Baseball Preview: Army vs. George Mason

The great news is that Army has an opponent for this weekend. To compound the good news, the opponent, The Patriots of George Mason, is a huge upgrade in quality. Last year the Patriots were one of the hottest teams in the country the first half.

They faded some in the second half, but were still good enough to hoist a sporty 42-14 record and gain an at large berth in the NCAA Regionals at Greenville, S.C., only to go 2 and BBQ (that's college baseball lingo for losing your first two games of the double elimination regional).

The Patriots had five players drafted into MLB from that team, and hence, have only four returning position starters, the 4-7 spots in last years batting order. Although losing their ace, they still return a total of three of their five starting arms. In the fairly competitive CAA conference, pre season pundits picked Mason sixth. Although they finished last year with exceptional numbers like a staff ERA of 4.45 and team BA of .321, with so much turnover in their lineup, it's really not an accurate indication of expectations for this years squad.

Last years trip to GM on the third weekend of the season was disconcerting for Army. The bats were in a serious funk, Henshaw was still shelved from pitching and Porter only pitched one inning there in his first competition since surgery. All in all, the 0-3 outcome matched the weather, cold and gloomy.

Expectations for this years trip, are two teams that will hardly recognize each other from last year. At Wake last weekend, the bats proved they have life already, and some of these Knights are probably growing fangs thinking about feasting on some Patriot pitching. To guys like Kevin McKague, the pitches must look like beach balls coming in over the plate the way he's swinging the bat. Clint Moore was just a hair out in front last week, that's going to start rounding into shape very quickly. Henshaw and Koenigsfeld showed both rust and good chops, so things should improve as more of that rust gets shaken off. Expect the coaches to look for a place to put Shawn Wixted into the lineup when possible. Last week the junior showed some really good hacks at the plate and "Wix" is a tremendous athlete with a lot of versatility.

On the mound, this could be the week they break out. Henshaw and Porter were both solid as starters. As these kids get their groove on, teams are going to be scraping, scratching and clawing for anything at the plate. Look for fewer walks, and more consistency in the strike zone. Koenigsfeld gave up some hits, but as his arm action improves, so will his ability to punch kids out on that wicked slider of his. Fouch is leaving some balls up in the zone, but as he gains more strength, he'll be keeping the ball down more and seizing control of games.

Last week, Mason came out and absolutely dismantled Northwestern, 25-2 and 15-1. Granted, Northwestern is a weak sister test, but still, 40 runs over two games is impressive…and they only gave up 3. However, when faced against Marist, they only won 3-2, and vs. Winthrop, they lost 11-4. Just from those numbers you get the sense that they can throw three solid starters at you that can throw strikes, in So. Ryan Pfaeffle, Sr. Kris Mengle and Sr. Kevin Crum. None are going to overpower you but they don't walk many either. You have to go up there looking to swing the bat to be successful against these guys.

The Pats come in swinging it at a robust .368 clip. My belief is that this number is highly inflated due to a seriously weak Northwestern staff. There aren't a lot of veteran bats in this lineup, and although these kids might have been good hitters at the previous level, it's really a whole new ballgame vs. D1 talent.

The main key this weekend will be Army's veteran pitching. Army'll get some knocks on these guys at the dish, but shouldn't expect double digit scoring. If Henshaw and Fouch team up again, that should be a lockdown win with the two dominant lefties taking Mason right out of the game. Expect Porter to be much sharper this week in the strike zone, much like he was last fall. If he can execute his pitches, he could go deep into his game with a low pitch count. BK is as mentally tough a kid as there is on the field. Ben will need to step up and not lose any focus this week. If he does that, they'll be like ducks at a shooting gallery.

The second key to winning will be limiting or even better, eliminating errors. The fielding part should start to clean itself up on its own. As Army plays more, the fielding and confidence will improve, no doubt. As much as that though, they need to be smarter on the bases so as not to kill rallies. GM will be tough to score on. When Army gets a chance to put some pressure on, they need to step on the accelerator and not give it up. No pickoffs, no base running gaffs, no missed signs. Good, smart pressure on the bases, forces mistakes…Army needs to make sure they aren't theirs.

Any signs of fatigue or falter on the hill, and Simpkins, Lee and Cummings are all ace in the hole bridges to get to McKague as the stopper. With the exception of one reliever last weekend, our bullpen was absolutely stellar. That's in spite of the fact that we have yet to see an improved Andy Seaman or either of the two freshmen, Rowley and Jackson.

My prediction…it looks like a great weekend for Army Baseball.

GO ARMY!

BC

ARMY BASEBALL THIS WEEKEND

Saturday, Feb. 27, Noon vs. George Mason at Durham, N.C.
Saturday, Feb. 27, 3:30 p.m. vs. George Mason at Durham, N.C
Sunday, Feb. 28, 11:00 a.m. vs. George Mason at Durham, N.C.

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