Aggie Baseball sweeps Northern Colorado

By: Derek Gonzalez

The New Mexico State baseball team has continued their hot start in conference play with a three-game sweep of the Northern Colorado Bears this past weekend inside Presley Askew Field.

NMSU won game one 10-3 and followed the win with a 7-4 victory on Saturday. In the series finale, the Aggies jumped out to a 5-0 first-inning lead and never allowed the Bears to threaten in the 6-2 win.

Brent Sakurai led off the bottom of the first inning with a single against UNC pitcher Aaron Hamilton. Austin Botello was walked after Joey Ortiz popped out, and NMSU perfectly executed a double steal to put both runners in scoring position.

Dan Hetzel converted on a sacrifice fly to score Sakurai to break the seal on the scoring for the Sunday matinee, and Tristen Carranza slapped a single up the middle to score Botello to double the Aggie lead to 2-0.

Catcher Mason Fishback closed out the first-inning scoring with a three-run home run off the scoreboard in left-center field to open the lead to 5-0.

NMSU (26-15, 11-1 WAC) decided to use a staff day in the game, meaning they would use the entire bullpen and leave it up the scorekeeper’s discretion as to who to award the win to. Andy Frakes got his second-career start for the Aggies and did a fantastic job managing the game and using his defense to get outs.

“We talked about picking each other up, and sometimes you are not going to have it (production) at the plate so we will need to pitch well and vice versa, but what an effort by Frakes,” NMSU head coach Brian Green said. “He brought it and we absolutely had to have it. We got that run in the eighth (inning) and it gave us some space. It was a great game for us and a great weekend for us.”

Frakes went 4.0 innings pitched and allowed only one earned run in 48 pitches. The senior side-winder is used to being brought out of the bullpen in later innings, and adapted to a new role and flourished to keep the Aggies rolling in WAC play.

Matt McHugh came in relief of Frakes and went 3.1 innings pitched and got out of a couple jams as the Bears (15-22, 4-8 WAC) tried to claw back into the game.

“You have to be able to win games when you aren’t hitting and we did that today and I am fired up about that,” Green said. “It was a great efoort from our guys and it shows them that there are different ways to win.”

NMSU will host Grand Canyon in a three-game series this weekend that will ultimately decide the WAC regular season champion. The first game is Friday at 6 p.m. at Presley Askew Field.

Aggie Baseball falls to No. 6 ranked Red Raiders

By: Derek E. Gonzales

LAS CRUCES- After a grueling stretch of baseball that included playing 14 out of their last 15 games away from Presley Askew Field, the New Mexico State Aggie baseball team returned to the friendly confines only to find the No. 6 ranked Texas Tech Red Raiders awaiting them. NMSU dug themselves a deep hole by allowing six first-inning runs (five of which came before an out was recorded) to the Red Raiders and never recovered in a 15-4 loss.

Pitcher Chris Kucko got the start for the Aggies and was unable to register an out against the potent TTU offense. The first three batters all reached base to load them up early for the Red Raiders (26-6), and the first run of the day came from a walk of first baseman Hunter Hargrove, scoring lead-off man Grant Little from third. The next batter, Michael Borglund, doubled to right-center field to score Josh Jung and Michael Davis to push the lead to 3-0. Kucko gave up a single to the next batter Orlando Garcia that scored another two runs and was pulled from the contest after that with the Aggies down 5-0.

Senior pitcher Andy Frakes was called in to relieve Kucko and was able to get out of the jam while conceding just one more run in the inning.

NMSU (17-13) did show some positive flashes against a team that could very well be hosting a Super Regional come NCAA Tournament time. After the first half inning by the Red Raiders that could take the fight out of some teams, the Aggie offense came back in the bottom of the first inning and cut into the lead. With two outs, Dan Hetzel lined a triple out to left field, scoring third baseman Joey Ortiz to put the Aggies on the scoreboard.

Cutting the lead to five would be as close as the Aggies could get, as TTU would go on to have four other innings of scoring multiple runs against a platoon of Aggie pitchers. Mid-week games present a challenge for head coach Brian Green because how he chooses to use the pitching staff for mid-week game could dictate the effectiveness of his unit for the three-game series that tends to follow that upcoming weekend.

“We need to have a quick memory and our coaches are

excited to get back to work and go after WAC play again.”

“It is about winning the league and we burned some of our weekend pitching (in mid-week games) last year and we have not wanted to do that this year,” Green said.

Ortiz had a productive afternoon from the third spot in the order, going 4-for-5 and scoring twice. Hetzel, Austin Botello, reigning WAC Hitter of the Week Tristen Carranza and Brent Sakurai all recorded an RBI each, which speaks to the balance that the Aggies have in their lineup.

After sweeping Seattle U to being conference play, the Aggies will have returned to the ‘Skew for a three-game series with WAC foe UT-Rio Grande Valley. The team will now head on the road to face Sacramento State Thursday, Friday and Saturday before having to take another dip out of conference play to face the Red Raiders again, this time in Midland, Texas on April 18.

Aggie bats are off to hot start in 2017

By: Derek Gonzales

Through 15 games this season, the New Mexico State baseball team appears to have made another leap forward after having the nation’s biggest turnaround a year ago. The Aggies are RECORD and lead the nation in a few offensive categories (Batting avg. (.366), hits (189), runs (155), OBP. (.462), doubles (38), and scoring (11.1)).

Having hosted the Yale Bulldogs in a four-game series in the last home series before a nine-game road trip, the Aggies dropped the series opener 3-1. NMSU was held to a season-low five hits and could not capitalize on the solid outing from starting pitcher Jonathan Groff, who gave up just two earned runs in 6.1 innings pitched.

The Bulldogs could not keep the Aggie offense from getting going in the final three games of the series. NMSU scored 41 runs over the next 27 innings and only struck out four times in 112 at bats. Senior Austin Botello lead the NCAA in hits with 26 and is third in RBI’s with 21. Winning the final three games of the series improved NMSU to 9-3 in their first 12 games at Presley Askew Field.

It was a quick turnaround for the Aggies after the Yale series. The team made the 45-minute bus ride down to Southwest University Park in downtown El Paso two days later for the first of three games against I-25 rival New Mexico. The beautiful 9,500 seat home of the El Paso Chihuahuas (San Diego Padres Triple-A affiliate) hosted this game for the second-consecutive year to connect NMSU baseball to the borderland area (UTEP does not sponsor baseball). Last season, the Aggies knocked off the Lobos 9-6 in their only win in four tries against UNM.

This time around, the Lobos wasted no time jumping on their southern rivals, scoring the game’s first three runs and holding the potent Aggie offense to just a couple of runs in the game in the 8-2 UNM win.

The problem was not hits or getting people on base for NMSU (9-6), because they collected 12 hits as a team. It was stringing together a rally that the Aggies had trouble with. The Aggies scored seven hits with two outs, which puts pressure on the defense, but also takes away any chance of sacrifice hits.

“Offensively, we are doing okay, but defensively, we have to improve,” NMSU Head Coach Brian Green said. “We just have to get tougher and play the game a pitch at a time, not play the scoreboard and we have to fight a little bit harder.”

UNM (8-3) went into the game with the nation’s third-best RPI and were solid in all facets of the game. The Lobo defense did not commit an error the entire game and used seven different pitchers in the game, while the Aggies used nine.

First baseman Jack Zoellner went 3 for 4 an RBI to lead the UNM offense, while Andre Vigil and Robby Campillo both registered a couple of hits each for the Lobos.

Botello played a hand in both Aggie runs. With the bases loaded in the bottom of the 5th inning and the bases loaded, Botello was hit by the first pitch he saw, scoring Brian Kiser. Two innings later, Botello reached on a fielder’s choice that lead-off man Marcus Still.

Mid-week games are often tough to manage, as teams must carefully manage which arms they use in preparation of a weekend series a few days. This game was no different, as

Head Coach Brian Green used an army to get through the nine innings as the team was slated to head to Salt Lake City to play a three-game series with the Utah Utes.

Dalton Shalberg saw the most action, going 2.1 innings and giving up three earned runs and four hits. It was still a good experience for the four El Paso natives on the NMSU roster (Matthew Perea, Mathew Munden, Alex Reyes, Dante Martinez) as well as a good opportunity to look at the Lobos before seeing them again on March 28 at Presley Askew Field.

“When we get into these mid-week games, you are a little thin and we have not responded well,” Green said. “We have a great opportunity in front of us with ten road games against all basically ranked teams so it will be a good opportunity for us to toughen up.”

Baseball: The Time is Now

By: Joseph Fullbright

When head coach Brian Green was hired by his alma mater in July of 2014, he knew that he was going to have his work cut out for him. In his first season at the helm, the New Mexico State Aggies baseball team lost 38 of their 50 games. That seems like an eternity ago as Green has completely turned the program around and is slowly turning them into a powerhouse in the southwest. Last season, the Aggies finished 34-23 and were just a couple of games away from winning the WAC championship. The 23-win improvement from 2015 to 2016 was the second highest in the NCAA.

The job that Green and the entire coaching staff have done on the baseball field obviously shows, but it’s what goes down off the field where he has found the most success: recruiting. Recruiting has been the biggest key factor in the turnaround for the baseball program, and it’s safe to say that coach Green has hit homeruns (no pun intended) on the recruiting trail. His first recruiting class, prior to last season, ranked #37 in the entire country.

“It’s a testament to the coaches,” said Green. “[Assistant] Coach Mangrum is a tireless worker and a tremendous recruiter. I have been a recruiter my entire life. How does [the program] do it? We do our best to recruit guys with great character and families, and do the best we can to talk to their coaches.”

The coaching staff was at in again this offseason, as they brought in the nation’s 33rd best recruiting class- the first time in school history that the Aggies have had back-to-back nationally ranked recruiting classes in baseball.

“To bring in back-to-back nationally ranked recruiting classes is an incredible honor, but we are also aware that Las Cruces is truly a special town, and New Mexico State University is a tremendous institution. We believe in recruiting to our core values in order to enhance and develop the culture of our program.”

It’s safe to say the expectations are even higher for the baseball team, as their season officially got underway this past weekend. They will have to do it having lost three of their most valuable players from last season to the MLB draft. Relief pitchers Tyler Erwin (Baltimore Orioles) and Joe Galindo (San Diego Padres) played big roles in the Aggie bullpen last season. But, the biggest loss is 2016 WAC Player of the Year, Daniel Johnson, who was selected in the fifth round by the Washington Nationals. The All-American outfielder had 94 hits (4th in the NCAA), 12 homeruns, and 50 RBI’s last season.

“I don’t think we will ever be able to replace DJ’s offense; he impacted people before and after him with the homeruns and stolen bases,” added Green.

Tasked with the biggest challenge of replacing the production of the draft picks are the four Aggies’ four players who were named to the Preseason All-WAC team earlier this month: Catcher Mason Fishback, third baseman Trey Stine, outfielder Austin Botello, and pitcher Kyle Bradish.

Fishback earned First-Team All-WAC honors as a junior last season. In 42 games played, he had a .329 batting average, four homeruns, and 28 RBI’s.

Botello, who spends time as an outfielder and designated hitter, has the most power of any returning player on the team. He had a .354 batting average to go along with his eight homeruns and 50 RBI’s- all ranking second on the team.

Bradish enters his second season coming off of a historical freshman campaign. He became the fifth Aggie in school history to be named to the Louisville Slugger Freshman All-American team. He led the team with eight wins, 86.2 innings pitched, and 82 strikeouts.

Stine was named Second-Team All-WAC last year after hitting .281 with seven homeruns and 39 RBI’s. It was a busy offseason for Stine, who played for the Waynesboro Generals in the Valley Baseball League, a summer league in Virginia.

“I was able to stay in the rhythm of the game [more], unlike last summer,” said Stine, who is one of the many players praised by coach Green as the season begins.

Two new faces in Las Cruces to keep a close eye on are JUCO transfers: outfielder Marcus Still and pitcher Jonathan Groff. Still comes to NMSU from Scottsdale Community College where he was named second team All-Conference. He had a .344 average with 25 extra base hits and 33 stolen bases. He is a premiere centerfielder and was drafted in the 31st round of this year’s MLB Draft by the Blue Jays, but elected to reenter next season. Groff joins the Aggies after a stellar season at Tyler JC where he went 12-0, had a 1.06 ERA, and recorded 125 strikeouts. He was named the 2016 NJCAA Division III Pitcher of the Year, and led Tyler JC to their third straight NJCAA Division III National Championship where he was named the World Series MVP.

The Aggies will have a very challenging schedule in 2017. The 52-game schedule features eight teams that made it to last season’s NCAA Tournament, including three that advanced to Omaha and played in the College World Series. The Aggies have three games vs. Texas Tech- one in Lubbock, one in Las Cruces, and one at a neutral location in Midland. The Red Raiders won 47 games last season. Once again, the three game series vs. UNM will include the neutral matchup at Southwest University Park in El Paso. Perhaps the toughest matchup will be on March 21 when they travel to Tucson to play Arizona- who was the NCAA Division I runner-up a year ago. Among the rest of the competition are road trips at Arizona State, Utah, and BYU.

“The opportunity to get to the postseason, for us, it’s all about league and the conference tournament. For us, we schedule as hard as we can, go on the road as much as we can, and prepare for conference games,” said Green of the schedule.

The WAC Preseason Baseball Coaches Poll picked the Aggies to finish second in the conference this season behind Seattle U. Following the Redhawks and Aggies are Sacramento State, Grand Canyon, Utah Valley, CSU Bakersfield, UT-Rio Grande Valley, Northern Colorado, and Chicago State.

It is going to be an exciting season on the diamond for the New Mexico State baseball team. Make sure you head out to Presley Askew Field this year to support the Aggies.

Joseph Fullbright can be reached at: trusports@nmsu.edu

Aggie Softball Takes Two of Three from UTSA

By: Derek Gonzales

The 2017 softball season got off to a solid start for the New Mexico State softball team. After a disappointing end to last season, this year’s bunch, which includes nine freshmen and seven sophomores to rank as the second-youngest team in the nation, took both games of the Saturday doubleheader 9-1 and 4-1 before dropping the series finale 11-3 to the Texas-San Antonio Roadrunners on Sunday.

Game 1

In the first game, NMSU fell behind 1-0 before a fourth-inning rally put the Aggies ahead for good. With two runners in scoring position, Amy Bergeson reached first base safely after first baseman Angelica Nino dropped the ball for the error, scoring the runner at third. Victoria Castro singled next to put NMSU up 2-1.

With the bases now loaded, Fahren Glackin grounded into a fielder’s choice, but Bergeson slid into home plate, beating the throw and scoring another run for the Aggies. Haley Nakamura and Misty Hoohuli both singled in runs, capping off the seven-run inning.

Preseason WAC Player of the Year Kelsey Horton hit her first home-run of the season in the next inning to increase the score to 8-1. Sophomore Kayla Green went five innings, giving up just two hits and one earned run to pick up her first win of the season.

Game 2

Head Coach Kathy Rodolph decided to give the visiting Roadrunners a different look in the second game, starting four of her nine freshmen on the roster. The Aggies wasted no time taking the lead, as Caity Szczesny churned out a triple in the bottom of the first inning, scoring Castro and Glackin to give NMSU an early 2-0 lead. Jeanelle Medina returned the favor, hitting a single that scored Szczesny to increase the Aggie lead to three. That’s all pitcher Samaria Diaz would need, keeping the UTSA at offense at bay, allowing just one run and seven hits while going the distance. The other run scored came from a Horton double that brought Hoohuli home.

“Kayla Green, Samaria Diaz, and Fahren Glackin were very composed for our team and did a nice job staying pitch to pitch,” Rodolph said. “Our defense was consistent in both games as well.”

Game 3

The series finale did not go as well as NMSU would have liked. With Green back in the circle for the Aggies, the Roadrunners appeared to have figured out the puzzle on how to generate offense against the talented Tucson, Ariz. native, scoring three first-inning runs after the Aggies did the same thing to UTSA the day before. It was not until the lead had swelled to five before NMSU would get on the board via a Horton home-run. Six of the 11 UTSA runs were unearned due to three untimely errors by the Aggie defense. Green took the loss for the Aggies, her first of the season and the team’s first loss of the year.

Horton earns WAC Hitter of the Week

Horton had at least one RBI in each of the Aggies’ first three games of the season and earned the recognition after posting a .667 batting average with two home-runs and four RBI’s during the opening weekend.

Looking ahead

After hosting the annual Troy Cox Classic inside the NM State Softball Classic this past weekend, the Aggies will hit the road for the first time this season to Cathedral City, Calif. Returning to the Mary Nutter Classic for the second season in a row, NMSU will face LSU, NC State, Michigan, Oklahoma State and San Diego State in the five-day round-robin event. For NMSU, it presents another opportunity for the Aggies to experience the challenge of facing power-5 opponents before conference play begins next month.