The Aggie baseball team opens the 2012 WAC Baseball Tournament tonight at 8:00 p.m. (MDT) against 5-seed Fresno State. The Bulldogs defeated 4-seed Hawai'i 8-2 yesterday riding a six-run sixth inning to victory.
As the top seed the Aggies will have seen a total of four games completed, including an elimination game today, before they even take the field. Head Coach Rocky Ward has talked to his ball club about that and has stressed the importance of "bringing it" from an energy level standpoint from the first pitch. "The only disadvantage of being the one seed is you don't play until game five. Each of the teams has played a game before you've taken the field. We've talked about it with the team and you have to come ready right off the bat," Ward has told his team. "You don't have time to ease your way into the tournament. You have to probably play harder in the first four or five innings then you have to at any point in the tournament. More focused, more determined. The first four or five innings will be pretty important to us. We need Ryan Beck to bring his stuff and we need the offense to get after them."
The good news for the Aggies is that during their last five games the Aggies have scored in the first three innings and grabbed leads and in four of the last five they've scored in the first inning. That will be a huge key for them in today's game. Get to the top side early. The Aggies only led once during the regular season series with Fresno State and that was after shortstop Zach Voight's walk-off home run in game two that gave them the 2-1 victory (during which he strained his ankled in the celebration).
Voight is expected to be back and starting tonight's game at shortstop. Ward said Voight experienced some soreness yesterday but will be ready to go tonight. "He was a little sore yesterday but we just got through working out and he looks good," said Ward. "Ankle strains are a unique thing and sometimes if you stay off of them a couple days it's worse. We had an opportunity for him to stay off of it which gave him some healing time, which was beneficial, but it also got a little bit tight and a little bit sore. Today he looked good. We expect him to be back in the lineup and in the four-hole and we expect him to play shortstop."
One big advantage the Aggies will have is that as the top seed they will be the home team in tonight's game and they will have the final at-bat which in tournament play can be huge. "This club will feel like no matter where we are we'll have a pretty good opportunity," said Coach Ward. "I think all of those things you try to build in a baseball team over the course of the season, we've done that. We've come down from big deficits, we've given up leads late and been able to come back and stabilize ourselves and win. We've won with pitching, we've won with defense, we've won with offense. All of those things bode well for us."
The Aggies will send ace Ryan Beck (5-5, 4.08 ERA, 90.1 IP) to the mound while Fresno State will counter with Justin Haley (6-3, 2.62 ERA, 78.2 IP). Haley pitched 7.0 innings allowing just five hits, walking six and striking out nine in Las Cruces. The Aggies are a different team than the one that faced Fresno State in Las Cruces. It might sound funny to say that since it was just two weekends ago but the Aggies have their offensive mojo back and the bottom of the order is producing once again. "We had some guys that were really struggling," said Ward. Karraker, Phillips in particular, Snowley and Rust, those four guys in the bottom of our lineup who had been so good through the first two-thirds of the season, which is what made us such a great offensive team, the quality that we were getting out of the bottom of the lineup, they were all struggling during that period. In the last five games all of those guys have been swinging the bat really well."
First pitch for tonight's game will begin at 8:00 p.m. (MDT) and can be heard on KSNM AM 570, streaming online via Aggie Access (subscription required) and can be seen streaming online via WAC.tv (subscription required).
Teddy Feinberg of the Las Cruces Sun-News talks about the Aggies' hopes after the Sun Belt shut the door on inviting the Aggies.
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