A Preview of Championship Weekend

San Jose State finds itself in the drivers seat this weekend in its quest for the regular season WAC Championship. It's not a lock, however. Inside Sparta takes a look at the upcoming games, and how the outcomes of each could affect the Spartans' mission.

The Keys to a Championship

What the San Jose State accomplished against New Mexico State last weekend in Las Cruces was hoped for but mostly unexpected. How was this accomplished? Well, we kept them in the yard (they only got two home runs in the three SJSU wins) and the Spartans' hitters went on a rampage. The pitching was just good enough to win and, I think, that was certainly expected. I had expected that the Spartan throwers to get hit but they would be good enough to let the hitters do their job. That, folks, is exactly what happened.

If you look at the standings in the WAC, much can happen this final weekend. The Spartans lead the second place Louisiana Tech Bulldogs by one game and the last place Fresno State Bulldogs by four games. Hawai'i is done as this is their bye week and they are one game under .500 at 11-12. NMSU plays Louisiana Tech in Rustin, where Tech has been very tough. Remember earlier, to put both their seasons in perspective, they had swept Fresno State. This is a series to watch. Fresno State is at Sacramento State and this series figures to be one in which the Bulldogs want to ruin it for someone and, possibly, win the championship. I'd hate to be Hawai'i. All they can do is sit and watch. I guess you might call that a commentary on WAC scheduling practices.

Again, a lot can happen this weekend since a sweep by any team can vault them right into the championship. This means, of course, that the Spartans have to collapse. I am only worried about two teams and those are Nevada and Louisiana Tech. Nevada is the team to be played at Municipal Statdium this weekend, and La Tech is hosting NMSU. Good Lord, the home runs will fly. Let's hope they knock each other senseless and split the series.

Let's talk about Nevada. Their team batting average is .293, which is about 50 points lower than San Jose State's .340. The home runs are comparable - with the Wolf Pack having 42 to the Spartans' 38. I would not have guessed that. As far as individual batting, the only batter in the top 20 is their marvelous freshman, Nick Melino, who is hitting .371 with four home runs. Compare that to the Spartans who have four in the top 20 with Jacob Bruns leading the league at .438 and seven home runs. That comparison makes San Jose State the clear winner.

Let's move on. Pitching, as we all know, has been the Spartans strong suit all year and the WAC leaders show this. Team ERA shows San Jose State at 4.79, which is pretty good for the college level, and Nevada at 6.21, which is a little under the average in my book. How do individual pitching leaders stack up? SJSU's David Berner is still the leading pitcher in the WAC with an ERA of 3.00 and a record of 7-1. Ryan Shopshire has 4.19 ERA and is 5-1 and Max Peterson is at 4.40 and 6-1. The Spartans have three out of the top four pitchers in the WAC. That is nothing to sneeze at. Nevada's only representative in the top 15 is Derek Achelpohl at 4.70 and 4-4.

Let's look at the position players for the Wolf Pack.

Player AVG. HR RBI
Nick Melino .371 4 37
Shaun Kort  .325 4 58
Matt Bowman .308 10 30
Tyson Jaquez  .306 5 39
Westley Moss .305 0 17
Brett Hart  .298 4 29
Travis Simas  .282 6 27
Kevin Rodland .271 3 25
Michael Turay .293 1 7

This lineup, although good, is not as frightening as those big boppers from New Mexico State. As previously mentioned they have only four more home runs than the Spartans, a team not known for its power. Their averages are substantially lower than the Spartans' starters. Players to watch are Shaun Kort, Melino, and Matt Bowman. San Jose wins this comparison.

How does the pitching compare? Most know that SJSU has been the premiere pitching team in the WAC all season. Their bullpen has been a bit of a problem but the starters have been stellar. The first three starters have been better than good, and they would have had the rare blessing of having four good starters if Scott Sobczak hadn't gone down earlier with an injury. No other team can say that. However, since he is unavailable, the fourth starter is up for grabs and could be anyone from Tyler Heil to Jack Adams. Coach Piraro has tried a number of fourth starters so it will remain a mystery (sometimes called TBA) until game time. Nevada's starters have to be rated average at best. Derek Achelpohl is 4-4 with a 4.70 ERA, and has to be considered the ace of the staff. Chris Garcia is 4-5 and 6.18 and Brock Stassi is 6-3 and 6.29 to round out the big three. Both Garcia and Stassi have strikeout-to-walk ratios that border on one-to-one, which is poor in my book. It shows lack of control and means you are always pitching from the stretch.

The fourth starter will probably be chosen from Daniel Tinlin, Tyler Graham, or Jayson McClaren who all have enough innings to be considered for the fourth starter. The bullpen is led in appearances by Graham, Beau Witsoe, and Sammy Miller. Both Witsoe and Miller have ERAs well over 5.00, which means it's always an adventure when they are brought in. I must also add that no team in the WAC has a strong pen so Nevada is like all the rest. This is one of the sad facts that separate the WAC from some of the stronger teams and conferences.

Nevada goes into this series on a relatively down note. They lost the last two games of the Fresno series to split, and lost three of four to Sacramento. By winning the getaway game with the Hornets the Wolf Pack don't go into the San Jose State series having a six game losing streak. They are anything but hot right now. They have a little history to correct, however, since they ended last year by getting swept by the Spartans to end the season. That was last year, but I'm sure they remember. San Jose, on the other hand, is hotter than the proverbial pistol as they just finished taking three of four from New Mexico State. They beat the Aggies at their own game. SJSU outhit NMSU, which has seldom been done this year by any team. The big point to be made about that series is the Spartans' pitching staff kept the Aggies, for the most part, in the yard. The Aggies had only four home runs in the series, which is close to miraculous. This is the last and biggest series of the year. The Spartans could win it all or they could collapse. I think the latter is doubtful as they take three of four to win the WAC.

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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