Weekend WAC baseball roundup

It was a wild and crazy weekend in baseball around the WAC. Inside Sparta recaps the weekend Conference action.

Un-freakin'-believable. Saturday's games were that indeed. The WAC is now, without a doubt, in turmoil. Who's the leader? Well, let's check back tomorrow because no one knows and it appears no one wants it. Who will be standing at the end of the season? Could be anybody. Louisiana Tech jumps back into the land of the living by sweeping Fresno State in Ruston. That gives the southern ‘Dogs three wins and has them three games out of first, believe it or not. Sacramento State stuns Hawai'i in Honolulu by the surprising score of 2-1, which included a pitching masterpiece from the Hornets, of all things. New Mexico State continues to surprise and impress and our beloved boys in blue beat UC Santa Barbara and thus continue to show the world they are as good as advertised. Now on to comments:

Saturday, April 18 games:

Louisiana Tech 11/17 – Fresno State 9/5

This had to be the highlight of the WAC Saturday. A team with only one win, no pitching to speak of, recently dominated in four losses at San Jose State, and facing the reigning national champions. What chance could they have? A lot, it seems! The southern ‘Dogs are no longer in the dumps, and now have two victories upon which to hang their collective hats. Conversely, the Mutts of the Valley are wondering what happened to their dream year? Still a force but one no other team in the league will fear. Respect, yes, but not fear.

The first game was decided in dramatic fashion by Devon Dageford's ninth inning walk-off homerun. It put a cap on a five-run ninth to snatch away this victory. Pitching was not a highlight but hitting was, which is no surprise if you follow either team. Five home runs in all with Fresno State's Dusty Robinson getting two (5), La Tech's Chris Kersten (11), and Dageford's one to tell his grandkids (13).

For Fresno State, all appeared right with the world for most of the game as they got respectable outings from starter Matt Morse (remember Matt Morriss?). They were leading 9-6 going into the ninth but the relief corps did them in. Gene Escat and Zac Bischoff (1-5) let things get seriously out-of-hand and the game was lost. Reliever John Anderson (4-2) was the fortunate recipient of Dageford's memorable blast.

The second game was over by the third inning as La Tech put up some crooked numbers (don't you love baseball lingo?) in the first three innings to lead 8-1. Fresno State's freshman starter Josh Poytress (1-2) had no answer for the southern ‘Dogs' bats as he lasted only those three innings. La Tech's freshman starter, Jeb Stefan, improved to 3-4 by going six and one-thrid innings and striking out seven along the way. It was by far, his best start of the year. Fresno State's Tom Mendonca hit his record-breaking 15th home run. He is now the all-time homerun leader for Fresno State. I'm sure that comes as small consolation as the Valley Mutts were absolutely hammered in this one. They were never in this game. Fresno State's Kenny Wise went 3 for 3 with a homerun and La Tech's Matt Combs went 2 for 3 with 4 RBIs and 2 homeruns. 980 happy fans were in attendance. I wonder if any Fresno State fans made the trip? Knowing their enthusiastic followers, I'm sure a few made it and wondered why.

Sacramento State 2/2 – Hawaii 1/7

This split would have been a good one to watch as some uncharacteristic pitching for the Hornets prevailed in the first game. Also, it a close game with plenty of offense as well as pitching so there was something for all kinds of purists.

The first game was the Sac State Jesse Darrah (7-2) show. He gave the Hornets everything they had hoped for, and everything Hawai'i could handle in the win. He went seven and two-thirds effective innings while setting down the Hawai'i offensive machine by controlling the middle of the Rainbow's lineup and keeping everyone else off the bases. He did this with no strikeout pitch — he whiffed only two in his effort. Hawai'i's Matt Sisto was no slouch in this game either, as he pitched a complete game in losing (4-3) and struck and seven with no walks. This was my kind of game. There wasn't much hitting but just enough for the Hornets to win.

Second game was never in doubt as the Rainbows led from start to finish. Hawaii's Vinnie Catricala took care of business by going 3 for 3 with three RBIs and a home run. The phenomenal freshman, Kolten Wong, put in his two-cents by going 2 for 2 with a double and an RBI. Nate Klein (1-2) went five solid innings for the win as he bested Brandon Sandoval (4-4) in this game. Both games were witnessed by just under 4000 folks. They just keep on a comin'.

San Jose State 5 – UC Santa Barbara 2

An exceptional game in that of the Spartans' 11 hits, six were by freshman. Anthony Bona went 4 for 4 and Michael Reiling went 2 for 3. Bona is turning into a hitting machine and I don't know what I can say about him that hasn't been said already. As of right now, the two top candidates for freshman of the year in the WAC must be Bona and Hawai'i's Kolten Wong.

The Spartans received plenty of pitching and just enough hitting to win this one. Starter Max Peterson (6-0; welcome back Max) pitched a good five innings in getting the win. The game was pretty much under control the whole game except for a two-run homerun by the Gauchos' Mark Haddow to account for all of Santa Barbara's runs. Ryan Shopshire came in and pitched the final four innings and gave up no runs on only two hits and two walks to get his first save. A good job by Ryan. There were 314 fans at this game.

Sunday, April 19 games:

Louisiana Tech 14/14 – Fresno State 12/6

In one of the more amazing four-game sweeps of the WAC season, the southern ‘Dogs finished off the Valley Mutts by simply hitting them over their collective heads with their bats. I'm sure the Fresno State players come home wondering if anyone got the license plate number of the big rig that ran them down. This was not a pretty picture that a proud and tradition-rich program such as Fresno State painted in Ruston over the weekend. How did these two games happen?

Where do I start? La Tech scores three runs in both the seventh and eighth innings to ring up win No. 1? Fresno State's pitching suffered another meltdown? FSU made three errors which result in two unearned runs. Was that the difference in the game? The lack of hitting from FSU in scoring 12 runs on only seven hits? La Tech's pitchers walked 11, which helped Fresno State, but not enough. Seven home runs with FSU's Tom Mendonca getting 16th and La Tech's Chris Kersten his 12th. Geez, what a game. Both starting pitchers got hammered as Fresno State's freshman Derek Benny gave up 11 runs (nine earned). Dylan Moseley also gave up nine earned runs. Hitters? Fresno State's Danny grubb went one-for-five with three RBIs. La Tech's Chris Kersten went two-for-give with four RBIs and a home run. No pitching highlights to speak of. So there you have it, Joy and disappointment in Rustin, Louisiana.

Game two was probably a foregone conclusion for the Fresno State team. As a coach, I don't know what you can say to a team that has been so thoroughly beaten in three games of the series. Ask the Sharks. Man, I don't want to go there. It started out well for the Mutts as they scored five in the top of the first, most of it (well, four, ok?) on a grand slam by catcher Jake Johnson. With their ace, Holden Sprague (3-1), going they must have figured that should be able to salvage one game. Wrong! Fresno State's four errors didn't help, nor did three consecutive home runs by Kevin Winn, Devon Dageford (14), and Chris Kersten (13). That's rare at any level. The names Dageford and Kersten are becoming redundant in these recaps.

The southern ‘Dogs scored 56 runs and hit 15 home runs in this series. This, more than anything, says what has been an ongoing problem with Fresno State all year long and which was a concern before the season even started; pitching. All those homeruns should produce a lot of wins — and they did. Those guys do hit at home but remember, they lost three of four to Nevada to start the WAC season. Right now, La Tech is on fire. So is Fresno but they can't figure how to put it out.

Next up for FSU? A hefty dose of Spartan WAC-leading pitching. Oooooh, I'll be there for all of them.  Just like the little over 1000 fans who saw these two. That's a pretty good draw for them.

Nevada 8 – New Mexico State 7

Sometimes a coach deserves to feel smart even though it was Divine Providence. Nevada's coach brought in Brett Hart to play the outfield in the top of the eighth. What happens? Hart hits the deciding three run home run in the bottom of the same inning to win it. NMSU posted six runs in the top of the eighth to go up seven to four, but Jake Wilson couldn't hold it as he gave up four earned runs in his 1/3 of an inning in getting the loss (2-1). The Aggies' Bryan Marquez went one-for-five with had three RBIs and s league-leading 18th home run. Along with the aforementioned Brett Hart, the Wolfpack's Westley Moss went three-for-five with two runs scored. Pitching highlights include Nevada's starter Derek Achelpohl going seven fairly effective innings with seven strikeouts and no walks. Do I need to tell you my philosophy on the importance of no walks? It kept him in the game. Nevada is back in first, but for how long? This series was split, as I thought it might be, as both teams played good ball — 950 witnesses could tell you.

Hawai'i 8 – Sacramento State 4

Hawaii takes three of four in the series with the Hornets. The Hornets' Tim Wheeler had another multi-home run game today as he hit two and went two-for-four with four RBIs. Hawai'i's Kevin Macdonald went two-for-four with two home runs and three RBI's. That young hitting dynamo Kolten Wong went three-for-five as he continues to hit strongly. The only pitching note in this game involves Hawai'i's starter, Jared Alexander (1-1), as he went six pretty strong innings in getting his first win of the year. This could mean he's finally back on track as I'm sure 2600 fans hope.

San Jose State 5 – UC Santa Barbara 4

This must have been a gratifying win for Sam Piraro's charges as playing any team in the Big West is always a challenge. The boys in blue came through in winning two of three in this hard fought series. The game was tied 1-1 until the top of the sixth when the Spartans broke it open with four runs to go up 5-1. Danny Stienstra provided the big hit with a 2-RBI double, and Anthony Aguilera hit another double for an RBI and the eventual winning run. Spartan starter Scott Sobczak went four and one-third innings and only gave up one run and was replaced by Tyler Heil (2-0) who went two and two-thirds innings in getting his second win. Who is that guy? Trevor Gibson got the save while pitching a scoreless ninth — his second save of the season. The Spartans were outhit in this one 11 to 8 but they seemed to bunch up the hits when they needed them the most. John Shaffer went three-for-four with two runs scored. The Gauchos' Matt Valaika went three-for-four to highlight their offense before 465 fans.

Now it's back north for the Spartans as they take on the University of San Francisco Dons on Tuesday in San Francisco. Then they're home on Wednesday to face Fresno Pacific. Then guess who this coming weekend? The Mutts, and they will be loaded for bear.

Here's how the standings look after three series:

Team Record
1 Hawai'i 7-4
2 Nevada 7-4
3 New Mexico State 7-5
4 San Jose State 5-3
5 Louisiana Tech 5-7
6 Fresno State 2-6
7 Sacramento State 2-6

FSU, Sac State, and SJSU have had their bye-week series. Hawai'i and Nevada have only eleven games due to one of the games in their series being cancelled because of weather. If it is like last year, that game won't be re-scheduled. We'll see if it matters. The Spartans are in the middle of the race and can't let the Fresno State team off the matt in this upcoming important match for both teams. The Spartans want to ascend to first place where they feel they belong, and the Bulldogs know they are not a last place team. Whew, man, it's getting tight.

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Don Starks is the Baseball Editor of Inside Sparta. You may contact Don with any questions, comments, or tips at don@insidesparta.com

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