bleedCrimson.net: You had a very good week last week with the team winning a pair of games over No. 5 Arizona, probably two of the best wins the Aggies have had in the non-conference in quite a while.
Rocky Ward: As far as ranked opponents go, we haven't done that in non-conference in a while. There's history, my first season Texas Tech was ranked number one and we beat them twice. We've beaten ranked opponents in the past. That's kind of been the claim to fame at New Mexico State. Even in the years we haven't been that good, we've beaten somebody pretty good. I've been spending 15 years trying to get rid of that and trying to establish a program that can win the games they're supposed to win and we've done a pretty good job of that the last few years. The Arizona games, in particular under the circumstances where I wasn't able to be there and dad wasn't able to be there, the kids responded very well, played a very good game. It was wasn't one of those games where the underdog walked in and hit the opponent in the mouth with a big spot and held onto a lead. We played toe-to-toe with them in a regular baseball game. We'd tie it, they'd take the lead, we'd tie it, they'd take the lead and eventually we got a zero and then got to the top of the game. It was just a very well played baseball game on our part. Arizona didn't play particularly well, they made a couple errors in that game that influenced the outcome of the game.
I was really more impressed with Wednesday's game because Coach Evans had to go to the hospital 20 minutes before the game and all of the sudden the top three coaches aren't there and [assistant] Nate Shaver is a real quality kid, much more mature for his age and the kids handled it fine, this is a very mature ball club. I thought that they'd do fine with it and they did. They went out and took the game to them and had them on their heels the whole game, got up 8-1 at one point. We made our own share of mistakes to kind of let them get back into the game and 8-6 but then we turn around and score again and just didn't let them get back in it and to me that was the more impressive of the two just because you can say the first game you could say that Arizona handed to us because they didn't play very good defense, you could argue that point. Game two we took it to them and beat them straight up. We were the ones that made the mistakes. They played errorless baseball I believe and we made three and still managed to play well enough in other aspects to win.
bc.net: You've talked with your club this season about being able to control the momentum of the game with your bats and that was something the team was able to do in that second game against Arizona, getting out to the early lead and then also answering their 5-spot with four the next inning and then one the following inning to get back all the runs that were given up.
RW: That again, those two or three innings I was proudest of the ball club because they had already gotten the upset and they didn't have to win the other game. They were still going to come home with some pride. That game was the turning point for the ball club because not only did they think they could play with these guys but that they could aggressively get after them and they did. They matched them step for step and then in the end beat them pretty handily.
When the kids came back home they were excited about it but they were reasonable about it. They weren't all full of themselves, they were proud of themselves but they were ready to go to the next series. I warned them about the Pan American series, it was a trap series, you're coming off an emotional road series where the kids played really well. I didn't want them or expect them to raise their emotional level for a home series against Pan Am, you can't carry that for a long period of time. We didn't play terribly good but we didn't play bad. We played good when we needed to in all four games. We did control most of the games with the bat. We had a couple tough innings defensively and pitching and made a few more errors than we would have liked to but I think a lot of that can be attributed to the kids being emotionally and physically tired. To play six games in a week in the early season is okay. Guys are not banged up with small injuries and things like that but to play them at this stage and play them at the level that we've played them, it just requires the ability to know how to turn it on a little bit when you need to and not necessarily coast when you don't but go play the game at an even keel and then bring about what emotion you need for whatever the situation is in front of you and they did a nice job with it.
Texas Pan Am had three of the better hitters I've seen in a while from the standpoint of performance. Mechanically they were unique, they weren't necessarily pure good mechanical hitters but they went out and got after us. They hit with runners in scoring position, they hit for power, they were a pretty potent offensive ball club and I thought our guys did a pretty good job outside of a couple innings. You hate giving up 17 runs in a doubleheader to somebody, a few of those were unearned but we played well enough in different phases of the game to win and at the end of the weekend when the dust kind of settles and you take a breath and you've got a 12 game winning streak, your national RPI is up to 15, highest in school history. I'm a little surprised we're getting basically no attention in the polls. I'm really excited about the RPI.
bc.net: The second win in Saturday's doubleheader was your first walk-off win of the year.
RW: Yeah it was. It was a gutty deal because both teams were pretty tired. A doubleheader this time of the year, both nine inning games. You play an 11-9 game, almost a four hour game in game one and they gained some momentum coming out of that game even though we won it. They scored late and challenged us and we kind of had to hold on to win it.
We go into the top of the seven with the lead and we give up three and give up three and we made a mental mistake in the bottom of the seventh. We've got two outs, runner at first and Tanner Rust pops up to shallow center field and the second baseman goes back and Kurt Snowley, instead of flat out running with two outs, he went to second base and stopped and the guy drops the ball. So now we've got two outs, first and second and Tanner Waite doubles to give us one run but we don't score the tying run. It wasn't about hustle, it was just mental tiredness, just kind of worn out. A couple of his teammates got after him about it but I understood better than they did, he was just kind of worn out. Yes, he should have run full out and yes we should have had runners at second and third when Waite doubles, we would have scored them both and tied it at that point but it made it even more of a big deal to do it with that disappointment and not getting the tying run scored and not scoring in the eight. We got a really nice performance out of Tyler Mack. We were a little short pitching because of some moves I had made earlier in the day. Tim Torsney didn't have very good stuff in game one and only went two and two thirds so we kind of had to piece that game together. Evan Mott who had pitched great at Arizona had a four run inning in game one and so we'd kind of used a lot of pitching. Tyler Mack pitched a couple innings in the first game and he said, "Coach, I'm still good." I said good, I'm going to put you out there and he gave me two good innings and got the win and it was two dominant innings in the eighth and ninth.
So we get the same two guys from the seventh, Kurt Snowley gets me a drawn walk, had to foul off a couple pitches to get it, it's not like the pitcher went out and threw four balls. Tanner Rust gave me a similar type at bat and then Tanner Waite goes to the plate and with two strikes and two outs he lines a triple down the right field line and we win. It was a great win. It was a gutsy win. They did what they needed to do, they brought their emotions up, they were tired and worn out but they managed to find enough energy to get it done.
Then in game four on Sunday, we went out on Sunday and just got after them. We win the game 19-2 and the two runs were unearned. Casey Collins pitched well and we were able to get Cody Edwards [innings], who most people aren't even aware is a pitcher. We recruited Cody Edwards out of JC as a pitcher. He was actually a 47th or 48th round draft choice as a pitcher but he'd had the Tommy John surgery and when he came in in the fall we threw him a little but he got sore and we backed off of him and gave him a few months to rest and worked him as a hitter and he did really well. We're trying to work him back in to a useable pitcher and his couple innings were solid. He went out, looked healthy, had a good arm, had a good slider and it was good to see. It's another guy we can go to especially when we get into conference.
The quiet advantage of the home team in conference games is we have our full roster available to us where the road team doesn't. They can't travel their full 35 man roster, most of them travel what they normally would in conference which is anywhere from 23 to 26 players. So when we're playing at home in non-conference we have the advantage of having more players available to us and in particular more pitching. But we're getting ready, we have two more non-conference games before we start conference play against Nevada. Home games in league you have to turn in a 26-man eligible roster. You have your whole team there but only 26 are eligible to play and you have to report that prior to the series and if somebody gets hurt, you can't replace them. So both teams are equal in the number of players they can draw from. Cody Edwards who is clearly going to be on the ball club as an offensive player, to have him available in one of those weekends, either at home or one the road where you might get a little bit short pitching-wise, he'll be pretty important to us.
bc.net: Tuesday the team heads to Texas Tech and another chance to pick up a quality win.
RW: This ball club has already proven that they can play quality baseball and they don't have to have me there and that's good. These guys are prepared. I gave Coach Shaver the lineup so it's already set. He knows who is going to play and how I want to use people and Coach Evans as of right now is going to make the trip and he'll be able to manage the pitching staff. I'm not overly concerned. I'm not worried about the game, I'm not worried about the team, I'm just going to be upset when we win again and I'm not there!
I think they'll go in there and play good baseball. They've already proven to themselves that they can. I think if we were playing the Rice games this weekend, I think this ball cub is much more prepared to go on the road and play an opponent like that than we were when we played Rice in the fifth and sixth games of the season. I think that's where the transition has been made. Just because of the way this crazy schedule was put together and the way the rotations could be put together, we're going to go to the mound with one of our best in Ryan Beck. That in itself gives us a pretty good chance to win. We really have our full pitching staff available to us because we don't have any weekend games just because of a scheduling snafu. It's probably a pretty good time, we've played more games than any team in the country at this stage and my guys have held out well. My guys have held out well. We've avoided injuries to this point, nothing big. I had to sit out Kyle Phillips on Sunday but it wasn't a big issue. Andy Lyon replaced him and had three hits and a home run. It's nice when you have a guy out for a day or two and you don't really miss him because the other guy performs well.
I think it's a pretty good Texas Tech team. It'll be a pretty good challenge. Historically we've played pretty well there. It's not like Arizona. I've beaten Texas Tech in Lubbock a couple times and so it's not something we haven't done.
We've talked about streaks before. Streaks keep you going. It probably had a lot to do with the come from behind victory in game two against Pan Am. You don't want to give that up. You're willing to bring the emotion up to keep something going that's hard to get to. I think right now we have the second longest active winning streak in the country and you don't want to give it up. We'll get a good outing out of Ryan Beck and play some good quality baseball. I think we'll have a good chance to win.
bc.net: When we talked at the beginning of the season about the team one of the things that stood out was that this club, at least on paper, appeared to be a very mature, experienced club and you agreed and said that you thought it was a club that could survive a rough start to the season with the tough schedule, obviously that hasn't been the case but you've had a couple situations like the illness last week that you had to tend to, Coach Evans' absence and handling that and the club has shown the ability to follow up a big win with another big win.
RW: We have good leadership with the club. Guys take responsibility. Leadership isn't about standing up and yelling and screaming or cheerleading. It's about showing people the path. When things are tough stepping up. Dad used to make the statement, Leaders are willing to strip naked and run down main street in order to get people to follow them. What that means is when things are good, everybody wants to be in the limelight and when things are bad people want to go hide in the shadows. Leaders don't do that. Leaders stay out in sun and show the way and we've got several guys that are willing to do that. Willing to go out and take the risk and say, "Hey, we're down five in the eighth, we can do this" and convince a whole bunch of other players that they can do it.
I'm sure what transpired when I had to leave the ball club on Tuesday do go be with my mom. If you don't have good leadership in that type of situation then the naysayers, the pessimists out there take over. They just didn't. They've grown into what I thought they could be to this point. We have a lot of baseball to play, there's no question about that and there's going be ups and downs. I think we have enough leadership with this ball club. We're talented, there's no question about that. We have better depth on our pitching staff, we have more skilled defensive players and we are an absolutely deadly offense. If you make a mistake against us, you can't survive it. We're just too good. At this point we lead the nation in runs scored and against a very good schedule. Players have raised their level of play to the level of the competition.
The great thing about it is we don't have to be great offensively every weekend because our pitching staff has been good enough. I'm really looking forward to seeing what New Mexico State baseball can do when we only have to play three games in a week. We've had several cases where we've had to have five starters. What are we going to be like when I go at people with Beck, Ormseth and Adam Mott and I've got Casey Collins and TIm Torsney and Coffman, Tyler Mack and Evan Mott in the bullpen? I'm going to be able to bring to really good arms at people when we only have to play three games in a week. That's something we've never been able to do and because of what we've been able to do in this first half of the season, that also bodes very well for a six team conference tournament where sometimes you have to have a fourth or fifth starter and where sometimes the difference between the winner and the loser is how much pitching depth they have.