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!

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