bleedCrimson.net: Your thoughts on the Hawai'i series? You had kind of a weird game on Thursday in the opener that included a five-out inning on defense, a tough game on Friday and then a pitcher's duel on Saturday.
Rocky Ward: Thursday's game, the opening game, Beck pitched well. We get a terrible break on a strikeout/wild pitch where the hitter's bat hit the ball and knocked it away from Fisher. It was inadvertent and as a result the play stood and then they scored in that inning on a wild pitch/strikeout. So a five out inning with no errors and they score a run and that set the tone for the whole weekend to be honest.
We couldn't get anything going offensively. We actually hit the ball pretty hard a lot. The tale of the game was we had a 20 mile per hour win, typical trade winds blowing in from left. I think they hit one fly ball out in the game and we made a bunch. There were a bunch of balls hit really hard and just right at people. They weren't necessarily just fly balls, there were some hard line drives. The unseen thing about playing in Hawai'i is that the itself is small but with the wind blowing in and at sea level, it's really, really hard to get the ball out of the yard and it's hard to get it to land anywhere because there's so little space for outfielder's to cover. The park's never fit our style of play. It just doesn't fit us. I really worked hard in BP talking to guys about trying to keep the ball on line, I don't think it's a good plan to ask hitters to hit a bunch of ground balls. If you go out and hit a bunch of ground balls then you just deal with the randomness of baseball and you play into their game. It doesn't make sense to try to play their game in their ballpark. You have to play to your game to their park and we have very little success doing it.
Game one was a pretty normal baseball game, just the park worked against us and a we got a couple of real bad baseball breaks that worked against us. So you kind of tip your hat to the opponent and to baseball luck and move on to game two.
We fell apart on the mound in the middle of the game. IT's happened to us three or four times over the last three weeks and has really become a problem for us all the way back to the third game against Sacramento. The third and four games against Sacramento that we lost were that way. In those cases we had leads along with the second game against Baylor and against Texas Tech. Four games in a row there where we had leads and our middle relief failed us and we gave up a bunch of runs in the middle of the game. We weren't leading in this game but we gave up a bunch of runs again. It's become quite a concern for us. But at the same time we couldn't muster much offense. Same deal. They did a good job against us on the mound. Their left-hander was good, as is always the case their pitching was good. They always pitch extraordinarily well in that ballpark. They don't walk you that often. I think we drew three or four walks against Sisto. I thought we did a good job against him, he gave us a few chances to score but every ball we hit hard was in the air and we just couldn't get anything built.
Same thing applied to Saturday's game. We had a great outing out of Ormseth and relief outing out of Coffman and we got everything done we wanted to get done from the mound to give us a chance to win and we left people on base early in the game. We had a second and third with one out situation where Snowley swings at a first pitch high fastball and pops up in the infield and we don't score in an outstanding scoring situation. We had bases loaded with one out with Voight at the plate and he pops up in the infield. It's a little bit different situation in Snowley's case, we just needed a ground ball up the middle, that would have gotten it done. Voight's situation you can't hit a ground ball, you have to go look for the sacrifice fly. Obviously in both of the situations we failed to score and both situations a base hit would have broken the game open. Then right off of Voight's at-bat Fisher hits a rocket into the gap, another hard hit ball that's caught.
When we get done with the weekend you feel like if those games are played at any other park in America, outside of maybe Long Beach State or Louisiana-Lafayette which were the two real tough ballparks in the previous two leagues we played in, if it had been played in a normal ballpark we feel like we would have won two out of three or maybe all three. I think part of the issue with eight of the last 11, if you don't count the the Louisiana Tech series, is our offense hasn't been as productive as it needs to be. Not in all cases but in general. I think it's put a little more pressure on the pitching staff and in some cases they haven't handled it well. We're just not firing on all cylinders by any stretch of the imagination. We understand that we were in a very good position just two weeks ago and now we're in a little bit of a dangerous position in terms of an at-large bid. We've lost six in a row but our body of work is keeping us in an at-large bid situation at a 30 RPI. Of course the national pollsters have jumped off the wagon. We got one vote in the coaches poll. I don't know who that was but I'd like to shake his hand. At least somebody out there understands that in our last six games we've played No. 1 Baylor, at their place, the hottest team in the country, We played Texas Tech, that's a game that we felt like we blew, we just didn't play well at all in it but it was a trap game in between two big series. Then at Hawai'i, it's a tough place to play.
They've lost more games there this year than they have in a while, they're 24-11 at home but they're a very, very young team. The Sunday starter is a freshman, they've got two, three or four freshmen starters. That's a factor very early in the season but this time of the year. There's a kid named Todd Farraday who was on my Kansas State team when I first started coaching. He was a freshman and he made a statement to the newspaper people halfway through the season and he said, "You keep talking about me as this freshman but I've played 30 Division I baseball games, I'm not a freshman anymore. I'm comfortable with the fact that I can play at this level." I think that's what happens with good players and I think that when freshmen have to go play in a tournament, that's brand new again. It changes the way they feel and you worry about how well the freshmen are going to perform. But obviously if they've earned the right to be starters throughout the year you're going to take the ups and downs that come with the performance of freshmen but you usually expect them by mid to late season if they still have their job that they've matured and become more productive players and I think that's kind of where Hawai'i is right now. They're stronger than where they were early in the season because their freshmen have gained experience and matured. They played just about as lucky as they could. Just about every ball without exception that we hit hard was caught and they hit into some pretty darn good luck. Ground balls just out of the reach of infielders, that sort of thing.
Overall the weekend was clearly a disappointment. It puts us under more pressure under the next eight games to perform well. Not only to continue to compete for a conference regular season championship but also to keep us in contention for an at-large bid. By losing all three at Hawai'i we've lost control of our own destiny. yet at the same time when you look at the way the schedule is set up we've got Fresno State in this weekend which is a double-edged sword because they're last place in the league, they haven't had a very good season yet they're the traditional quality member of the league. We're going to have to play good baseball. They're not going to roll over. They have too much tradition.
At this stage, somewhere when a team is in a position like Fresno is, for a period of time over the last three or four weeks they're very disappointed in the season, their expectations were much higher but at some point those clubs will click over to survival mode where they say, "Fine, we've had a crappy year but we've got find a way to get in the tournament and if we get hot we can still have a chance to save face so to speak." You have concern with that factor being involved and there's some ugly history with Fresno in Las Cruces. I don't think we've won in a while here at home. Those are some things that concern you as a coach.
Realistically, we're trying to get guys to understand that we've just gotten a little out of sync. We got good pitching performance and we don't have a good offensive performance. In game two the big, big thing wasn't necessarily that Mott was that bad. They went up 4-2 and then Lecount made an error that was on a real routine play and led to a couple more runs and that kind of opened the floodgates. We've got to be real careful. When things aren't going right it's easy to point fingers at specific people and without intention I've done that myself by bringing up Snowley's at bat, Voight's at bat, Lecount's play but everybody has equal responsibility for the team performance. A lot of what we'll be dealing with over the next couple of days around making sure these kids finish what they started with their class load is to try to get them to understand that we have to pull together as a ball club. We don't have infighting, there's not a bunch of people in each other's face. We have a tendency when a couple players aren't playing real well to want to stick their head in the sand and we can't afford that. We have to have guys that bring their game 100 percent what they have to give that day and expect that that's going to be good enough as a team unit. Even if their performance is not what it was at certain parts of the season that maybe a combined effort will be enough to get us through this.
We still want to win the conference regular season, we want to win the conference tournament, those are all big momentum builders going into a regional and those are still goals that are attainable. What it comes down to is that we're one win away from getting stable. I think Thursday's game against Fresno is real important. I think if we're able to win that game then guys can relax and forgive themselves for this six game run and maybe get back to playing the way we were midseason.
bc.net: The perception from the outsider during this six game losing streak is that the team hasn't been playing, however, outside of the second game against Hawai'i and a couple of innings against Baylor in the second game, the team has actually played very good baseball. Is that the feeling around the team?
RW: Yeah, we've played good baseball we just haven't had good baseball luck and our opponents have played well. They've kind of lined us up and played well against us and that has something to do with it. When you go back and look at the six games I think our opponents have played errorless against us, maybe one or two errors. The opponents have played very good defense against us, they've pitched very well, they've kept our walk totals down, they've pitched us very well. The national pollsters, we had people withdraw their vote after we lost two to Baylor. That's just silly. Right now I can understand why we're not getting votes in the polls because we haven't played like we're a Top 25 team. Top 25 teams don't lose six in a row. They find a way not to, they may lose a couple here or there, they may lose a series somewhere but they find a way to battle for it and they don't have a 15-5 and 14-2 loss in there either. I get all those things but we're healthy, we're not injured, we don't have any excuses. The hope is that we can get a win on Thursday, get the ship going in the right direction, get some confidence back in some guys and make a good push and good run at the end of the year. Again, we don't have any injury issues we're just not playing as clean of baseball and our opponents are playing well. If we get a little bit of momentum and get on a little run then maybe this little stretch will make us more appreciative of our opportunities. Sometimes you need to lose a game, not six, but you need to lose a game to make yourself realize you're not invincible and go back to working hard again. That's what we're trying to do.
Win the first one, go out and get some good performances out of some guys and maybe some of the guys who haven't had good performances can get up and going again.