting team as well as a home run hitting team and we're good in this park. At the same time, there are a lot of good offensive teams in this league. Hawai'i, La. Tech, those are good offensive teams. In game one, San Jose hit three home runs, they were all solo shots. Then last night, Hawai'i they got beat on a home run by their [La. Tech's] nine-hole hitter, their catcher to walk them off the field. The home run was a serious factor in all three games. One of the things is we have Kona winds right now which means that instead of the wind blowing in from left, which it traditionally does, they're blowing out to left. They're blowing from right field to left field and the normal tradewinds blow from left to right. They're supposed to keep the Kona winds through today and into tomorrow before they switch back to the tradewinds. It may become a little tougher offensive yard Saturday and Sunday. But right now, the crazy thing about it is it's just right or left handed. Right now it's a great right-handed hitter's yard, normally it's a terrible one. Right now it's a bad left-handed hitter's yard. The ball isn't carry very well to right. So when it switches my left-handed power becomes more important. So I think the balance of where I get my power from with my ballclub is a benefit either way and I've known that all along. I like my defense and I like my pitching staff. I felt like all along that it's a good enough and deep enough pitching staff and good enough and solid enough defense to win in Hawai'i.
bc.net: Tonight you take on Louisiana Tech, you split the series this past weekend how important is it now that you were able to win on Saturday to earn the split?
RW: I think that it's important. It's important for a lot of reason but that series was unique in that we played a couple of pretty close baseball games and then two blowouts. But this particular case it's different from yesterday, we have different pitching matchups. We've got Sturdevant going against Mosely. We had 14 hits against him but that was the game that we didn't pitch real well. I like the matchup. I think that the win on Saturday matters. As I've said all along all these teams are very close as far as quality goes. It ought to be a pretty dadgum baseball game. I think I've got an advantage. I think I've got a pitching advantage in the game but again we'll see. When you're dealing with tournament games it's a matter of just playing solid and playing the game pitch by pitch and taking advantage of the game situations that you have. Driving runs in when they matter, getting yourselves opportunities to score, making the routine plays, getting the ball put in play and making good pitches.
The weather here has been great. It's a little warmer than what it was but it's a lot cooler than what it was at La. Tech. It's been near perfect.
bc.net: The other two matchups today between Hawai'i vs. Nevada and then San Jose State vs. Fresno State?
RW: Some people think the Fresno/San Jose game that Fresno will give up. I don't guy into that. I just don't buy into it. I think they've got enough quality kids that have a lot of pride. Fresno's not had a quality year but every time they look like they're going to give in they win two or three in a row. I'm not one of the people that have written off Fresno. I think it'll be a great game. It would not surprise me at all if they don't win. It'll be a tough game because I'm pretty sure Sam [Piraro] will go with Berner one of the All-Conference First Team Pitchers. Fresno's going to have to beat one of the best pitchers in the league and it won't surprise me if they do that.
The Nevada/Hawai'i game. Boy, I don't know. That's so tough for Hawai'i, they really played good baseball. Sam Spangler last night was mowing them down and then all of the sudden one pitch and it's over. It's about as hard a way to lose a baseball game as you possibly could. It's one of those games where they [Hawai'i] won eight innings and lose one and they lost the game. I think it'll be a tough deal because they've got to come back and play in about another hour here. I think it'll be important how they play early. They're gonna have to play pretty good the first part of the game. If Nevada goes out and scores early I think it'll probably be over. Nevada has the advantage but Hawai'i, they were the class of the league all year until the last couple of weeks. They've really struggled and you wonder. Somewhere along the line with teams that played the way they played and developed their RPI early and in the mid part of the season that they'll get a handhold again. But I can't tell you.
I think every game at this point, I think they're pick 'ems. I think Nevada has a little bit more advantage because they have more rest, they played at 11:00 a.m. yesterday so they have a full 24 hours of rest whereas Hawai'i didn't get done last night until about 10:00 p.m. and they've got to get back up and do it again. So emotionally, Nevada will have a pretty good advantage. But from a coaching standpoint you always worry about playing against the host team, especially when they clearly have their back completely against the wall and are cornered.
I think if it's a close game Nevada will win. I think there's a possibility that Hawai'i might find a way to bring some extra adrenaline in and get after them early in the game.
We'll see. Usually when I go to tournaments I'm not interested in the games other than scouting and paying attention to what's going on in the other games, what pitching got used, who's hot, who's not. But this tournament for the first time I've really had an interest in watching the other games because I just think every one of them is just a great matchup. From a fan's standpoint just watching good baseball being played. Yesterday as a fan, just as a pure baseball fan, that's about as good a three games as you can put together.
bc.net: You touched a little on emotional level from Hawai'i, what was the mood of the Aggies after last night's win and were you pleased with whatever level of emotion they had after the win?
RW: I felt as is typical of the first game of a tournament I thought that we started off a little tight but we relaxed pretty quickly. I thought we got into the flow of just playing baseball the second or third inning and they stayed stable throughout the game. I was really proud of the way they performed and handled themselves. Nobody panicked, we just played the game. They got pretty quickly to the same position that they've been in all year. This has been a team that doesn't get overly crazy and excited. This is a team that comes out and plays every day and lets the game come to them. I thought they did a really nice job of that.
When Anderson's ball went out of the yard, one of the things I look at as a coach I didn't want to see a super celebration as if the World Series had been won. That would tell me kind of the way the dugout felt about the expectations of the team. And they responded appropriately. Obviously there was some happiness and energy but they didn't overreact and that told me alot about what our team's preparation was like.