What really killed the WAC this year? There is a very simple answer to that question - RPI. Hawai'i was a frontrunner until a late-season collapse since they, by far, had the toughest OOC schedule. They would probably have made it if they had made a stronger showing in the WAC tournament, which they hosted. San Jose State had the second best RPI in the WAC, won the regular season title, and made a fair showing in the WAC Tournament by winning two games, but they end up watching the NCAA tournament on television as a reward for such a fine season. If you look at the teams surrounding the Spartans in the RPI rankings, you'll see a lot of teams that weren't selected.
There must be some advantage to winning the regular season title. As it stands now that advantage is non-existent. If the NCAA is so tied in to the RPI as a major criteria for selection, then don't make the conference tournament winner an automatic bid; make the regular season winner the automatic bid and the league tournament winner worthless. Enough; let's revisit each team's season. Before I start, the number in parenthesis is the RPI and I start with the highest RPI rating and work down.
The ‘Bows had a good OOC schedule which paid dividends in high ratings in the early part of the season. They started the season losing three of four to UC Irvine, took three of four from Mississippi State, swept four from Loyola Marymount, and then took three of four from Coastal Carolina before opening with SJSU to commence the WAC season. They were picked to finish second in the WAC - just ahead of San Jose State and behind Fresno State. Coming into the WAC season they looked to be the team to beat. They also led the league in attendance and were the hosts for the WAC tournament. The stars were aligned and it appeared they were holding all the right cards for a huge year but it didn't happen as a fifth place finish and only six games over .500 overall attest.
HITTING – Hawai'i was last in the WAC with a team batting average of .278, and were out hit by the opposition by about 30 points. The Rainbows did have some pop with 64 home runs. In a hitter's league such as the WAC this team average is a definite shortcoming. They were led by Vinnie Catricala (.349 and 13 HRs) and WAC Freshman-of-the-Year Kolten Wong (.341 and 11 HRs). Hitting after these two fine players falls off dramatically, with only Kevin Macdonald's 14 HRs and a fair .271 BA as much of a help to the lineup. Final score? C-.
PITCHING – Team ERA was a not so good 5.74, but was good enough for third place in the WAC. Jared Alexander was a starter that Hawai'i was counting on to lead the staff this year but he never really became untracked from an injury suffered last year. The leaders on this unimpressive staff were Jayson Kramer (first team All-WAC) at 5-4 and 3.47 and Matthew Sisto at 5-4 and 4.37. None of the pitchers could be considered a power pitcher since none even approached an equal number of strikeouts to innings pitched. I'll have to give the Rainbows staff a grade of C.
San Jose State (78)
The Spartans had only a fair OOC schedule and fared poorly against quality teams such as Cal Poly. However, they did well in the WAC and won the regular season title for the first time since 2000. The year was highlighted by much improved hitting and the expected good pitching, which was the best in the WAC.
HITTING – The biggest surprise in the WAC had to be their improved hitting. The Spartans moved from last in the WAC in 2008 to second place in 2009 behind leader New Mexico State. It's hard to list all the improved stats of players who played last year but I'd certainly be remiss if I didn't start with First Team All-WAC shortstop Kyle Bellows, who had a marvelous year by hitting .389 with a team-leading 10 home runs. This, after hitting in the .200s last year. He had to have a big year for the Spartans to have a big year and he did. Others who improved were Second Team All-WAC players Corey Valine (.387 and 7 HRs) and Jason Martin (.376 and 5 HRs) as well as Jacob Bruns (.399 and 7 HRs). I'm a little puzzled at how Bruns was overlooked for All-WAC but there were many strong outfielders in the WAC. Freshmen Anthony Bona and Josh Silver had seasons that previewed a bright future. The only drawback was a distinct lack of power at any position and only Bellows' late season tear got any Spartan in double figures for home runs. The Spartans get a B+ here. They would have gotten an A if they had more power at positions other than shortstop.
PITCHING - The Spartans had the best staff in the WAC and only injuries prevented them from advancing to the next level. With WAC Pitcher-of-the-Year Ryan Shopshire (6-1 and 4.04) leading the starters, the boys in blue had all the answers when it came to starting pitchers. Shopshire had that most admirable of stats; more strikeouts than innings pitched at 69/62. You can call that dominating and the league recognized that. The staff had an ERA that was a full run ahead of runner-up Fresno State. Besides Shopshire, the senior-laden starting staff had lefties David Berner (7-2 and 3.20), Max Peterson (7-1 and 4.55), and Scott Sobczak (5-2 and 2.64). Late season injuries to Peterson and Berner limited their effectiveness, and Sobczak's loss may have cost the Spartans the most. After the starters the bullpen was a little shaky. Vega was the go-to guy when it came to being a closer but did not have closer stats as he was 0-4 and 5.59. He did strikeout 41 in 38 innings, which is on the good side. There are many holes to fill for next year as I give the staff an overall A- (relief corps dragged this down a bit).
Louisiana Tech (113)
La Tech had a good year that was slowed down by their poor showing at the beginning of conference play. Their OOC featured the likes of Grambling, McNeese, and Houston Baptist. Starting the conference season at 1-7 puts any team in a huge hole but the Bulldogs were able to overcome this poor start by sweeping both Fresno State and Hawai'i and pushing for the conference title until the final weekend. Their second place finish was a far cry from last year's shocking last place finish. Their late season push to respectability bodes well for the future as they relied heavily upon freshmen for pitching and some position players as well.
HITTING – The southern dogs were the third best team in batting average at .323 and were second with homeruns (92) which was only twenty behind conference leader New Mexico State. Led by junior all-league outfielder Devon Dageford (.385 and 23) they were a fearsome lot that any opposing pitcher had to face. They also had Kevin Winn (.380 and 9 HRs), Pat Thomas (.372 and 7 HRs), and Chris Kersten (.372 and 18 HRs). Thomas and Kersten made second team All-WAC. They had freshmen at the corners in starters Alex Williams and Mark Threlkeld who will contribute a lot more in the future. Keep your eyes on both. They get an A-.
PITCHING – This is where the Bulldogs fell down. They had the league's worst staff with an ERA of 7.24, which was a run worse than the next higher team. This staff suffered from inexperience because many of them were freshmen and that's a tough row to hoe. They did get better as the season progressed, which is what any coach hopes, and I'm thinking Coach Wade Simoneaux should have a lot to smile about when he thinks about next year. He went from a coach that might lose his job to a second place finish, and that was due to improved pitching. They do need to improve team ERA by at least a full run next year. Jeb Stefan, Mike Jefferson, Graham Meyers, Jamelle Clements, and Kyle Roliard are all freshmen and most saw substantial innings. Roliard also got more than a few ABs and so is a question whether he is a pitcher, position player, or both. The future will tell. They get a grade of D and not lower mainly because of late season improvement.
New Mexico State (127)
The bruisers from Las Cruces had an excellent season marred mostly by inferior OOC opponents such as North Dakota, Chicago State, Hartford, and Pan American. Their inability to win the regular season title or the WAC tournament hurt and they were not selected for the NCAA tournament. It is a bitter pill to swallow on an otherwise excellent season. The problem of scheduling has been broached in other articles and their geographic isolation makes it tough to schedule better competition. Well, that's the way it is. Play better teams and win or watch at the end of the year. I have some sympathy but a poor RPI has to be addressed.
HITTING – The Aggies were the best hitting team in the WAC and were also the home run kings. They were second nationally with 119 home runs second only to Elon's 131. Elon you ask? They won the regular season Southern Conference title but didn't win the conference tournament title. That must be tough to take, but take heart fans, Elon got chosen to be a NCAA Tournament participant anyway as a gift for having such a good season. I'm sure you know where I'm going with this. How do Elon and SJSU differ in their destinies? Elon had an RPI of 21. Oh, how I can get distracted. The Aggies led the league with a pitcher-overwhelming .353 batting average. They had a lineup that was strong from top to bottom with no one whom you could pitch around to get a break. Imagine pitching to Barry Bonds with Manny Ramirez waiting in the on-deck circle. Name your poison. That's how the Aggies did it all year. They were led by first team All-WAC Bryan Marquez (.414 and 22 HRs) and second-teamers Nate Shaver (.344 and 9 HRs), Mike Sodders (.422 and 13 HRs), and Jeff Farnham (.371 and 13 HRs). The Aggies were a team to be feared all year. The rest of the lineup was pretty good as were the bench players. They lacked nothing in hitting and deserve the grade of A.
PITCHING – Pitching is the area that cost the Aggies in the long run. Their team ERA of 6.28 sounds terrible but was good enough for fifth in the WAC. The leader was junior second team All-WAC Daniel Simon at 9-1 and 4.55 which was, by far, the best on the team. The only other pitchers that had decent ERAs were freshman Scott Coffman and senior Jake Wilson. Coffman had 29 strikeouts in 21 innings so he will be someone to watch next year. No other highlights could I find nor positive things could I say so I'll give their staff a D.
Fresno State (154)
The Bulldogs didn't get untracked until the WAC tournament. I don't think this was by design but they are the WAC tournament champions and are the only WAC representative in the NCAA tournament. Who can argue with those results? Well, maybe all of us. Fresno State never got things going due to pitching problems, which was somewhat expected coming in to the season. Injuries further decimated their fairly weak staff. Their OOC was anything but stellar, which resulted in a very low RPI, but if you were to write up a plan on how to get included in the NCAA tournament, their plan was perfect. The regular WAC season means nothing; the WAC tournament means everything, and they played it perfectly. They were the clear-cut favorite in all preseason polls but were mostly mediocre for a good portion of the season. It will be very interesting to see how they fare in their regional, which is a tough one.
HITTING – The Mutts were fifth in the WAC at .287 which was well below what most expected from this potentially powerful lineup. They were led by junior WAC Play-of-the-Year Tommy Mendonca (.346 and 27 HRs) and first team All-WAC freshman Dusty Robinson (.325 and 14 HRs), and sophomore Danny Muno (.375 and 3 HRs). With these great players, how did they lose? No player with significant at bats other than their top four hitters hit over .300, that's how. I'll have to give them a C.
PITCHING – The Bulldog pitching woes hurt them more than any other aspect of the game. Injuries played the biggest part as they lost junior ace Jake Floethe earlier in the year. Another loss came before the year started when Tanner Scheppers, a second round pick by the Pittsburgh Pirates, decided not to return for his senior year. This decision was made after he decided not to sign a contract and elected to take off on his own and play independent baseball to improve his stock, which was a bad decision in my estimation.
With Scheppers and Floethe in the rotation, the Mutts would have been a formidable force in the WAC, and probably could have ended up being as good as the pre-season projections had them, but it was not to be. Coach Mike Batesole had to rely on freshmen Derek Benny, Josh Poytress, and junior Matt Morse to shore up the thin staff and ended up with an average ERA of 5.65. Senior First Team All-WAC Holden Sprague held down his end of the deal by being the leader of an average staff. I'll have to give the pitchers a C. Watch out for next year because all but Sprague return.
Average pitching and hitting added up to an average year. They were next to last in hitting at .287 and in the middle of the WAC with an unimpressive 6.87 ERA. Their OOC schedule was nothing to brag about nor was the results. Their highlight series was against Irvine in which they lost two of three against the No. 1 Anteaters. Their inability to hit in the OOC games did not bode well. I figured the Wolf Pack to be a force in the conference and after a poor showing in the pre-WAC season, they started winning once the WAC season started. They were at or near the top of the standings until the final series with San Jose State when they were swept, which dumped them right next to the basement. Their final record of 25-31 was about what it should have been after looking at the final stats.
HITTING – As said earlier, their inability to hit consistently hurt them the most. They placed three players on the First Team All-WAC squad - catcher Travis Simas (.256 and 6 HRs), Nick Melino (.352 and 4 HRs), and Matt Bowman (.302 and 10 HRs). Westley Moss (.305 and 0 HRs) and Shaun Kort (.329 and 4 HRs) were selected to the Second Team. Melino, Moss, and Kort all return next year. Melino as a freshman was Nevada's leading hitter. I'm sure he had some votes for WAC Freshman-of-the Year, and appears to be the player to watch at Nevada for the coming years. Nevada suffered from the same lack of power that afflicted the Spartans as only Matt Bowman had double figures in the homerun department with 10. Their lack of power and just-average hitting resulted in a lack of wins. I'll have to give them a C-.
PITCHING – The Wolf Pack placed senior Derek Achelpohl and junior Dan Tinlin on the second team All-WAC team. This was not enough to carry them further than they did and they ended poorly. There are very few highlights here as Achelpohl (4-6 and 4.58) was the only starter who had an ERA under 6.00. The punchless hitters seemed to be in catch-up mode in most of their games. Of their top pitchers only Achelpohl is a senior, which should help next year but more needs to be found. I give their staff a D.
Sacramento State (175)
The last-place Hornets had poor pitching, but could hit, and were led by one of the best hitters in the league. That didn't help them get out of the cellar so it's back to the drawing board for the coaching staff. Being swept by Fresno State in the last series at home put an end to any hope of getting out of the cellar. They need pitching, which I mentioned coming into this season. I remain puzzled why both the Hornets and UC Davis can't get better players as they are in the baseball rich area of Sacramento. Both teams appear to be getting robbed of the best players by outside recruiting. In any event Sac State had a poor year by most measures.
HITTING – The team hit a robust .317 in the hit happy WAC which was good enough for middle of the pack. They were led by junior All-WAC First Team selection Tim Wheeler (.380 and 18 HRs), and Second Team pick Hunter Martinez (.364 and 5 HRs). Blake Crosby (.397 and 4 HRs) deserves some mention here as he was the team's leading hitter but didn't make either of the All-WAC teams. I will say again that they could score but couldn't stop the bleeding as the other team hit just as well if not better. I will give them a B-.
PITCHING – The Hornets' pitching was just above bottom in the WAC at 6.33. They had only one pitcher to make the All-WAC team, which was no surprise, and that was freshman Jesse Darah (9-2 and 5.64) who made second team. No other pitcher really stood out but the top three will return, as they have no seniors among that bunch. Freshman Alex Taku had a good but limited year at 2.79 and will have a much larger role next year as pitching will again be a problem for the Hornets. I give D- for this much-maligned staff.
Don Starks is the Baseball Editor of Inside Sparta. You may contact Don with any questions, comments, or tips at firstname.lastname@example.org
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