27 May 2013

Lasting images from this weekend's WAC tournament

The broadcast setup w/ digital notes, generously loaned
headset, scorebook, water, hard-copy notes.
Hard at work.
I'm pretty exhausted after calling 13 baseball games in five days, but it's a good feeling. I really enjoyed researching all the teams and then seeing them in action, and the Western Athletic Conference staff did a great job of welcoming me for the week.

I hope to get some highlights (with video) and a demo reel put together in the next few weeks to look back at the tournament and my latest return to the baseball airwaves, but some cell-phone photos are going to have to do for now:

Some guy with a sore throat.
Official baseball of the 2013 WAC championship! and a
scorebook page ready for championship-game lineups.

More than 30 scouts were on hand to watch
Dallas Baptist's Jake Johansen throw 98-101 mph.
Front entrance of QuikTrip Park.

We played until 10 or 11 p.m. on more than one occasion,
particularly due to some lightning delays.
It may be an artificial turf field, but preparing it
(and maintaining it) still takes some work!

25 May 2013

Why Friday night game was delayed

'Borrowed' from Twitter.

Um yeah, good decision. It's tough on both teams (UTSA, CSU Bakersfield) to have to get up, mentally, for such a big game the next morning, and it's terrible to affect both teams' starting pitchers, but Friday night's game had to be delayed. It will resume Saturday morning at 10 a.m. CT.

24 May 2013

A Fernando sighting!?

Courtesy WACSports.com
Kind of looks like I was calling a game pitched by Fernando Valenzuela on Thursday, doesn't it?

That's actually CSU Bakersfield senior lefty Jonathan Montoya, who stands just 5-foot-8 and throws a mean change-up. He was part of Bakersfield's first recruiting class and holds the school record with 20 career wins, including the Roadrunners' win over Sacramento State in both teams' second game of the WAC tournament.

For more on the WAC tournament, visit Tournament Central. I'll try to have some highlights up in the next couple of weeks.

23 May 2013

Great 1st day in the books at WAC tourney

Whenever I get the chance to attend a baseball game, I'm reminded of how much I love the sport and most of what goes on around it. I have a particular affinity for the college game, having been deeply involved in it as a college student, and Wednesday's opening day of the WAC Tournament in Grand Prairie, Texas, was a reminder of plenty of the great things about college baseball.

Of primary importance, of course, were the games. All three were competitive, two very close, and one - the opener - provided a lasting memory. UTSA and Sacramento State battled into 14 innings with great pitching and one dramatic double play before R.J. Perucki led off the bottom of the 14th with a no-doubt, walk-off home run to deep left field. My call may not have been an epic one, but given that it was my first baseball game in two years, I felt OK about the result -- check it out here courtesy of UTSA's Soundcloud account.

The middle game had some of that college spirit, as the very vocal San Jose State dugout made up for a slight lack of crowd noise, with both SJSU and CSU Bakersfield understandably bringing very few fans to Texas. Nothing like a little bench jockeying to provide some atmosphere!

The nightcap featured the two co-hosts, UT-Arlington and Dallas Baptist, and had by far the best atmosphere of the games. I could let the game breathe for 10-15 seconds at a time, and the ambient noise in the stadium sounded like a baseball game anywhere in the country. It was a tense one, too, with UT-Arlington starter Brad Vachon recovering from a rough 2nd inning to pitch into the 8th inning, allowing only two hits and striking out 11. An amazing performance, considering there were relievers throwing in the bullpen almost every inning.

One day in the books and four more to go here in Grand Prairie - let's hope the whole tournament is this much fun!

21 May 2013

Players to watch at the WAC baseball tournament

NMSU's Bobby Lecount led the WAC in OPS this year.
I'm on my way to the Dallas-Fort Worth Metroplex today to call the 2013 WAC Baseball Championship at QuikTrip Park in Grand Prairie. The games - three per day until Sunday's championship game - can be seen on WACSports.tv.

Here are a few of the individuals who have caught my eye while preparing for the tournament, all well worth watching this week:

CSUB – LHP Jeff McKenzie was a struggling junior college outfielder two years ago when his team ran out of pitchers in the highly competitive California state tournament. Having thrown only five innings all year, McKenzie took the hill and threw a complete-game victory. CSU Bakersfield offered him a scholarship based on that performance, and he has repaid the favor with a 2.67 ERA last year and an amazing 12-2, 1.79 line in 2013. His streak of 11 consecutive wins was broken last Friday by San Jose State, who he could face in Wednesday’s opener.

UT-Arlington – DH Matt Shortall is from the Dallas area and transferred back to home from Tulane after the 2011 season. Think he’s important to his team’s offense? Consider that he has 21 more RBI (54) than the next closest teammate (33).

Texas State – RHP Austen Williams had a minor role in Texas State’s bullpen in the first month of the season, but he has been nearly untouchable since March 3, allowing just two earned runs in his last 22 innings (0.82 ERA), lowering his season ERA from 11.37 to 2.93. Williams, closer Hunter Lemke (1.42 ERA in his last 38 innings), and lefty Donnie Hart (2.21 ERA) make for the league’s top bullpen.

UTSA – C John Bormann has thrown out an amazing 29 of 49 runners trying to steal against him this year (59 percent!) and has picked 14 runners off first base. It's hard to find context for how impressive those numbers are. I can't find a list of NCAA leaders (they apparently don't deal with fielding stats), but UTSA informs me Bormann ranks 2nd in the country in throwing out runners and first in runners picked off. The best college arm I've ever seen, that of Rice catcher Justin Ruchti, threw out 60 percent of runners (23/38) in the 2003 national-championship season. An arm like that behind the plate really limits the options for opposing teams to move baserunners.

Sacramento State – 1B Chris Lewis was told by head coach Reggie Christiansen that he should go to junior college before trying to contribute at Sacramento State. Lewis said, ‘No thanks’ and enrolled, took a redshirt last year, and proceeded to light up the WAC this year to the tune of .396/.439/.545 in conference play. Lewis gets good lineup protection from 2012 WAC Player of the Year Andrew Ayers, and both will need to play big roles if the Hornets, who were 9th in the WAC in hitting, can perform better at the plate in the postseason.

New Mexico State – 3B Bobby Lecount is a Moneyball type of player who seems to personify New Mexico State’s hitting philosophy. He walks a lot, strikes out a lot, and hits for serious power. In WAC play, he ranked first in OPS (1256), slugging (.778), OBP (.478), and walks (21) and finished 2nd in home runs (9) while striking out once per game.

Dallas Baptist – 3B Duncan McAlpine erupted with a 10-for-16 series against Texas State last weekend that included 4 home runs, and 11 RBI to finish first in the WAC in conference home runs (12) and second in slugging (.697). He is one of several ringleaders of the Patriots’ grip-it-and-rip-it offense on a team with serious postseason experience.

San Jose State – RHP Kyle Hassna was the Spartans’ main weapon out of the bullpen for most of the year, but he stepped into the starting rotation near the end of the season and provided a very strong start against CSU Bakersfield. If he can pitch in the vicinity of his 2.50 ERA in the tournament, it gives the undermanned Spartans a fighting chance in an extra game.

20 May 2013

Calling this week's WAC baseball tournament

In a departure from most of my recent broadcasting and blogging but a return to my roots, I’m really excited to be calling the Western Athletic Conference baseball tournament this week in Grand Prairie, Texas. I started my broadcasting career in college baseball in 2002 at Rice University, which was in the WAC at the time (although there was no conference tournament then) and I’ve been trying to find college baseball work all season, so this is going to be a lot of fun.

The tournament has two groups of four teams each, combining for three games per day from Wednesday-Saturday. That’s right, games at 11 a.m., 3 p.m., and 7 p.m. (all Central Time) all by my lonesome for four days in a row. Then a one-off championship game on Sunday. It’s going to be crazy. And hot, I’m thinking, thanks to the artificial turf at QuikTrip Park. You can check out the games at WACSports.tv, although it looks like there will be a charge to watch games.

I’ve been studying the WAC teams intently for the last two weeks, and here’s a very quick look at the teams in the tournament and some of their characteristics.

The favorites:
CSU Bakersfield led the league throughout the regular season thanks to its outstanding pitching, but the Roadrunners dropped their final series of the season to San Jose State, which is the team they will face first on Wednesday. CSU Bakersfield is only in its fifth season of D-I baseball and is looking for its first NCAA tournament berth.
UT-Arlington claimed a share of the regular-season title after an impressive three-game sweep of Sacramento State on the final weekend of the year. The Mavericks reached the NCAA tournament last year after winning the Southland Conference and have a balanced squad with a strong bullpen.
Texas State led the league in OPS and was second in ERA during conference play, including the league’s best bullpen. But the Bobcats slipped to third place because of their atrocious defense. In one four-game stretch last week, they made 19 errors, and they field at a .957 clip, by far the worst in the league.

In the mix:
Sacramento State came agonizingly close to its first NCAA tournament berth last year, needing to win one of two games against Fresno State in the WAC tournament final, but losing the second in an epic, 13-inning loss. The Hornets built their success on pitching and defense, but both seemed to desert them in last weekend’s series loss to UT-Arlington. If their pitching rebounds this week, they’re a big threat.
Unsung UTSA also passed Sacramento State on that final weekend, and the Roadrunners are interesting as an aggressive hitting team that does not rely on power. They swing early and often in the count and may have just enough quality arms to make a run.
After reaching NCAA regionals the last two years (and the super regionals in 2011) as an independent, Dallas Baptist spent its lone year in the WAC as the preseason favorite. The swing-from-their-heels Patriots are all power, all the time at the plate, but their pitching and defense have not matched expectations.
New Mexico State also made the NCAA tournament last year after winning the WAC regular season. The Aggies always put up big offensive numbers in terms of power, walks, and strikeouts, and this team is no exception. The pitching staff has powerful arms but ranked last in the WAC in ERA.

Long shot:
San Jose State squeaked in the tournament by taking two of the three games against CSU Bakersfield on the season’s final weekend, with both wins coming in the final at-bat. The Spartans hit for average without much power and really do not have the pitching depth needed to win four games in a row, but stranger things have definitely happened.

If I learned one thing from following WAC baseball over the last several weeks, it’s that very few games go according to either team’s plane, and lots of late lead changes are the norm. Most importantly, I don’t think any of the teams are in the running for an at-large bid to the tournament, so they’re all going to be playing desperate baseball throughout. Should be an exciting week!