bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on the weekend sweep of Louisiana Tech? You felt like going into the weekend you didn't necessarily need to sweep the series but you were able to get that result.
Rocky Ward: You don't have to [sweep] but it does give you a little bit of breathing room. This is baseball and this weekend was an example. We win in the bottom of the ninth twice and then follow it up with a run-rule victory. We could have very well have lost two out of three at home. That can happen at any time. We didn't play poorly and they played pretty good baseball in particular the first couple games and they weren't real bad in game three. I thought that [Michael] Ormseth was good and our pitching staff was good, all weekend for that matter.
bc.net: You talked in the postgame of the Thursday night game about not being real thrilled with the opportunities that your team missed in that game. What was your feeling after the Friday night game and then obviously your team capitalized early in the Saturday finale.
RW: Well it's hard for people on the outside to see, in game one it wasn't just opportunities, it was the fact that we gave away some at-bats. We went out and we hit into two double plays in game one that really hurt us and we had two or three real early at-bat impacts, ground balls to the first baseman on the first pitch. Everybody thinks that in baseball that the biggest thing is the strikeout, no, the biggest thing is the first-pitch ground ball, first pitch pop up. The easy, easy out where he didn't have to work. The pitcher has to work to strike you out and I just thought we lost focus a couple times and let them stay in the game. You hear coaches complain about hitting with runners in scoring position and good stuff like that, it wasn't that, this was us not working hard to get the opportunity to get runners in scoring position. I didn't think we did a real good job, even though I did go back since it was an AggieVision game and watch the replay, their kid was good and overall it wasn't as bad as the way that I had viewed it but it doesn't change the fact that there were about four or five at-bats in that game that I thought were just useless.
Game two the guys battled better. The results were about the same but we battled better. We forced a pretty good pitcher out of the game in enough time to force some pressure on their bullpen. They had to bring their people sooner than they wanted to and I thought we did a good job in that regard. In game three, they were finished. All we needed to do was score first. They led for most of the first two games and didn't win and so psychologically you're trailing in a game, it's kind of hard to stay positive that you're going to be the come-from-behind team this time. We put up a pretty good lead and did a good job from the mound.
Overall when you really look at it it was a well played weekend by us. We didn't make a single error. An error-free weekend, you can't complain much about that. Our fielding percentage early in the year was pathetic, around .950 or something and our fielding percentage in league games is around .980 or something like that. That's big-time. I was pleased with that part of the game. I've said all along that the one thing I liked about this club was that it had the ability to play those lower scoring games, had the ability to win the 3-2 game, the 2-1 game whereas a lot of the teams I've had in the past just couldn't pitch that well to play those types of games. This club has the ability to do that and it's a real big part of the reason we're in the position we are with national ranking.
We finally made it into the top 30 of the writers' poll. We're still a couple ticks away from getting into the coaches poll we're just on the outside looking in on that one. Baseball America kept us at 25, Collegiate Baseball kept us at 25, Perfect Game has us up to 23. Those are all good things. The good thing about it is we've gained ranking and we're holding serve with it and we're getting used to being a ranked club. I think that's something that happens to good teams that don't have a long running traditions in their programs. Obviously being and Oklahoma State grad we expected to be ranked in the Top 25 to open the season and we were disappointed if we weren't playing throughout the season ranked in the Top 10. It was never even a consideration that we would ever be outside of the Top 25 unranked. So we were used to that title and ranking makes you a target for everybody. But I think it's really been important to this club that we've continued to play solid baseball and maintain the ranking and getting used to being the target instead of being the hunter.
bc.net: In the second game you were down 3-0 and were able to erase that deficit in the final three innings and got the first walk-off home run of the season.
RW: It was a tie game through five, no score, very well pitched, well defended and then Mott gave up the three-run home run in the sixth that all of the sudden kind of hits you in the mouth and we couldn't score in the bottom of the sixth. A lot of times when you have a team that scores in a game that's 0-0, you'll see the opposing team score on top of it, especially if it's a good offensive team. It happens more than people think. It kind of breaks the seal in the game, it changes the emotional attitude, it changes the pressure on the pitcher. You're sitting there in a pitcher's duel and all of the sudden the other guy falters and you have a lead and now instead of pitching in a neutral situation you're pitching with the pressure to win. It's a subtle change in the game. The game was in jeopardy when we did not score in the sixth but we were able to get three scoreless innings while we scored one in the seventh and one in the eighth. The Bobby Lecount home run in the seventh was a big blow. It didn't seem like it at the time but it got the zero off the board. Bobby had a real bad series in Sacramento and it was important for the team, it was important for the player. Like I said, he'd had a really bad weekend in Sacramento so for him to hit the home run and get us some momentum, I think was really important to him and the team. Then we were able to get the single run in the eighth in which Parker Hipp gets thrown out at the plate. There was a little disagreement about whether Parker touched the plate, I thought he did the home plate ump thought he didn't because there was no tag. It was one of those where there was no call. That was the point in the game where I had to sit in my office the rest of the game. That was a big deal to have the tying run in that position thrown out at the plate and we still had a runner at second and one out and the next two hitters struck out. So any momentum we gained dissipated at that point. But we got a zero in the top of the ninth and these guys just kept battling. Most teams after you get a guy thrown out don't score again, that's just the way it is. But we did, Bryan got a breaking ball in the middle of the plate and hit it out. Two strikes, two outs, last pitch and it leaves the yard for a walk-off. Very, very tough loss for Louisiana Tech to take, especially when it was back-to-back losses in the bottom of the ninth. But it was a pretty big win for us.
bc.net: The pitching staff as a whole had probably one of the best weekends they've had at least in the last couple of weekends. They've struggled a little bit either the starters or the bullpen has struggled in the last couple of weekend and overall the entire pitching staff had a good weekend.
RW: Yeah it was, all the way around. We got very good starts out of all the starters and quality relief appearances all the way to the point where in the Thursday game, the opening game, we brought Coffman in, we'd gotten seven innings out of Beck and we brought out closer in down one. That's pretty rare to do but that's kind of the way we felt. You take a real big risk in doing it because if you don't win then you don't have your closer for the next day in a game where you may need him in a game late with the lead. But it worked out, he gave us two scoreless innings and we were able to score in the bottom of the ninth to win it.
Both walk-offs were unique in that we trailed in both cases. There are a lot of walk-offs where the game's tied but in both cases we went into the bottom of the ninth trailing. Not only did we have to get the tying run to the plate but we had to score two to win. It got done but it gone done because the pitching staff kept the game in check the whole time. They were never able to extend any lead. They were always small leads, the biggest lead they held was the 3-0 lead in the bottom of the sixth of game two. So they never led us by more than three and our tradition and our offense never feels like we're out as long as we're within a grand slam. We never feel like we're even close to out of the game. You better get us down five or six and even that's not too much for us. But as long as it's three to four runs, we feel pretty good that we can put that type of inning together just about any time. So the guys kept us in range the whole weekend.
bc.net: What have you seen in the last couple of weeks with some of those come-from-behind victories, the walk-off victories as it relates the maturation of a ball club that is headed toward postseason play.
RW: It is a mature club and the more games you play and the more scenarios you play through, the more comfortable you get with them. The one thing we talk about all the time is that the game is not about the scoreboard. Obviously that's kind of a mis-statement because it really is. We manage the game differently based on what the score is yet players have to play the game without that in mind, to a certain extent. There are times when you're up four or five, pitchers know, you're up five runs you go make them put the ball in play. Don't give up any free passes. If that means you give up a couple extra hits, you go make them put it in play. There are some changes but I think the more mature a club is, the more sure they are in what they can do and the come-from-behind is what I said. As long as we feel we can get the tying run to the plate in the last at-bat there's a chance to win. That's something that's been instilled for 16 years here, probably established during those years when our pitching wasn't good at all and we had to score a bunch of runs in order to win. We got used to the score going back and forth. Having to win a game two or three different times with the bat. The point that's always made when you're playing from behind is that if you can get the tying run to the plate, that's a game that you can legitimately win. You can't win the game unless you do that. It does two things. It switches the confidence in the hitter or hitters that are coming up and the confidence of the defense gets put under a lot of pressure. The difference in a pitcher's mentality when he's up by two runs and nobody on base is a whole lot different than when the winning run is at the plate. He knows that if he makes a mistake and he launches one, it's over. Whereas if nobody's on base and a guy hits a home run, you have a cushion.
Our guys probably know better than any other team out there that our goal in those situations is the unrealistic goal of winning. Our goal is to put ourselves in a situation where if we perform, we will win. So get the tying run to the plate and if you get the tying run to the plate then all pressure is off. If we get it done, great. If not, we've done the best we can do to make a run at winning that game. I think that because of the fact that we have a potent offense, we hit the ball for quality power, doubles and home runs, even with a runner at first base and two outs, as was the case against Nevada, we know that we're a double away from tying it and we're a home run away from wining it and that put a whole bunch of pressure on the opposing club because they know our numbers too. They know what our statistics are and how often we hit for power.
bc.net: One of the other milestones the ball club reached this weekend was hitting the 30-win mark for the fourth consecutive season. This year maybe moreso than the previous three years is more impressive to get to 30 wins, especially this early in the season.
RW: This early in the season and with the quality schedule. I went back and looked at our stats through 41 games the last three years and we were 31-10 in '09, I thought we'd been pretty close to this, but it wasn't done against this quality of schedule. We all understand this is more impressive, we're getting rewarded for it with rankings, we're getting rewarded for it with the RPI. Three years ago when we went 31-10 at one point in our season our RPI was 100. This club is better than that club, it has a better pitching staff, it's a little better defensively and it's a little more rounded of an offensive club so we are better than that team and we have clearly played a better schedule. That club didn't have any wins over Arizona, Wake Forest type teams. No offense to that club because that club went to the conference championship and played very well. That was a school record 44 wins that season. We've been here before, just not along the same path and every year is a little bit different. We still have a pretty tough run. We have ten road games and only four home games left. It'll be a pretty good challenge down the stretch. We're going to have to continue to play solid baseball. We've been a good road team, it hasn't bothered us much. In fact, the only time we really faltered on the road was up in Minnesota and that was when the ball club was still trying to establish our identity and we were really close. If you think back to that, we'd beaten Minnesota to open, then we had Nebraska beaten and lost on the walk-off home run and we just weren't prepared for that and it led to the next few losses. Had we beaten Nebraska, we might be 35-7 right now or something like that. That kind of delayed our progress a bit. It's not just a physical thing, it's a mental thing and we had to deal with that a little bit. I talked to my ball club a little bit about how they were preparing for games on the road and that was a little bit of a unique deal. The Metrodome is a unique place to play. It was a great experience but it was still hard to get comfortable with it because there are only a few places in the world where you play inside.
Overall I'm about as excited as I've ever been with the opportunity we're going to have against Baylor. What happens in those games, I don't know. What I do know is that this is a ball club that'll go play toe-to-toe with them. Our guys are ready to take on that type of challenge and I don't think it's anywhere near what it's perceived to be. I don't think we'll approach it any differently than Texas A&M or anyone else that's played them. They're [Baylor] running the string just like we did when we won 14 straight. Out of the teams that have the longest winning streaks, three or four of us have played each other. We had a 14-game winning streak, Wake Forest had a 15-game winning streak now we have Baylor with a 24-game winning streak. Those are three of the top five winning streaks this season. That's pretty unique in itself.
Baylor plays Texas-Arlington tomorrow and Texas-San Antonio on Wednesday so they've gotta get through them and I'm sure those two clubs will have them line up. I'm hopeful, I don't know that it makes any difference, I want to have a shot at breaking their streak. I'm going to be watching live stats and rooting for Baylor for two days. I think it's something that would be a marquee-type win. We have a couple marquee-type wins. The home series with Wake Forest winning three out of four, the two at Arizona, the road win at Texas Tech and the three against New Mexico are all pretty impressive wins, in a couple cases just locally impressive but obviously in a couple cases nationally. When the selection committee is looking at the whole body of work, those are all important wins. These are coaches that are on the selection committee, there are administrators also but they look at these rival games and know that they are different. It's not always just about what two teams' rankings are. In this case to be 3-0 against a rival, that puts you in a different class.
Hopefully Baylor will be on a 26-game streak, that would make them 39-7 when we walk into baylor on Friday. It's different than what people perceive. They look at it as an opportunity for New Mexico State to upset somebody. I don't think there's a single guy on my ball club that looks at it that way. I think my ball club feels that we're going to walk in and go toe-to-toe with a very good team with the same expectations that we've had in every other game and that is to play better than the other guy and win. The people outside looking in and probably even some of our own fans would look at it as a big upset. I don't see it that way and I think that's good. I think it's good that our guys are not walking into that with the idea of being the underdog. We're getting used to being the hunted and that's what you have to be if you're going to establish a quality base in the program, if you're going to compete in an NCAA tournament with the opportunity to win. You've got to feel that no matter what anybody says, you're the favorite to win, you're not the underdog. If we continue to play well and stay healthy and all those things, there are pretty legitimate opportunities for this ball cub to be a one or two seed in an NCAA Regional and that makes you the hunted. If we can stay in the top 32 that breaks out into a one or two seed and that means you're playing a three or four and the history of New Mexico State in almost all of our sports is that we've almost always been the underdog. I think we're doing something that a lot of people don't really understand what kind of position we've put ourselves in.
I think the Baylor games coming up are going to be fun to play, I think there may be less pressure than what people think.
bc.net: The two games against Baylor because it's a weekend series is more of an opportunity to showcase what your team is about on a national stage because there are not too many late non-conference weekend series between ranked teams.
RW: That's true. I think they got moved up as high as third in a few polls and I know their RPI is four and I think our highest ranking is 23 and our RPI is 20 so it is a pretty legit series. Obviously they have an advantage because it's in Waco, it's a road game.
They're going to go with their one and two and both their one and two are undefeated on the season. We're going to go with Beck and Adam Mott and of course Adam Mott is undefeated. It'll be pretty interesting.
When it's all said and done, I know we come from different parts of the country and we've played a different schedule but I'm willing to bet that the teams are not all that much different in qualilty. We'll see. We're going to go over there and play quality baseball. This is a ball club that's not going to go over there and be afraid. They're not going to lose because they're afraid to be good. They've already gotten past that point and that's what I like so much about them.