WAC Weekend Preview – Week Four

NM State's Nate Shaver

NM State's Nate Shaver

Week four of WAC play sees Nevada and No. 20 Hawai’i atop the league standings at 7-4. New Mexico State is just a half game behind at 7-5, while San Jose State is 5-3, Louisiana Tech is 5-7 and the two other northern California schools, Sacramento State and defending league champion Fresno State are 2-6. The weekend is highlighted by a key battle in New Mexico between New Mexico State and No. 20 Hawai’i.

SERIES OF THE WEEK
No. 20 Hawai’i (24-14, 7-4) at New Mexico State (32-8, 7-5)
Presley Askew Field, Las Cruces, N.M.

The Aggies are coming off an eight game road trip in which they split series at Fresno State and at Nevada to go 4-4. Unfortunately the Aggies’ defense is starting to look like a MASH unit as they lost starting center fielder and leadoff man Richard Stout to a pulled oblique. Stout will not play this weekend and head coach Rocky Ward will shuffle his players around to make up for the fourth different position player to suffer an injury with three coming in season (1B Chris Auten suffered foot and back injuries in the offseason) as the Aggie LF Leo Aguirre, 2B Mike Sodders and now CF Richard Stout will have all missed significant time. Meanwhile the Warriors took three of four from the visiting Sacramento State Hornets. Hawai’i has a reputation for being a less than stellar road club but are 7-7 this season in road/neutral games. The Warriors also have a bit of a reputation for struggling offensively away from the islands but this season they’ve averaged 5.6 runs per game away from Honolulu and aside from scoring just two runs at No. 3 Arizona State on Tuesday night, the last trip to the mainland for the Warriors saw an offensive explosion as they put up 5, 14 and 14 runs against Nevada in Reno. The Aggies on the other hand have never had any trouble in the offense department and this season is no different. The Aggies are averaging a national best 10.9 runs per game. However, this season the Aggies also have a strong pitching staff and solid defense to aid their powerful offense. The Aggies +4.5 scoring margin is 3rd best in the country behind just No. 3 Arizona State (+4.9) and Virginia (+5.4). The Aggies’ 5.08 ERA is third best in the league and have just under a 2:1 strikeout to walk ratio and lead the league with 301 strikeouts. Both the Warriors and Aggies have turned 45 double plays which is good for second in the league. Hawai’i has an ERA of 4.75 but Preseason All-WAC Pitcher of the Year Jared Alexander has not pitched to the level he was expected to due to injury. Alexander is just 1-1 in eight starts with an 8.31 ERA.

Prediction: Hawai’i has shown the ability to score runs this season and they’ll need all the runs they can get as they travel to the desert. New Mexico State has scored fewer than 10 runs in just four games at home this season and has scored 15 or more runs at home 10 times. Hawai’i and New Mexico State have the 2nd and 3rd best ERAs in the league but both pitching staffs will definitely be tested this weekend. The winds are expected to be up this weekend and temperatures in the upper 70s and low 80s are expected. The Aggies have swung hot bats at home and this year they have the defense and pitching to keep the opponents at bay. The Aggies find a way to work around their injuries and sweep the visiting Warriors.

Game One: Fri., Apr 24, 6:05 p.m.
Game Two/Three: Sat., Apr. 25, 3:05 p.m.
Game Four: Sun., Apr. 26, 1:05 p.m.

Media: Game Two, Altitude 3:05 p.m. MDT

Probable Starters:
G1 UH Jayson Kramer (3-3, 3.30 ERA), NM State Tyler Sturdevant (4-3, 5.43 ERA)
G2 UH Matt Sisto (4-3, 3.50 ERA), NM State Daniel Simon (8-0, 2.77 ERA)
G3 UH Nate Klein (1-2, 4.28 ERA), NM State Jared Jordan (5-1, 3.65 ERA)
G4 UH Jared Alexander (1-1, 7.31 ERA), NM State Sebastien Vendette (5-1, 4.31 ERA)

Louisiana Tech (20-16, 5-7) at Sacramento State (21-17, 2-6)
Hornet Field, Sacramento, CA

The Bulldogs of La. Tech come into this series as the hottest team in the league after sweeping defending conference champion Fresno State last weekend in Ruston. Overall the Bulldogs have won seven games in a row after getting swept at San Jose State and have scored 10 or more runs in each of the seven games. The Bulldogs had entered the weekend at 1-7 in league play with their lone win coming at home against Nevada. The Bulldogs’ last trip to northern California was not a pleasant one as they were swept in four games by the San Jose State Spartans. The Hornets meanwhile had a tough time on the islands as they lost three of four to Hawai’i. It was just the second conference series of the season for Sacramento State who is now 2-6 in league play and tied with Fresno State for last place. This is an important series for the Hornets as with just seven teams in the league, the conference tournament only hosts six of the seven teams.

Prediction: Sacramento State finally gets to play a conference series at home after opening up at New Mexico State and then taking a weekend away from conference play before heading to Honolulu last weekend. The Hornets are a vastly different team at home than they are on the road with a 14-3 record when playing at home. Likewise La. Tech is a vastly different team on the road than they are at home with just a 4-12 record on the road. The Bulldogs have righted the ship after their four game sweep of Fresno State and can take a big step towards making the conference tournament after missing out last season as the tournament host. We think these two teams will split the series each winning two games.

Game One: Fri., Apr 24, 2:00 p.m. PT
Game Two: Sat., Apr 25, 1:00 p.m. PT
Game Three: Sun., Apr 26, 1:00 p.m. PT
Game Four: Mon., Apr 27, 2:00 p.m. PT

Probable Starters
G1 LTU Jamey Bradshaw (0-3, 9.20 ERA), SACST Brandon Sandoval (4-4, 4.72 ERA)
G2 LTU Jeb Stefan (3-4, 7.23 ERA), SACST Jesse Darrah (7-2, 5.24 ERA)
G3 LTU Dylan Mosely (3-3, 5.40 ERA), SACST Tommy Elrod (4-2, 4.71 ERA)
G4 LTU TBA, SACST Alex Taku (0-0, 1.74 ERA)

Fresno State (18-20, 2-6) at San Jose State (27-12, 5-3)
Municipal Stadium, San Jose, CA

The Bulldogs are reeling after losing five conference games in a row including being swept on the road in Ruston. The normally solid Fresno State pitching staff had kept the powerful New Mexico State offense at bay in their previous series but got shelled in Ruston giving up 11, 17, 14 and 14 runs in the series. San Jose State is the team that time has forgotten. The Spartans were out of conference last weekend and amidst the excitement of the shuffle from top to bottom the Spartans have been largely ignored. San Jose State was picked to finish second in the league but started out 1-3 after an opening trip to Hawai’i. They rebounded however taking all four games from Louisiana Tech, who are now the league’s hottest team. At 27-12 overall the Spartans have played solidly and sport the league’s best ERA (4.18), best defense (.976 fielding %) and second best offense (.335 BA). They also boast the league’s top hitter Jacob Bruns (.433 BA) and four of the top five pitchers in terms of ERA. Fresno State ranks near the bottom in offense and middle of the pack in pitching (5.51 ERA), they also rank second to last in fielding percentage and have turned just 30 double plays, fewest in the league.

Prediction: The Bulldogs are in a danger zone right now. They’ve lost five conference games in a row and are tied at the bottom of the league with Sacramento State. They need a strong run in order to avoid going from national champions to missing their own conference tournament. Unfortunately for Fresno State, San Jose is not the place to try to get right. The Spartans have lost just three games at home all season long and have outscored teams in every inning but the 9th and extra innings. SJSU takes three of four from the visiting Bulldogs.

Game One: Fri., Apr 24, 6:00 p.m. PT
Game Two: Sat., Apr 25, 1:05 p.m. PT
Game Three: Sat., Apr 25, 4:45 p.m. PT
Game Four: Sun., Apr 26 1:00 p.m. PT

Probable Starters
G1 FSU Matt Morse (0-2, 4.30 ERA) SJSU David Berner (6-1, 2.76 ERA)
G2 FSU Derek Benny (2-1, 4.91 ERA) SJSU Max Peterson (6-0, 2.98 ERA)
G3 FSU TBA SJSU TBA
G4 FSU TBA SJSU TBA

CS-Bakersfield (8-26) at Nevada (18-20)
Peccole Park, Reno, NV

Nevada steps out of conference to play Cal State Bakersfield for three games starting on Friday night at 6:00 p.m. PT The two teams will then hook up on Saturday and Sunday at 1:00 p.m. PT both days.