bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on the series victory over Nevada and the big come from behind victory in the Saturday game.
Rocky Ward: It was a big win. When you only have 18 conference games you can't afford to lose a home series and feel like you have a chance to win the league. It ended up being very important and it was another come-from-behind late inning victory. Once you've done it you always kind of have that bounce in your step that you're never really out of a game as long as you can get the tying run to the plate because you've done it already. I think it'll go a long ways as the season goes on. That win was made to happen because of the win at Arizona late and the win at Texas Tech where we came from behind late and the win at home against UT-Pan Am where we came from behind in the bottom of the ninth. Tech was the top of the ninth, two runs. We've done it a lot of late. What we're talking to the ball club about is yeah it's great that we've done it but we haven't played up to our potential up to those points. At Texas Tech yes but we didn't pitch well against Pan Am and didn't play very well against Pan Am and we didn't play very well in that game against Nevada.
To be honest, the kid did a really good job on the mound for them, their starter [Tom Jameson] and he was pretty tough. You get the win and go to 2-1 and 25-9 and on Monday after the Easter off day which all of us kind of needed you feel pretty good about where the ball club is. We're starting to get a few more votes in some of the other polls. It's the first time we've ever been in the Top 25 of the Baseball America poll. That's a tough poll to get into as a mid-major.
bc.net: The Texas Tech come from behind game and the game against Nevada on Saturday you had the top of the order coming to the plate in ninth and both times the second batter up, Bryan Karraker, really battled and had a key at bat in both of those come from behind wins.
RW: Yeah he was the most important character in the whole story. His at bats in both games were important. Relievers are shorting inning guys that are conditioned for less pitches. They throw more pitches at a higher max than starters do and when you go out and figure that most good relievers are good for 25 to 40 pitches and you go take 10 or 12 away from them in one at bat, it really weakens them. All of our guys wear one of those rubber bracelets. On one side it says "Win the pitch" and on the other side it says "Pass it on." That's what we mean by "Pass it on." You go battle the pitcher the best you can so that even if he does get you out and in both cases Karraker drew a walk, you go battle him and put your teammate in a stronger position against that pitcher. There are coaches out there that don't understand what we do. They don't understand how we can hit in the Top 10 in the country and take so many pitches. How can you take so many pitches that were hittable and still hit for such big average. Most hitting coaches think the biggest weakness is non-aggression and it's not. The biggest weakness of a hitter is not what pitches he takes but what pitches he swings at. That's what it comes down to.
Our batters are conditions to swing at pitches they can handle and it sets up situations like with Karraker, he fouled off a bunch of pretty good pitches off that reliever. That pitcher came at him with everything he had. It was a good battle. He had to throw four strikes in a row on 3-2 and the kid battled as good as you can battle, same thing with the guy at Texas Tech. You can't elect more from your pitcher but to go continue to make quality pitches for strikes on the outer edge of the plate in that count and win you win that type of at bat it takes a whole bunch out of the physicality of the pitcher but it also takes a lot out of him mentally. I know how I feels when it happens to us and it doesn't happen very often There's not anybody else that plans for that. We plan for it. When guys foul off a couple pitches, that's not abnormal for them, that's not something special, that's something you do. You win the pitch. If it's a good pitch, foul it off, waste it. Avoid the strikeout and make him throw another one. Maybe the next pitch will be one I can double or homer with and eventually, like in Bryan's case, the guy is going to throw four balls before he can get you out. His [Bryan] deal's been pretty neat. Zach Voight, Parker Hipp and Fisher, there's a bunch of guys that have the capability, he just happens to be the guy that's done it at that key point. I'm sure he would still prefer to have taken the second or third pitch and taken it out of the yard, the goal is not to go to the plate and take ten pitches and foul off five or six, the goal is to go to the plate and get a base hit but when the pitcher is throwing tough pitches at you that's all you can do sometimes.
bc.net: Along those same lines, the bottom third of your lineup has been good at turning the lineup over in the previous inning to get to the top of the order in those situations.
RW: Yeah you this club is so different because I've got guys at the bottom of the lineup, two of the three are hitting .330 or better and Lecount is the only hitting under .300 and he's pretty close but he's also driven in some runs and leads the team in home runs, predominantly out of the seven-hole. I moved him down to the nine-hole this weekend because he's got a ribcage pull and wasn't able to play on Thursday and Snowley hurt his elbow in the first inning and wasn't able to keep playing. We had to move him out and make some adjustments. Robert was able to go in game two and three but Snow was only able to DH.
What we've been able to do with Edwards, Snowley and Rust who are part of that 7, 8 and 9-hole along with Lecount who has been there consistently as a starter, is we're getting quality at bats out of those guys. and i they don't get it done with base hits and RBIs, they are turning it over to the top of the lineup.
I had a club, my very first team, I was an assistant coach at Kansas State, my seven, eight and nine-hole hitters were not Division I hitters but they hit that season combined around .270 and this was with the old bats, but they drew like 200 walks between them or something crazy. They did exactly what you're talking about. They were awesome at getting the lineup turned over. They'd gotten to the point where they were good enough to drive in runs here or there but realistically they knew how to get pitchers to pitch count, work the count and they drew a lot of walks. That particular team had some good talent in the middle of the lineup. THey didn't have a whole bunch of power, that club finished in the Top 20 in the nation in scoring yet only hit 22 home runs. That's a real low number for a team that scores that many runs but a lot of it had to do with the ability of the seven, eight and nine-hole to battle at bats.
What it does is it gets those guys in the middle of the lineup an extra at-bat a game. It's very unusual when the middle of my lineup doesn't get a fifth at-bat and when you get to that fifth at-bat, we're really hard to keep us out of double-figures.
bc.net: One of the other things you did was after the MInnesota trip is you split of Parker Hipp and Zac Fisher and put Voight in the cleanup spot and that has really paid off.
RW: Yeah, Fish is a funny guy, he's a really good quality baseball player, no question about it. But he's just never been comfortable in the four-hole. I don't know what it is. It wasn't so much about splitting those two [Hipp and Fisher] up as it was taking him out of that spot. I thought Zach Voight had earned that role. He's not a prototypical four-hole hitter. Bobby Lecount may be the most prototypical four-hole hitter on the ball club just in in terms of raw power. But it did help split the lineup. I think it helped both Hipp and Fisher who at the time I thought weren't playing terribly well. Their numbers weren't terrible, they just kind of needed Zach Voight's hard-nosed attitude towards the game, never give up, always give 100 percent type of attitude in the middle of the two guys, not that they're not that way, Zach just never comes off the game. I don't care how he feels, he's giving everything he's got. I think Parker and Fish for a few different reasons have a tendency to not focus real well if they're not in RBI situations or if the game's not as interesting to them, that sort of thing. Zach's going to play hard whether it's tied, we're up eight or down eight. I just thought it kind of put a different personality between a couple guys whose personality is as more laid back type of players.
The move was right after the Minnesota trip and all three players have been outstanding since that time.
bc.net: Losing the first game of the series snapped the 14-game win streak and you talked last week about being more interested in seeing how your team responded after the streak was snapped.
RW: I got what I wanted, there's not any question. I've been involved as a coach and a player in streaks and it becomes really, really personal because I was part of a 40-something game win streak at Oklahoma State in my senior year in college as a player. I believe we were 50-1 at one point but we finished the season 8-8 and did not make it to Omaha for the first time in eight years. You learn lessons in life through experience and sometimes experience is not a positive thing. Sometimes its a ghost that's in the back of your mind. Winning streaks because of what happened there have always kind of concerned me. We've had a few streaks and it's hard once you lose. The streak itself drives you into levels of play and levels of motivation. Players are not willing to give up on games during the streak because it takes so long, it's hard to get a streak to six or seven or eight games. There's a lot of things along the way and it's its own monster, its own motivation and so when you lose it, you have to now instead of having this big fan blowing at your back and pushing you along, it's not there anymore and you have to do it yourself. I thought the Friday game, game two, was a big game. Guys came out, played hard and put it to them [Nevada] pretty good and I thought that was a really good sign. The Saturday game, Jameson really pitched well and really stuck it to us pretty well and we didn't get anything going until the seven but once we got it going, it kicked in. A couple fans noticed that before the seventh the dugout was pretty dead. That's what we're talking about. There was no streak, no big fan blowing at our back, we had to do it ourselves and that's harder. When you're in the middle of a streak it's easier to bring about the emotions needed to make a comeback and to go play hard than when you don't have a streak going anymore. I just thought the guys did a pretty good job.
Once we got the breakthrough, we had a chance to pretty much win it in the seventh. We had Fisher to the plate and he struck out and it could have been pretty to say, "hey, we made a run, we came up short." We didn't get anything done in the eighth and we lead off the ninth with Tanner Waite hitting a rocket at the shortstop. What can you do other than hit a ball 100mph off the bat right at somebody? It practically took the guy's arm off. Then you get the Karraker walk that kind of gives you a little bit of air. They errored the first baseman on Hipp's ball but the ball was hit pretty hard right inside the line and the first baseman's holding the runner so he comes off of holding the runner and all of the sudden the ball is there. Was it a makable play? Yeah but the level of difficulty was pretty high. So it gets by him and we get to second and third and then you get a really hard hit ball, line drive into the gap but not enough gap out of Voight's bat and you get the sacrifice fly but that's two outs, man at third. Hipp advanced to third, that's how deep it ended up being. Then you get the first pitch fastball single out of Fisher to tie it and then the rest, Chavez pinch runs and a balk to second and a chopper to the right side. I thought that Phillips might have had a pretty fair chance of beating it. That's part of why the ball was thrown wild. The ball forced the infielder deep, he made the glove play and kind of rushed the throw. He threw it low and Chavez scored easily for the win.
bc.net: You head out to Sacramento this week to take on the Hornets who are coming off a trip to Ruston where they took two out of three from Louisiana Tech.
RW: I've watched them and they pitch pretty well, they play great defense, they're in the Top 20 in fielding percentage. They've got a kid in the middle of their lineup that's a quality player. We've face from SE Missouri, the nation's leading home run hitter, then we faced the nation's leading batting average guy in Texas-Pan Am and they've [Sacramento State] got another guy that's a pretty darn good hitter that's hitting in their four-hole, Rhys Hoskins, he's hitting .416 with 10 doubles, eight home runs and 32 RBI, those are big-time numbers. He hit two home runs against LA Tech in the Sunday game that were key blows. That kid's hot. Chung, their catcher has been a pretty good player. He played as a freshman, he's had a good offensive year. Then they get pretty short pretty quick. They're hitting .288 as a team but when you take .288 and put it in the national rankings, it's a top 100 ranking.
They've got Mendonca and Leaito as starters and Leaito beat LA Tech 2-1 and that's a pretty tough park to play a 2-1 game in. Pitching staff-wise they've got some pretty good arms.
I think they're a better club than they've historically been and Reggie's done a nice job with them. They're 9-5 at home, they're right at .500, 16-16. They, like us won two out of three on the weekend. We're going to have to go to Sacramento and play good baseball. There's not any question about that. Historically we've played pretty well there but Sacramento proved that they're ready to play at a little higher level in the league than they have the last two years.