bleedCrimson.net: Last Tuesday's win over Texas Tech was obviously a great come-from-behind win and maybe moreso than any of the other games this year, it was an entire team effort from the pitching staff, the hitters, the defense, everyone.
Rocky Ward: I agree. In looking at the game it was one of those real unique games where you really can't find anybody that didn't contribute in a positive way. There wasn't one single performance that was outstanding, it was just a bunch of guys doing what needed to be done. That's the way I viewed it as well. You're always looking for those team effort type games where you don't have to rely on single performances but the cumulative effect of everybody doing their job is a big deal.
bc.net: One of the performances that you got from the pitching staff that stood out was the freshman Robert Kraft coming in in a bases loaded situation with one out and he comes in in a situational lefty vs. lefty and gets the strikeout. That's a big deal for a freshman in that type of situation.
RW: Yeah, it was a big deal. We talked about Robert's role with this club, it's a very mature, older club and as far as having a specified role as a closer or starter or something like that, the opportunity wasn't going to be there. I used him in the same role against Texas-Pan American, it wasn't quite the same level because it wasn't quite the importance because of the quality of opponent and the situation. It was a big deal because those are things that are kind of like a pinch hit base hit. It's the same correlation to be able to come in and perform at a very important time, under pressure, especially as a younger player. It was a big deal.
Then Tyler Mack came in on top of him and gave us his third outstanding short performance. You feel like to certain extend that he's reinvented himself as a setup/close type guy and that's good because that kid has worked his tail off. It's easy to feel sorry for yourself and he just hasn't. He's gone to work and he's willing to go help any way he can and he's had some pretty important outings.
bc.net: You talked a couple weeks about one of the one remaining things for this ball cub to establish before getting into conference play was finding that third guy to go alongside Scott Coffman and Robert Roher. Do you feel like Tyler Mack has thrown his hat into the ring with his last three performances?
RW: Yeah absolutely. He has and Evan Mott has as well with his outing against Arizona. He got roughed up a little bit against Pan Am but that was my fault. He was on short rest and he wanted the ball and he just didn't have very good stuff and I didn't get him out soon enough. I probably should have gone a different direction but at the same time part of the reason I went to him was because Roher wasn't available. We were a little short and he just didn't have very good stuff. I'm disappointed in the fact that I put him in a situation on short rest that I really probably shouldn't have. I thought of him as a couple inning type of guy where he probably is more of a couple out or inning type guy. He's a guy that's done that and put himself into a significant role, especially when you're starting to talk about three game conference series and you don't have to pitch as many innings. You need quality innings. I think we've found that. When you start the weekend you don't ever feel like you're going to run out of pitching on a three game set. I felt like I came pretty close in the Pan Am set to running out of pitching but they were really a good quality offensive ball club and the offensive conditions were pretty good. Now we go back and we really only have to pitch three game weekends. We have plenty of guys prepared to go do that.
bc.net: Obviously Scott Coffman has been outstanding, came in and closed the door on Texas Tech striking out the side on 12 pitches. Since that game against Nebraska he's been lights out. Even though it was a missed opportunity do you think that may have helped him in the long run?
RW: It can, yes. There's no value to success without failure and so when you have failure, the good athletes work harder. I don't mean to imply that he wasn't working hard because he was. I think it may have reset him a little bit and say, "You know, I've got to stay at this. I'm the type of guy that when I'm really focused, I'm really good but I can't come out here and be out of focus, I can't miss on a couple pitches." I think that did reset him and get him ready for these types of closes.
bc.net: One of the things we talked about at the beginning of the year and it was a kind of wait and see to see how it would shake out but this team has really taken the mantle of being a good road team.
RW: Yeah to this point we have. We're still somewhat limited in opportunities but the two against Arizona and the one against Tech, those three games in particular were important road wins and you feel like at least it's neutral. Until you go on the road in league and follow up with similar performances you're not quite there. But you don't feel like it's a club that's going to be bothered home or road much and that's good. The guys knew they didn't play well in Minnesota. We didn't play horrible, we had Nebraska beat and played well enough in the other Minnesota game but in the game against West Virginia and the other game against Minnesota we just didn't play well. Again, it makes guys sit back and reevaluate who they are and what they want to be and they've done a nice job with it.
bc.net: One of the byproducts of the good play has been the win streak which now stands at a school record 13 games which is a significant thing.
RW: Yeah, all streaks are significant just because they feed on themselves. As a coach you worry about how your team is going to act when it's over because it's kind of a security blanket but at the same time when you're in the middle of it you know there's a whole lot of motivation, a whole lot of mojo. You just feel like that you'll just find a way. We found a way to win a game late against Pan Am, it was a long, long doubleheader day, didn't play terribly well, kind of hung on to win the first game and you come from behind to win that one. The Texas Tech game was a game in which we played pretty well but we're starting to feel like that if we can stay in games we're going to make a run at people and the streak helps you to get that done. It keeps you motivated. There are days as athletes where you're mentally tired, either you haven't played well or the other team has played real well and there are times where you feel like, "Geez, let it go, take the loss and move on to tomorrow." Winning streaks don't let you do that. You say, "Forget that, it's worth continuing to play hard for." I also stay concerned as the head coach of how we play after the streak ends and somewhere along the line it'll end but I don't think any of our guys plan for it to be any time soon. I think for somebody to beat us at this point they're going to have to play really well.
bc.net: Tuesday you take on New Mexico the last non-conference game before you start conference play.
RW: It's a good week. It's a week I've looked forward to. They're all high emotion games and as it turns out they're going to be a little bit higher stakes. New Mexico is coming off winning two of three games at Fresno. They've played very well their last 10 or 15 games. They;ve just played good baseball. It'll be a good challenge. Nevada, I've always looked at like a litmus test. They're not always been the best team in the league, they've just been the team that historically when we've played well against them it's been a good year. That doesn't mean if you don't play well you're going to have a bad year. It's just one of those things that the next four games are going to be a little bit different emotionally and physically and we're looking forward to the challenge.
The opening conference series always brings a different feel to it. It's not always a higher level of competition but the games are more meaningful. Now the games are counting toward your seeding in the conference tournament and there's history and tradition that you have to carry on your back during each series. The last time Nevada was in town we beat them two out of three and had the tie where we felt like we were going to beat them three out of four but it ended in a tie because of the travel curfew deal. But then last year they swept us at their place. It's important that we play well against them. I think they'll walk in and play good baseball. They've played well of late. Their power rating has improved consistently over the last couple of weeks. I think behind us they're the hottest team in the league.
bc.net: The three game series instead of the four game series laves just a little less margin for error in these conference series.
RW: Yeah it does because we only have 18 [league games]. I've stated publicly a couple different times that 18 games to determine conference seeding is not enough. It's not fair. 24 is a more reasonable number and of course it depends on the size of the league what you can get. But 18 is just not enough. You can have a tough weekend and it can take you out of any contention. If you have two bad weekends you may be looking at fighting for a lower seed. It is what it is, it makes each game more important. The one good thing about it is you no longer have these split series where nobody wins. At least now somebody is going to win the conference series. That changes the attitude a little bit. When there can be a tie competitive juices are not quite as strong. You can lose the first two and feel like you still can stabilize when you're playing a four-game series. Teams that win the first two in a three game series more often than you think go on and win the third game and sweep the series. In a four game series, the other team can win the other two a little more often. There's just a different attitude to it. There's always hope. You're going to have some of those times that you're going to play well in those first two games or you can play poorly in those first two games, whatever side of the coin you're on, you're going to have to bring your emotion up to get that third game. You can't win the series but it might really impact your seeding later so each game becomes very important.
bc.net: You feel very comfortable with your starting rotation for these three game conference series with Ryan Beck, Michael Ormseth, Casey Collins and the rest of the guys who have had success in the starting rotation.
RW: Yeah, we're going to go with Adam Mott on Tuesday against New Mexico and then we're going to go with Beck, Ormseth and Collins in that rotation. We feel like those four guys have been the most consistent. Tim Torsney has given us a couple outings but he's been more consistent out of the bullpen. Ryan Beck is clearly your number one guy, he's the older player who's carried the torch, been there done that. Michael Ormseth has put up good numbers. His ERA is the lowest between the four. He's pitched in a couple tough situations with tough pitching conditions. He pitched at home against UNM where it was a windy day and kind of tough to pitch. He pitched in another game at home in a windy day that in both cases he pitched well enough to win and kept us in there but he ERA took a beating. I think matching him up with what the rest of the league has on Saturdays, we're going to have a pretty good advantage. I think for the first time we feel like we have an advantage on Friday and Saturday. The league has a lot of new people in it and most of what we're going to see on Sunday are a lot of people I'm not familiar with but we feel like we're at least even on Sunday. I've always felt that if our pitching staff is even, our offense is going to be the tiebreak. In particular when we get into Sunday and in particular if they've had to use some of their better bullpen to get to that stage. Our offense is hard to keep under control for that long. I'm very comfortable with what we have as our four base starters, I feel like we can use them in any combination and I'm very happy with what we're getting from our bullpen. Even if we have one of those days where a guy gets a little behind in the pitch count or gets banged around a little bit or has an unlucky day where he gives up four or five ground ball base hits, that sort of thing, we've got two or three guys that we feel really good coming out of the pen for an inning or two or even four or five if we need to. Pitching staff-wise we have more answers than we ever have. If a starter gets blown up and has to be taken out in the third we have guys we feel like can go in and stabilize the game and get us the win.
bc.net: The last couple outings for Ryan Beck and Michael Ormseth haven't been necessarily dominant outings, they haven't been bad outings either but the team has been able to find a way to win even with the dominant pitchers not having their dominant games.
RW: Going back to the Tuesday game against Arizona we were concerned because we asked both Beck and Ormseth to pitch, not on short rest, short rest would be two days rest, but to pitch on four days or five days. That's hard to do on with college pitchers. There's some people that do it but your' going to pay the piper at some time. In the Arizona game he was good through three and then he ended up giving up five and I think that was part of it. He just didn't quite have the edge but he gave us what we needed and kept us in the game and that's what both guys have done. Even when they haven't had their best stuff, they've battled and the guys trust them. There have been enough times where they've carried us. If a guy bobbles a little bit and gives up a two or three run inning, nobody's panicking about it. They're also guys that if they give up a three run inning, they rarely follow it up with another bad inning. That's what Michael Ormseth has been able to do. He's had a couple times where he's had bad innings but he's followed them with a couple zeros. If a guy establishes that he can do that then you'll weather the storm so to speak and know that he's going to give you an opportunity over the next couple innings to have your own big offensive inning and guys have done that. The last couple outings for both guys were below their numbers but there ar reasons for it and we won those games because guys trusted that they did what they could do under the circumstances. They're well rested, I'm looking forward to seeing Ryan Beck on Thursday night against Nevada. It's the most rested he's been in a while. The same thing with Michael Ormseth on Saturday. In fact, basically all of our guys are going to be very well rested with plenty of down time to get their bodies back to them.
bc.net: The team's defense has really improved over the course of the season and is to the point where you feel like you can go out and win a game with the field defense.
RW: I felt like all along that it was kind of an anomaly. Parker Hipp has gone through a couple periods where he's kind of made some silly errors. The left side of the infield has been really good with Lecount and Voight. Their numbers have been really solid. We've struggled a little bit with some defensive mistakes behind the plate and at first but those guys have solidified. It's not because they can't do it. They just weren't focused enough. I've had player where you've just had to live with them. Gabe Veloz was an All-American a few years back and made 30 errors as a second baseman. There were a couple times when he threw the ball in the air over the catcher who was backing up the first baseman and you just said, "Okay" and you moved on. The kid also hit .400 and drove in 80 runs. I think late in the season he only made two errors in the last 10 games. Gabe as far as a talent, he didn't have great defensive talent. I think the guys that I have defensively have above average defensive talent and when they need to go play, they will.
Robert Lecount had been near flawless as a third baseman, made three errors late in the Wednesday game against Arizona but you would have never known it. The guys handled it. The forgave him, you move on. We had a double play in the eighth and a double play in the ninth that solidified it. That's the other thing about our club. We're a little bit more desensitized maybe than other teams are to mistakes or errors. We're going to handle a defensive mistake and not let it bother us better than some of the other clubs that are out there and that's a good thing.