In part two of this week's interview with Aggie head baseball coach Rocky Ward, we talked to Coach Ward about Bryan Marquez earning First Team All-American honors and talked about several of the significant wins during the season.
bc.net: After we talked last week Bryan Marquez was named Louisville Slugger First Team All-American becoming just the fifth Aggie and fourth under yours and your dad time here to earn First Team All-American honors.
RW: It's neat stuff. That says that a lot of people thought that he was the best shortstop in the country and we think he was. It's a great honor for the university those are things that transcend win and loss records. Part of our responsibility as coaches is to develop student athletes and these types of awards go a long long ways not just in what a kid does athletically. Will help him in the draft? You bet it will. It should help him with some exposure from the pro scouts who'll say if he's not on our radar, he needs to be now. At the same time it's something that you carry throughout your life. Most of us strive throughout our lives to do something special, something somebody else hasn't ever done. It's something that Bryan will always have and it'll be something in his day to day life that'll give him confidence that he might not have had otherwise. It's a great honor. It's awesome. I take great pride in that I was able to coach him and me and my staff might have had a little to do with his progress and those are all neat things.
I've always taken a lot of pride at New Mexico State in the individual awards that we've garnered. A lot of things are happening in this program. Win and loss records are what the general public looks at on a consistent basis and over the years we've had some ups and downs. But when we've been up we've been really good. We're still as a coaching staff and a university working hard to maintain consistency in those areas which we think we've got a nice foothold now to continue to do that. At the same time the one thing that's been absolutely consistent in my time here is we've continued to develop All-Conference type players, All Americans, guys that lead the nation, not just Top 10, not just Top 20 but national leaders in categories statistically. Academic All-Conference guys, tons of them, I've had one Academic All-American. I think I would have had another one in Chris Auten had he not been hurt. Richard Stout was named Academic All-District. Those are all important things in what I do in the real world with my university and how it influences young people's lives. Universities are here to educate the world and educate our children and make the world better. If you wanted to try to put a mission statement on everybody, on all colleges, that's what they're trying to do. I've always believed that coaches and athletic programs have a very similar mission, we just kind of approach it from a little bit different way.
bc.net: You had several significant victories this season. The victory over UNM in Albuquerque was your first road win and it kind of set the table for the success this season away from Presley Askew Field. It was also an impressive come from behind victory.
RW: That series has a lot of emotion in it. Both teams have a pretty healthy respect for each other and they'd beaten us at home. So it made that win at their place a "we gotcha back" type win. It was meaningful in the overall season because we knew that they were really a good quality ballclub and to get that win on the road was important. But more importantly we did it after getting beat at home, in other words we did it with no momentum and it did set the tone for the rest of the year on the road. We've been a very good road team the past couple of years. That's one of the things you have to do in order to consider winning championships is you have to be a good road team. You can't just be good at home. When you get in league, half of them are on the road. If you're gonna win the league you're gonna have to be a good road team. We were a good road team, we did a good job and we put ourselves in a position all year to win the league and we put ourselves in position to win a conference championship.
bc.net: The next win on the list is the 12-11 victory over Hartford on the two run walk-off home run by Mike Sodders. Maybe more significant than the actual win was the fact that it allowed you to set the tone emotionally for your team the rest of the season.
RW: Yeah it was the game that I think established that we were going to be a reasonably good comeback team. You talk about road records but the things you're looking at are how good can you play on the road and how good do you play when somebody hits you in the mouth with a five-spot in the first? Can you get up off your back and go at them and stay tenacious and go win the game when you have no momentum? I think that's what that game did for us is it gave us the confidence that no matter where we were in the game we had the ability to come back and get it done.
bc.net: The 9-8 extra innings victory over UT-Pan American was the arrival game for Scott Coffman. He came in and pitched the 9th and 10th innings and got the win.
RW: Yeah it was. He came in and because of the scenario he got his first win. That was when he changed his role. He'd been kind of a guy we brought in as an inning stopper, a bridge guy is what we call them. When the starter gets in trouble and we need a guy to come in and get a couple hitters out and get us out of the inning and then we go to setup and close guys. In this case as it turned out he had to come in and pitch late in a completely different role and it did grow him up a lot because he had success there. What added to it was we really felt like we'd been homered a little bit in that game. We just didn't get any calls and it was hot and the fans were pretty rough. I remember them chanting "Overrated" for 30 minutes straight. I was just happy that when we won the game I didn't have to listen to that anymore. We went in there and we were ranked 23rd or 24th when we went into that series and all of the sudden they play us a pretty close baseball game and all of the sudden we're overrated. I thought it was great for the club because when you get ranked you can be proud of it but then you have to prove it, you've got to wear it, you've got to pony up and prove that you earned the ranking. That was an opportunity with the situation at hand for guys to collapse and say maybe they're right, maybe we're not as good as what other people are saying we are. But they didn't do that and it was a pretty important win for the club.
bc.net: The 2-0 victory over Fresno State was significant because it was the first time that a WAC opponent had shut out Fresno State in Fresno since the 2005 season.
RW: Yeah, we have a lot of records against Fresno in this season as a whole and we kind of set it up with what we did against them last year by winning three out of five at their place which not many people have been able to do over the years. It was D.J. Simon, it wasn't his coming out but it because he'd already been pretty darned good but it was hit game where he said, "I can win the big game." It was a specific point in time where everybody trusted that when we need to win a game he could go do it. He basically did it again against Fresno in game two of the conference tournament, we just couldn't score enough for him. He went out and pitched his butt off on two days rest and that performance was probably made possible by the 2-0 performance against them earlier and that type of confidence that you have to have.
bc.net: The next couple wins, the two wins against Louisiana Tech at the end of the regular season. The first win was a 16-0 win, the second game of a doubleheader day after getting beat and all the momentum starting game two being on La. Tech's side because of the way they won the first game coming from behind and then closing out the game on a double play. You come out and jump all over them in the first inning and pitching wise it was another D.J. Simon special.
RW: Yeah it was. That was won offensively because we just went out and put a 10-spot on them in the first. That game had a lot on it because we knew at that point that there were still a lot of games to be played and not only seeding but we still had the possibility of not making the tournament. We lose a tough game that we expected to win and then we come back and put the 10-spot on the board and then get three in the second and three in the third and then there was no more scoring the rest of the game. It was the second half of a doubleheader so it was a seven inning game, 16-0 win. But that qualified us for the [WAC] tournament. It sent a message back to the rest of the league that maybe we had sputtered at home a little bit against Hawai'i and get beat three out of four by San Jose but we probably weren't done yet.
I think it was important for the psyche of the ballclub that we could go out and win a game that way. It took a lot of pressure off of us the next couple days. But at the same time the next game we played we lost and we didn't handle it very well. By winning that game we could have still mathematically won the league and so could have La. Tech. I think both teams came out in game three and were tight. I mean very tight. We didn't play very well and we didn't get a very good outing out of Sebastien [Vendette] and I we got beat 17-9. It was ugly. But again the next game we come back and win and that locked up the 3rd place spot in the league which was obviously the best in school history and at that point we were just waiting on Fresno to see if they were going to tie us, which they did. But regardless of what it was, that win gave us a share of 3rd place and only a half game behind La. Tech and what ended up being three games behind San Jose State because they wound up sweeping Nevada. What it did was we split all the road games in the league. Historically in a good league like this if you're able to split all your road games and you win your series at home then you've got a chance to win the league. 15-9 wins this league. That's the formula. And so I think more than anything it gave us some confidence going into the conference tournament which we needed but it also gave us some precedent for future teams that we're going to go on the road and play well. Considering we lost on a walk-off home run at Fresno and a walk-off home run at Nevada we could have very easily been 8-4 on the road and probably should have been and maybe 9-3 if you consider that we didn't play very well in the first game against La. Tech and should have won that game. The thing about the whole league schedule is that we played so many league games tight it really prepared us for what we were getting ready to face in the conference tournament which were close games.
bc.net: The 10-9 victory over San Jose State where they jumped out to a 4-0 lead early and in the Hawai'i ballpark that can seem like a 6-0 or 7-0 lead. You come back and win that game.
RW: That was a funny game in that we got back to the top and then we didn't score again. Our biggest problem in the tournament was our biggest strength during the regular season. We didn't score late which put that game in jeopardy and we had to get a close out of Cooper in order to hold on to that game. The same thing happened to us in the game against Fresno. We got a leads in the first game that we gave up, we were behind in the second game twice but we got it tied twice. We just couldn't get that late inning score that would have given us the momentum. So we got it done against San Jose. Were we happy about it? Sure. But I was concerned at that point at how poorly we had performed offensively late in games. It wasn't something that I verbalized to my ballclub it's just something that you think about as a coach. I didn't foretell the Fresno State games but it ended up being our Achilles heel in the tournament.
bc.net: Were there any victories that were significant internally to the ballclub or the coaching staff that might not have readily stood out to the general fan?
RW: I think the first victory against Hawai'i was a pretty important win because they came in as the highest power rated team. They came in and their RPI was around 12 or 13. And we knew after we played the early non-conference season and we'd played Sacramento, we knew that Hawai'i was going to be a pretty good challenge. Again I thought we should have won three out of four in that series and could have had it not been for McDonald's two run homer in the 9th. They battled us pretty good. But I thought that was significant to the ballclub. It would have been really significant if we'd won three out of four. But to get the first win out of the way against them and as much as I talk negative about RPI it still matters. The ballclub understands this because they have the same access I do to the Internet and all these ranking systems and you can bet they look at this stuff. They knew that the Hawai'i games were going to be worth some points on our RPI. The battles that we had and the way we played at Fresno and Reno, they were good but they weren't turnarounds because we didn't win either series. We held our own but that's all we did. The ballclub as a unit had hoped that we could take that one step further and go win a series on the road. When we didn't do that I think it made the Hawai'i series at home more important. Even though we only split that series. I just remember the feeling around the ballclub when we opened that series against them, guys had their game face on. They had their tournament face on. That's when I knew as a coach that I had a pretty special ballclub that didn't need to be told how important that series was.