NMSU had its chances, leading 5-4 early on, then pulling within 11-8 after six innings after falling behind 11-5. But NMSU, which had earlier in the day stood toe-to-toe with fifth-ranked Arizona State for eight innings, appeared physically spent and emotionally drained throughout.
It was a tough Saturday for the Aggies, which had beaten UNLV on Friday for the schools first-ever NCAA win. Dustin Cameron earned a standing ovation for his effort on Saturday against ASU in which he gave up just three runs through 6 2/3 innings against a team that was among the nations best hitting clubs. NMSU trailed just 3-0 after eight innings, but a collapse in the ninth made the score 15-0, no indication of how the game was really played.
The Ags were simply shut down by ASU starter Beau Vaughn and four relievers. Vaughn was sensational in keeping the Aggies off balance and stayed away from walking too many Aggies. Saturday night, the Ags faced a resurgent UNLV club which had revenge on its mind and simply too many sticks for the Aggies. But NMSU took a few steps forward in 2003. Rocky Wards club won 43 games, had two players hit above .400 for the first time in school in history in Brad Ditter and Billy Becher, won 15 league games, finished second in the Sun Belt and on and on.
It was the second straight NCAA Tournament trip for NMSU and the team earned a measure of respect. It seemed leading up to this weekends games, there were some that believe NMSU didnt belong in the NCAAs. But a win on Friday and a gutsy effort on Saturday against ASU on Saturday proved doubters wrong. In fact, in the press box, the talk was about how tough the Ags were and how resilient they were. People were also impressed by Becher, who had eight RBI in the tournament to finish with 118 and flashed some leather with some nice plays at first.
"It was the best season in Aggie history, so were very proud of these kids. Its a big building block for the future. We have to find the same chemistry again for next year," Ward said. The Aggies will have to replace some quality players on next years roster. Starting pitcher Jason Williams is gone after being the teams No. 1 starter the past two seasons, while relievers Andrew Garretson and Mike Smith both had big moments for the Ags the past two years.
Garretson earned the win in Fridays NCAA game with 3 1/3 innings of relief. His earned run average was 2.25 this season in 52 innings of work. NMSU will also lose catcher Beau Blacken, shortstop Hal Bisnett and center fielder Alex Borgo. Borgo and Bisnett were third and fourth respective on the team in batting average, while Blacken had 14 homers and 61 RBI this season.
Where the Aggies still could be hampered is in the Major League Baseball Draft, which begins Tuesday. The Aggie could lose Bechers 32 homers and .420 batting average along with second baseman Brad Ditters .402 batting average and 71 RBI. "The draft will impact us. Well see what happens. Im proud of these kids. They took what last years team did, matched it and bettered it and that's saying a lot.
They helped establish tradition at New Mexico State that didnt exist," Ward said. Whether Becher or Ditter leave or not, NMSU still has plenty of firepower returning. Cameron should have the inside track on being next seasons No. 1 starter, while Rory Coppinger should be able to move easily from the bullpen to the starting rotation.
Relievers A.J. Jacquez, Noah Heldt, J.T. Severe and Kent Bergsagel have all shown flashes of brilliance this season, but must become more consistent. Third baseman Gavin Monjaras returns next season and can play shortstop as well. NMSU appears fine in the outfield with Chris Ewen, Dustin Mote and Brandon Saunders all returning. If Ditter leaves, Mote can replace him at second. Mark Keller also returns after backing up Blacken behind the plate this season.
Losing a Becher or Ditter would obviously hurt NMSU. The Ags have been fortunate the past two seasons to replace guys with big numbers with athletes that have followed with bigger seasons. Becher replaced Ryan Kennings bat from last year, Ditter replaced Gabe Veloz and Blacken put up solid numbers in replacing Erik Winegarden behind the plate.
NMSU coaches have signed several freshman for next season as well as El Paso Community College outfielder Mark Aranda, who hit 10 home runs and drove home 64 runs this past season. But surely the recruiting is not done for NMSU, which still needs to fill holes on its pitching staff and depth wise in the field. The Aggies have set a standard for themselves now and they expect to win.
Now comes the hard part and that is winning on a consistent basis and being one of the top teams in the Sun Belt, a league that is deep in tradition and talent.
Billy Becher became the first Aggie to earn NCAA all-regional tournament honors after he was named to the Tempe All-Regional team on Sunday. Becher batted .400 (6-for-15) with two doubles, a home run and eight runs batted in during the three tournament games. He finished the season with a .420 average with 105 hits, 16 doubles, four triples, 32 home runs and 118 RBI. Becher set school records for most home runs, extra base hits (52), runs batted in, hits, slugging percentage (.900) and total bases (225). His .420 average was the fifth highest single season mark in NMSU history.
He also set Sun Belt Conference single season records for most home runs, runs batted in and total bases. The junior was earlier named the Sun Belt Conference Player and Newcomer of the Year and is a semifinalist for the Rotary Smith Award given to the top NCAA Division I player in the country.
Arizona State won the regional title by defeating UNLV 16-1 Sunday, advancing to next weekends Super Regional. 2003 NCAA Tempe All-Regional Tournament Team Pos. Player School C Tuffy Gosewisch Arizona State 1B Billy Becher New Mexico State 2B Garett Shitanishi UNLV 3B Dennis Wyrick Arizona State SS Dustin Pedroia Arizona State OF Eric Nielsen UNLV OF Andre Ethier Arizona State OF Stephen Ghutzman UNLV DH Jeremy West Arizona State P Beau Vaughan Arizona State P Ben Thurmond Arizona State Most Outstanding Player: Dustin Pedroia, Arizona State