bleedCrimson.net: Last night's 6-5 victory you got a fantastic out of Tyler [Sturdevant] and Scott [Coffman] and Justin [Cooper] both did a fabulous job and your offense came out of the gate swinging.
Rocky Ward: Yeah, you know the first inning was big. We gave up that early run and you worry about that stuff in tournaments, momentum and it was one of those deals where they kind of manufactured a run. They got a ball through the infield where we didn't feel like we pitched that kid very well and we give up a run but then you come out of the gate and get a break on an off the end of the bat infield single by [Richard] Stout and bam, bam, bam. Back to back to back. Shaver doubles, he just annihilates the pitch and then Marquez hit a ball into the right centerfield gap and then [Mike] Sodders followed that with an off the top of the wall triple. We came out of the gate and all three balls were hit real hard. I'd warned the ballclub that at night, as is normal in most places, the humidity levels come up and the ball doesn't carry quite as well. Sodders' ball would have been out in the daytime easily. It hit the top of the wall and he hit it as good as he could hit it opposite field and that was still into the Kona winds. And the Kona winds are the opposite of the prevailing winds and blow from right to left which is really unusual here. I know midway through the game last the trade winds came back which blow from right to left. In fact the home run that Dageford hit was helped a little bit by those winds. The inning before it might have stayed in the yard, I don't know, but he still hit it pretty good.
We got a great outing from Tyler. That's back to back from him. We're extraordinarily proud of the kid because he really struggled toward the end of the year. He had three or four pretty bad outings in a row and then he goes and has a great outing at La. Tech in Ruston last weekend and then comes back with a seven inning and only gave up three earned runs and we led that game 6-1 at one point. The only real disappointment that I had was my offense had opportunities to score early in the game to really blow it up and didn't so then in the fourth we get the two run home run that was really struck. Again, that was before the Kona winds changed and he hit it right into the teeth of a 10 or 15 mph breeze and it was really pretty impressive for one of our kids, that was his fourth home run of the year. It wasn't one of my big boppers. Kyle has come on late and he's one of those new players that took a little bit longer than other guys to figure out what we asked him to do and he's figured out big time in the last two or three weeks and has been a great addition to this offense. He's been part of the Anderson, Jordan, Howard, Schnieder, Perkins crew that has been so important to this team. Those guys have been role playing guys and have all understood what I've told them from the beginning. Everybody wants to be a starter but the role players have extraordinarily significant impact into how well a team does in playoffs and that's proven itself out. Howard had a pinch hit single last night to get a guy in scoring position in an important part of the game. We didn't score him but he gave us the opportunity which is all you can ask the guy to do.
Tyler got into a little trouble, he just tried to waste a pitch up and in to Dageford and the guy hit it out of the yard on us to get it to 6-4 and put the game in jeopardy but then Coffman comes in and pitches a shutout 8th after pitching a pressure inning the night before. Then Cooper came in and gets us a close. A true freshman. It was a fairly dominant close. He had good stuff. We got a pop up on the first guy, the second guy we get a pretty dominant strikeout and we get to Dageford at the plate, down by two with what turns out to be the home run leader in the league, he can't win the game. When you're in the other dugout you're thinking if one of these first two guys gets on base and Dageford comes up with a tying run we have a chance. Cooper kept them from doing that. He had Dageford with two strikes and probably overthrew a couple breaking balls and he just wanted it a little too bad and walked him. Then Kersten doubles to right on a first pitch fastball that he was late on. He got just enough of the barrel on it. Then we get the strikeout of the Threkeld kid to end it. He gives up a run but I thought the kid really handled the situation well. When any player is doing something in a situation he's never been in and he has that type of success that's neat stuff. That's life changing, career changing type of appearances. You never know. You can believe as a coach based on personality and past performance what a guy might do but until he does it it's not real. Now it's real and once they do it once they can do it again. You can look forward to those types of performances being expected. You don't know until they do it and when they do it you gain a level of confidence not just as a player but the teammates around him.
It was a great day. Two things happened. Fresno beat San Jose which put our game in a position that if we won we're the last team without a defeat. As we stand San Jose and Louisiana Tech will play each other at 11:00 a.m., the loser goes home and the winner faces us at 7:00 p.m. And Hawai'i and Fresno play and the loser goes home and the winner waits for the winner of our game. It's a funny bracket because we would then have three teams left in the tournament, two with losses and one without going into our game. If we win our game tonight, we're in the championship game against either Fresno or Hawai'i and they would have to beat us twice. If we lose tonight, we're going to play at the same time on Sunday but then we both have losses but we'd be playing either Fresno or Hawai'i to get back to a one game championship game at 4:00 that afternoon against what would either be San Jose or La. Tech.
Last night we knew going into the game that a win would put us in a very strong position. We did and we handled it well. Tonight we've got the same scenario. We'll face La. Tech or San Jose where a win will put us in a position where we have to be beat twice in order to keep us from the title. A win tonight puts us in WAC championship title game. It's as simple as that. A loss tonight would put us into the six team bracket title which is kind of crazy, it means that there are three teams in it. They still call it the championship final it's just a three team round robin. Any way you look at it, last night's win put us into the championship.
What we're really pleased with is that our pitching depth and strength is still available. We still have not used Nyquist. We have Wilson available back to us tonight. Coffman can probably give us an inning or an out if we need it. Our starting pitching has gone deep into both games. We're in the strongest pitching position of everybody else. I know yesterday La. Tech and Hawai'i both used their No. 3 pitchers in relief. They've already gone into the pitching depth pretty good. It's a coaching strategy. You can use your No. 3 to win that game you have to, which then you have to win today's game with the No. 4 guys on the mound with the idea that you'll bring the No. 3 guy back for tomorrow's game. But the same thing applies, if the No. 4 guy goes in and has trouble, you're going to bring in the best guys they've got to win the game. Everybody in the loser's bracket situation, you've got to win the game you're playing, regardless of how much it weakens you in later situations.
We're going to go with the ballclub and get a little extra batting practice. That's one of the problems with the tournament is that you don't get to hit on the field unless you're playing in the 11:00 a.m. game and nobody wants to play that game. That means you're not in a good place in the tournament. We're going to pack the club up in a little bit and go hit a little bit on the offsite, kind of relax, get some extra work and then watch the game at 11 and see what happens there.
I'm extraordinarily pleased with the way the kids have handled themselves here. How they've approached the game. Like I told you yesterday, the first game the kids were pretty nervous but that kind of went away after the first inning and we were really focused and really where I wanted my ballclub to be in the first five or six innings. I think we lost that just a little bit, we got complacent up 6-1 and we put the game in jeopardy because we couldn't score again. If we'd have been able to score one more time it would have put the nail in the coffin. We just couldn't do that. It's what I've told people all along, my pitching staff is good enough to carry the entire load. These guys did that. They had to pitch the last three innings with La. Tech having the momentum. Were they playing from behind? Yes. Were they playing with stress and pressure? Yes. But they clearly had momentum the last three innings, especially when Dageford's home run left and my experience says that historically in those games, if you don't score one run, just one, to stop their momentum, your chances of winning go from 80% down to 40%. This is a club that managed to close it out. Even with them having the momentum. I'm proud of them, they've done well.
bc.net: You talked a little bit about the pitching depth, the Fresno game and then again in last night's game, the 4th inning with your guys on the mound has been a pivotal inning. D.J. Simon got in a jam, the bases were loaded and he walked in a run and it looked like Fresno State was about to put a big number up on the board and he strikes out the last two batters and then a similar type of thing happens last night to Tyler and he strikes out a guy and then gets the a guy to fly out to end the inning. Talk about being able to get out of that pressure situation for your two pitchers.
RW: Well, they're both mature kids that have pretty good stuff and pretty good command and that helps. I think that overall you're going to expect at least one time in a game you're going to have to get out of that type of jam in order to win, in order to pitch a good solid game like they did. My defensive ballclub is good. That's part of it. The combination of the entire team in that type of situation. The pitcher doing what they need to do but the defenders making the plays and we've done that pretty consistently throughout the year. I think it's a team effort in those type of innings. The pitcher is the guy that is going to have to make the play and make the pitches but the defense also carries a whole lot of stress at that time. And there are times when it'd be real easy to get upset at your pitcher for getting you into that type of situation and then not being focused to make the play. Our guys have done a pretty good job of accepting their teammate, not blaming him for anything and being there to support whatever they need to do to help him.
bc.net: Every championship caliber team has to have the unexpected guys step up. You've had that on back to back nights, Steven Anderson getting his 8th home run of the season against Fresno State and then last night Kyle Decater getting his 4th of the season, guys coming in off the bench and getting base hits after sitting the entire game. Jared Jordan against Fresno State, Chuck Howard last night.
RW: The thing about it is Jared Jordan's been a key part of this ballclub, he's a starting pitcher. Depending on who we we face today Jared Jordan may be the starting pitcher in the championship game so he's been a role player really only from a position player standpoint. He's been a very serious and significant factor on this team. Chuck Howard has been a backup catcher, he's got several starts and when he's not catching we've been able to use him as a pinch hitter. A lot of what I'm dealing with is that these guys have had a lot of starts. These guys aren't guys that have been bench players, they've been starters. I really work hard every year to establish that everybody can start games because when you have injuries I don't want a guy injured 40 games in and the replacement not having started a game and we just don't have that. Kyle Decater's been playing more as of late. I knew that as he got better and better and more consistent with his swing that he'd play an important part on this ballclub. The one weakness to this ball park is straightaway right, in normal situations. Now that we're going to have the regular trade winds today and tomorrow it's going to become even more important. I've always felt like my so-called backup players are a lot different than most teams' backup players. My guys have a lot more at bats and a lot more opportunities than what other guys do. It's what I expect them to be able to do. When I got to the field each day, I tell my ballclub it's your job to look at the lineup, if you're not in the lineup to immediately find out and think about what your role might be that day and get prepared for that role. If that means that I've got to get a pinch hit home run in the ninth then great. If it means that I'm going to pinch run, great. If it means I'm going to pinch run, great. If you don't know your role, come and ask me because everybody going into that game whether you're starting or not has a specific role in that baseball game. These guys have been good. I don't have anybody come ask me, hitters have helmets on and bats in hand when the opportunity might be there. So guys are mentally prepared for when they might have a chance to impact the game and they look forward to it. They don't just sit on the bench and go, "Aw, I'm not playing." They sit on the bench and wait for that scenario where they know they're going to be used and they prepare themselves for it and this ballclub has done a very nice job of that.
bc.net: Leo Aguirre and Mike Sodders, the two guys that have the bum knees are the two guys that have the triples.
RW: Yeah, that's true. Sodders' ball would have been an inside the park home run, clearly if he wasn't hurt. Guys were talking to him about it. I was thinking about it, guys were going, "Yeah coach, we thought you were nuts." I brought him all the way around the bag because the ball hit off the wall and went sideways and I was a step away from being able to do it. An inside the parker with a guy with a torn PCL, probably would've been the first time in history, in any game. Those guys have been really great because they've been injured, they've played hurt. They've got to ice each night. Their pain levels are okay. But they're not healthy and it's kind of hard every day. You've got to do do things differently and prepare yourself better and I think they've done a really nice job with that.
bc.net: How important has it been for the freshness of the ballclub, you've played the 3:00 game on Thursday, the 7:00 game last night and you're playing the 7:00 game against tonight whereas a lot of the teams had at 11:00, 7:00 or 3:00, their schedules haven't been consistent.
RW: I think it's been a huge advantage. That's one of the reasons I thought the game last night was so important. They're all important but La. Tech had to play until 11:00 last night and now they've got to turn around and play at 11:00 in the morning. One of the hardest things to do is play a morning game after playing a night game. People don't understand they think it's 11:00 a.m., they get plenty of sleep. No they don't. They've got to be up at 7:00 for breakfast, they've got to be at the field at 9:00. It's a short night. I didn't get to sleep last night until midnight and that's pretty early for me coming off a night game. It takes some time to bring yourself down. Curfew for my guys last night was midnight, we got back to the hotel about 10:45 and they hadn't eaten. I gave them a little extra time to go out and get something to eat. You know college kids, they want nine hours of sleep.