bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on the weekend series with Kent State. You were able to salvage a series split winning both games of the doubleheader on Sunday.
Rocky Ward: Yeah it was a big deal because we'd been struggling as of late, in particular defensively early in the game as well as what we were getting from our bullpen. We were swinging the bats okay, our numbers were okay but we weren't hitting with runners in scoring position and we did all of it on Sunday in the double header. We pitched well, just a couple defensive miscues but they were acceptable ones. There are acceptable defensive errors and there are bad errors. Some people don't quite understand that.
There are time where you know the level of difficulty of the play or the circumstances of the play are different between two types of errors. We made a bad error in game two that led to a six run inning. We make an error on a double play ball where Parker just dropped the ball, he just dropped it. One of those type of focus errors that the standard baseball fans looks out there and says, "my 12 year old son could have got that ball," that type of deal. We've had some issues with those silly errors that can only be attributed to a guy not staying focused enough.
Overall on Sunday we hit with runners in scoring position. Fisher had a nice day, Lecount had a nice day, Waite had a nice day. Waite and Fisher had not been putting up the type of numbers we had been expecting of them so it was good to see those guy kind of step forward and get after it and once we got past their starter they didn't have much left in the bullpen. They really had a good ball club, no question about it. They played solid defense. Their outfield covered what you would expect plus a little bit more. A guy for them that really had a bad weekend for them was their third baseman and his errors didn't impact them that much. Overall it was a real good day. It was one of those days that you needed. Coming off a couple of losses at home, one of which, the Friday game their left-hander is as good as we'll face all year and the Saturday guy was good but we got to him early and got him out but we just didn't play well defensively, the 10-9 game.
All those runs in the third inning, the six runs, were not all unearned but only because of the way baseball scoring works. That inning should have started with a base hit followed by a 6-4-3 double play, nobody on and two outs but in the official scorebooks as you know you can't assume the double play. You can only make the lead run unearned and we proceeded to give four or five consecutive hits after that and just couldn't get them stopped. Game two we just felt like we handed to them. We didn't deserve to win it. There are games you may not deserve to win because you didn't play great but this one we just handed to them on the platter. We had the early lead, had them on the ropes, their starting pitcher would have been out had we not given up the six run inning. We were really disappointed with the way we played. Sunday became important. We went out, didn't play perfect baseball by any stretch but we went out and played pretty well. We played without our starting center fielder Kyle Phillips. He got hit by a pitch on Friday in a certain spot in his quad that every time he tried to get loosened up, he couldn't loosen it up and so he was out for the weekend. Then in game two we lost McNeel to what turned out to be a deep bone bruise. He got hit by a pitch in a pinch hit role, the x-ray was negative so it's not broken but he wasn't playable on Sunday so all of the sudden Fisher had to catch all but one inning of the weekend and that's tough. He did a nice job.
There were a lot of good things to come out of the weekend. You hate spitting a weekend series but if you look at the series as a whole, you won a big game against New Mexico on Tuesday so you go 3-2 on the weekend. When you look up, Kent State's pitching is good, their defense is solid and they can swing the bat a little bit, they're going to win a lot of baseball games especially once they get back into conference play. They've won that league three out of the last four years and either won the regular season or the tournament the last four years and I don't see why they wouldn't be the odds on favorite again this year. I believe Eastern Michigan is in that league, they played Hawai'i this weekend and split with Hawai'i at Hawai'i. They have some pretty good teams.
bc.net: The first game of the series, you look at the four games and you come out with a split but it was also a situation that you might have been able to win three out of four. You had the bases loaded in both the bottom of the seventh and bottom of the eighth but only come away with one run in each inning in a 7-4 loss.
RW: Yeah, it was a little bit of an extension, we struggled hitting with runners in scoring position in Minnesota. Then we get home and obviously we hit well against Minnesota but once we got to the front side, we were off to the races and it's a different feel. We've gotta hit better under pressure when we're trailing. It's not just getting hits, it's putting the ball in play hard. You've gotta make the defense under pressure make a play. That's what our opponents are doing to us.
That game was disappointing, the kid on the mound was good and we were really good against him except for when we had to get it done in RBI situations. Zac Fisher may have had the worst game of his career. On the box score it's a bunch of wild pitches, there were eight or nine but most of them were pitches that he should block. Again it's another one of those deals that by rule, if the ball is in the dirt it's given a wild pitch not a passed ball yet certain pitches are expect, the catcher knows what the pitch is and if it's a curveball he knows it's more likely to be in the dirt and so you have to shift your feet and prepare for it. In my career, most of my passed balls were on breaking balls that didn't get in the dirt like I thought they were going to and went off my glove. You drop to your knees to block a pitch you expect to be down and it doesn't break much and stays up and kind of goes off the heel of your glove. That's kind of the prototypical passed ball, that and the two or three that you get every year when the pitcher crosses you up. Anyway, that was really more of a concern than anything else. We trailed but then we had gotten the lead but then we gave it right back with some sloppy defense. The runners move up on a wild pitch, then score on a base hit. Four or five of their runs were directly impacted by the wild pitch. The pitches that were thrown, there weren't any true wild pitches that were just uncatchable. In fact, some of them were purposeful pitches in the dirt. They were a pretty aggressive team, we'd go get them to two strikes and we'd throw a breaking ball in the dirt and didn't handle it.
I'm not totally displeased with the weekend because it was one of those opportunities to have a learning experience. Your backs are agains the well, we'd been beaten twice, we'd lost three out of four on the road, we could live with that but we can't live following it up with losing three out of four at home. We're a better club than that but if you get too deep along the path of negative experiences it's hard to recover from it. I thought it was a really important day to win both of those games and do it in a very dominating fashion, the way that we hope our offense can do to somebody occasionally. We just go up and bludgeon somebody with our power, score so much so early that they feel like they have no chance. It took some pressure off the pitching staff, there's no question about that.
Michael Ormseth's outing wasn't great but it was good, Michael seems to be able to turn it up when you have to and that's important. The kid won two games last week. He started the New Mexico game and they got after him pretty good with the six runs in the first two innings but as soon as we got the six to match it and got back even, all of the sudden he's dealing. That's good. The kid ends up going six innings and getting the win in a game that we pretty much won going away. They ended up scoring four runs late that were basically meaningless but same deal. We were originally planning on throwing Michael in the second game of the doubleheader but after we lost the game on Saturday I made the change. It doesn't really matter much. Some people believe the extra four or five hours rest does matter, it might or might not but the bottom line is I wanted what I think is my best guy going now. Adam Mott hadn't been very good his last two times out but he was fabulous against Wake Forest to open the season and if you haven't noticed, they're 12-4 with three out of their four losses against us. That's good, that's what you want. You want a lot of wins after they play you. That's how you benefit in the power rating systems and in fact, looking at our more recent opponents. Stanford beat Rice two out of three but it was at Stanford and Stanford beaten everybody this season and at this point look to be clearly the number one team in the country even though nobody is voting them that way. Most people have Florida in that spot. I don't agree with them, Stanford's schedule has been much more difficult but a lot of those ratings are based on regional preferences and where you started in the rankings.
Nebraska split with Cal who is highly ranked. New Mexico went out and swept Gonzaga who had started the season 10-0 and had moved up to 28 so it was a big weekend. It benefits us, it benefits our power rating because at this point Gonzaga is worth a bunch of power points. Since we play New Mexico, we get a piece of Gonzaga's record. Overall it was a pretty good weekend when you look at how RPI works.
Overall, the schedule we've played, we've survived it well. Nobody has overmatched us, even Rice. We felt like we can play with anybody, if we play a good clean solid game, we can beat anybody in the country. Out of the eight losses, six of them have been games where we've played poorly, not just average, we've played bad. Sometimes that can be good if you can get it out of your system and start playing a little bit more consistently. Sometimes all it takes for you to get headed in the right direction is for one of your best players to get hot or to win a doubleheader the way we did, with our backs against the wall a little bit.
The kid they had going to the mound was legitimate. They reminded me a lot of Rhode Island. They came in here in 2002 and played us and we won all four but later that year their one and two pitchers were drafted in the top five rounds. I thought they were pretty good but they proved that obviously the pro people thought they were pretty good too. The left-hander that we faced on Friday and the game one starter on Sunday are really legitimate pro prospects. The right-hander that went on Sunday that we took care of pretty well was 93-94 mph with a really good breaking ball. He had some problems throwing strikes with it in the first couple of innings that put him in trouble and got him behind but later in the game he started throwing the hammer over the plate and even when he did that I thought my guys handled it pretty well.
bc.net: Your thoughts on the game against New Mexico on Tuesday night against a suddenly surging Lobo squad.
RW: It'll be a good game. We've got Casey Collins going, he needs to have a good outing. He just hasn't had that marquee outing yet. Adam Mott went out and had a great game against Wake and showed himself and us what he can do. He hasn't returned to that form yet but that's okay, Michael Ormseth has had a couple, obviously Ryan Beck has had three or four of those, not just because of what he's done in the past, it's easy for Ryan because he's coming off a ten win season but you still have to go out and reestablish it. So Casey's kind of waiting, we're waiting on him to kind of have that good outing, we're hopeful that tomorrow will be that breakout day. He hasn't been terrible, don't get me wrong, but he just hasn't had that good 100 pitch outing, six innings, couple runs where you can say Casey Collins has the ability to go out against a good offense, which New Mexico is, and keep them two two or three runs. If he can do that we're going to win a lot of baseball games because we're pretty difficult to keep below those numbers. It'll be important in that regard.
The weather is supposed to be nice up there, the daytime high is supposed to be around 70. It'll be an important game for Casey, it's one I think he can get established in. It's always an important game to the kids. To experience championship level type game atmosphere is always important. This game you always have to prepare a little bit differently. Isotopes Park is always a unique ballpark to play in, the ball carries extraordinarily well but they have a deep center field and they've got in the outfield. It may be neat for the fans and it has it's own spice for it but I worry about some guy blowing his Achilles heel running full fledge into that hill.
It's a midweek game, we generally do pretty well in midweek games because our offense is kind of hard to hold down. Gera Sanchez has had a great start to his season. He's a local product. I think he's gone nine and given up three hits. I think he threw two or three innings on Friday and another inning on Saturday, he should be well rested enough to come into the game. They're pitching a kid named McCasland who pitched in relief in our game and this'll be his first start.
It's still a game that we always find a way to challenge each other even if one of us finds the way to the top side, the other one always seems to find a way to come back. We're looking forward to it.
Editor's Note: We'll have Coach Ward's preview of the Southeast Missouri State series up later this week: