Aggie offense leads to series-opening win

The Aggies baseball team won the first in a three-game series against Sacramento State.

 

Photo by Derek Gonzales.

By Derek Gonzales

Staff Writer

With the New Mexico State baseball team trailing WAC foe Sacramento State by two games in the conference standings, it made this weekend’s series all the more important. The Aggies were able to take the first game of the three-game series 14-4 in eight innings on Friday night at Presley Askew Field.

NM State (23-18, 11-5 WAC) pounded out six hits in just the first two innings off of Sacramento State starter Sam Long and the visiting Hornets (25-16, 12-4 WAC).

The Aggies came out in the bottom of the first and got things started with a Daniel Johnson (4 for 5, three RBI’s, HR) single. Outfielder Greg Popylisen (2 for 5, two doubles, RBI) followed suit with a double in the alley to put himself and Johnson in scoring position with no outs. Dan Hetzel (1 for 5, RBI) was able to connect on the first pitch he saw from Long and he brought in Johnson to push the Aggies out to a 1-0 lead.

Sacramento State came back in at the top of the second inning with a Brandon Hunley home-run to right field off of Aggie starter Marcel Renteria. It knotted the score at one, but the the Aggies would take control after that.

In the bottom of the second inning, third-baseman Trey Stine went up to the plate after Long struck out Aggie catcher Mason Fishback. Stine wasted no time, and he sent the first pitch over the right-field fence for a solo home-run. It was his fourth of the season and it sent the Aggies back into the lead at 2-1. Popylisen was back up at the plate two batters later, and he doubled to right-center on an 0-2 pitch to score the speedy Johnson from first to extend the lead to 3-1.

After Sacramento State tacked on a run in the top of the third inning, the Aggies went to the bottom of the inning and blew the game open. Austin Botello (1 for 4, two runs) began the inning with a walk.

Shortstop L.J. Hatch then doubled to put runners in scoring position for Fishback. Fishback redeemed himself after the strikeout earlier and took Long deep to right-field for a three-run home-run. Stine and Brent Sakurai were able to reach base following the home-run, and Johnson crushed a three-run home-run of his own to right-field to put NM State comfortably ahead at 9-2.

Renteria was outstanding on Friday night and got his fourth win of the year. He went 7.2 innings, striking out seven batters on a whopping 121 pitches. He threw 71 pitches for strikes, and did not let Sacramento State threaten after the Aggies had the six-run third inning.

NM State was firing on all cylinders throughout the game, as they scored at least one run in six different innings. They hit .462 as a team and hit 6 for 15 when runners were in scoring position. The 14 runs were the most they’ve scored in the month of April and it came at a great time, as the Aggies came into the series having lost six out of their last seven.

The Aggies look to win the series tomorrow as they will host the Hornets at one p.m. at Presley Askew Field. The series finale will be Sunday at noon.

Derek Gonzales can be reached at gordooo5@nmsu.edu

Follow Round Up Sports on Twitter at: @RoundUp_Sports

Opinion: This season, it’s do or die for Aggie football

The NMSU football team has been told by the Sun Belt Conference they are no longer wanted. This next season is vital for NMSU football to remain relevant.

 

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Photo from NMStateSports.com.

By Albert Luna

Sports Editor

Saturday, April 16.

NMSU football is holding its annual Crimson and White Scrimmage, with the conclusion of yet another set of spring practices in the books. The players play hard, the fans come out in pretty decent numbers, yet there’s still something that seems like it doesn’t fit.

It has been on the field for the past two seasons but has an expiration date of just two years more, and on this Saturday in April, the Sun Belt Conference logo remains part of NMSU football.

Obviously by now, most people know that the Aggies’ time in one of the worst Division-I FBS conferences is limited as the Sun Belt has essentially told NMSU (and Idaho) they are no longer welcome to play football in their conference beyond 2017.

Not too surprising, considering NMSU’s reputation as the school with the longest bowl drought. And it was generally expected that not a lot, if any, of FBS conferences would be lining up at the school’s doorsteps to invite the Aggies into their league—which is exactly what has (not) happened.

NMSU Chancellor Garrey Carruthers has been fairly mum on the subject, so there is a whole lot of uncertainty for NMSU’s conference future.

A conference in college sports can mean almost everything. Not only do conferences have direct impacts on recruits and home attendance (household-name universities attract bigger numbers), but also their brand as a whole. A school can gain instant respect and prestige simply from slapping on a particular conference’s acronym next to their name.

NMSU knows this and they know that to get into a somewhat respectable conference going forward, especially in the cash cow sport that is football, they need to perform. That performance can no longer be a long term, exponential plan for growth: it has to happen quickly, and it has to happen in this next season.

Two years can be an enormous amount of time in the conference realignment world. If you need any evidence of this, just go back to the crazy shuffle in 2013 that left NMSU as the odd-school-out and stuck in the now football-less WAC. That being said, so much in college football can be decided on-the-fly in terms of where which schools are going, essentially making a program’s momentum everything. Because of this, NMSU, where traditionally success has been hard to come by, will likely struggle to achieve the kind of success they need to remain in the Sun Belt Conference.

The Aggies must have a winning season this fall and they must make a bowl game in order to keep their chances of staying at the top level of college football. Make no mistake: this next season will have a lasting impact on not only this school but the community for the foreseeable future.

But everything I’m saying is not something that the program doesn’t already know and isn’t preparing for. The face of the program, All-American running back Larry Rose III, says he thinks there certainly is pressure to make a bowl game.

“We don’t think of making a bowl simply because of conference and things like that, but that is a nice added pressure because everyone here wants to make a bowl at the end of the day,” he says. “It’s self-inflicted pressure, if we had to pinpoint it.”

To have a good season, NMSU needs a good start to the season, and the way to do that is to improve the team’s defense.

To accomplish this, the program brought in a new defensive coordinator in Frank Spaziani. And during the spring game, Spaziani’s influence was already apparent, in that the defensive side of the ball had more confidence.

Another important factor in the Aggies’ defense is Jaden Wright, who says the new coach has established a new culture.

“Coach Spaziani is such a good teacher of the game. He’s been right in everything because if we don’t do it his way, we’ll get beat,” he says.

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Andres Leighton/AP Photo.

Wright says that players are aware of the situation regarding the school’s conference future but that the coaching staff likes to keep it in the moment.

“We’re just trying to take it one game at a time, one season at a time, and however we do this year, that (conference decision) really is not up to us,” he says.

The third-year defensive back was named the Sun Belt player of the week on one occasion last year and has accepted his leadership role on the team now.

“I tell the guys that nothing that we do will be able to affect tomorrow,” he says.  “We all came here to win, that’s one thing people might not get: none of us came here to lose.”

He echoes the same goals as Rose.

“Our biggest thing is that we need to just make a bowl game,” Wright says. “That’s what it comes to.”

Spaziani and the defense certainly seem to have a groove. Rodney Butler, a senior linebacker heading into his final year, says the former Boston College head coach has challenged his players.

“It’s not only in practice, but it’s also in the film room and he’s pushing us into the best we can be,” he says.

If this Saturday in April is any indication of what is to come defensively, Wright and Butler seem to have their side of the ball well in check headed into the summer.

With the defensive revival seemingly already taking place, the team really has all of the weak spots from a year ago basically covered up, at least from a fundamental standpoint as the season continues to get closer and closer.

With these factors, there can be no more, “Next season we’ll get better” attitude, which Las Cruces has heard since 1960. Coaches need to judge their players on bowl success, and in turn, Athletic Director Mario Moccia needs to judge his coaches on this same criterion.

The time to win is no longer in the future for the Aggies, it is now and it’s more important than ever. The only question that remains: Will this team step up to the challenge?

Sports Editor Albert Luna may be reached at ALuna32@NMSU.edu

Make sure to follow the official Round Up Sports Twitter: @RoundUp_Sports

Aggies take doubleheader vs. Bakersfield in home finale

Aggies win a doubleheader against CSU – Bakersfield.

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Aggie Emma Adams in her last appearance on the NMSU softball field.  Photo by Derek Gonzales.

By Derek Gonzales

Staff Writer

The New Mexico State softball team appears to have found their groove as they inch closer to defending their WAC Championship in Seattle, Washington, in the 2016 WAC Softball Tournament in two weeks. They completed the sweep of Cal-State Bakersfield, winning both games of the doubleheader 12-1 and 4-2 Saturday afternoon at the New Mexico State softball complex.

The first game saw senior Karysta Donisthorpe take the mound for the Aggies. In her last start of her career at the New Mexico State softball complex, she was outstanding. She went all five innings in the run-ruled game, striking out four and giving up only one run.

“It was amazing. The fact that hitters were putting up runs was a great feeling,” says Donisthorpe, who capped off her illustrious four-year career with her ninth win of the year.

NM State (32-19, 11-1 WAC) jumped out to an early lead when Kelsey Horton hit a three-run home-run to push the Aggies out to a 3-0 lead. It was her team-leading 14th home run of the year. NM State as a team is first in the conference in home-runs, batting average, scoring, slugging percentage, and triples. A prolific offense is a Coach Kathy Rodolph staple, as she has put together powerful offenses in her 12 seasons in Las Cruces, and this year’s squad has been no different.

After scoring another run in the bottom of the second to extend to 4-0, CSUB (13-30, 5-7 WAC) scored a run in the top of the third inning with a Chris Hipa single that forced two Aggie errors and led to Alex Simmons scoring on the play. With the score 4-1, the Aggie offense exploded in the bottom half of the inning.

Tatum Reedy began the inning with a three-run home run of her own off of CSUB pitcher Alyssa Stockton to put the score at 7-1. It was her eighth of the season. That was only the beginning of the scoring for the inning. Emma Adams hit a double three batters later and it scored Rodriguez and Brennalyn Nakamura to extend the lead to 9-1.

Pinch-hitter Kennedy Johnson smashed a three-run homer later in the inning that scored Fiana Finau and Adams. That capped off an eight-run inning for the Aggies and put them in control of the game and Donisthorpe coasted from that point forward. The win gave coach Rodolph her 400th victory at New Mexico State.

“To be able to capture my 400th win here at home on senior weekend makes it all that much more special,” says Rodolph. “I remember that first season here (when NM State went 14-49) like it was yesterday, and we’ve come a long way with phenomenal young ladies that believed in the vision we had here. Without phenomenal kids, we wouldn’t have been able to turn this around.”

Senior Makayla McAdams (13-8) started at pitcher for the Aggies in the second game, and followed Donisthorpe’s solid performance with one of her own. She allowed one run and three hits on 53 pitches.

“When we started this season, we graduated roughly 60 home-runs, so we knew that the most experienced piece of our team was our pitching, and they needed to anchor down while our offense was getting their feet under them, and they’ve done just that,” says Rodolph.

Victoria Castro (1 for 4, RBI) tripled in the home half of the second inning that brought in pitch-runner Jovanni Felix to score. Nakamura (1 for 3, run scored) then hit a rare bunt double and Castro reached third on the play. Castro then scored on a wild pitch that advanced Nakamura to third, and Amy Bergeson (0 for 2, RBI) brought in Nakamura on a groundout a few pitches later to put the score at 3-0 through two innings. CSUB answered in the next half inning with a run on a Julea Cavazos single up the middle that scored Kaylynn Burt.

Freshman pitcher Kayla Green came on in a relief appearance for the second day in a row, and did a great job, despite getting herself in trouble in the top of the seventh inning trying to close the game. She allowed a two-out triple to Burt that scored Jo Larios for the ‘Runners, and with Burt on third and the tying run at the plate, Rodolph brought in Donisthorpe to try to get the one-out save and did just that to cap off the 4-2 win.

Saturday marked the last time seniors Fiana Finau, Tatum Reedy, Makayla McAdams, Karysta Donisthorpe, Brennalyn Nakamura, and Emma Adams took the field at the New Mexico State softball complex. Looking ahead, NM State will face UMKC in a three-game series next weekend in Kansas City and travel to Albuquerque to face the University of New Mexico on May 3.

Derek Gonzales can be reached at gordooo5@nmsu.edu

Follow Round Up Sports on Twitter at: @RoundUp_Sports

 

Aggies win vs. CSU-Bakersfield

The Aggie softball team won the first of three games against CSU-Bakersfield this weekend.

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Photo by Derek Gonzales.

By Derek Gonzales

Staff Writer

The New Mexico State softball team started off their last home series of the season with a 6-5 win over Cal-State Bakersfield on Friday evening at the New Mexico State softball complex.

The ‘Runners (13-27, 5-5 WAC) scored at the top of the first with a Chris Hipa single that scored Julea Cavazos. The game went into a lightning delay midway through the bottom of the first, and the game didn’t resume for an hour and 20 minutes.

When play resumed, it didn’t take long for NM State (30-19, 9-1 WAC) to take the lead back. In the bottom of the second inning, Corrin Green (0 for 2, walk) reached first base by way of a walk that was issued by CSU-Bakersfield starting pitcher Amber Mills (6-12). Victoria Castro (1 for 2, RBI) followed that with a single, and a hit-by-pitch loaded the bases for senior Tatum Reedy. Playing in her last collegiate series in Las Cruces, she smashed a Mills pitch to straight center-field for a grand slam.

That gave NM State a 4-1 lead. From there, Aggie starting pitcher Makayla McAdams (12-8) didn’t allow CSU-Bakersfield to take the lead, but she did give up five runs in 4.1 innings pitched. CSU-Bakersfield scored a couple of runs in the top of the third inning to trim the Aggie lead to one at 4-3, but NM State answered with a couple of runs of their own at the bottom of the inning to stretch the lead back out to 6-3.

In the top of the fifth, CSU-Bakersfield struck again twice. ‘Runner short-shop Alex Simmons hit a triple into the a right-center field alley, scoring Cavazos. That was all for McAdams, as she was relieved by freshman Kayla Green. After throwing two changeups to Hipa, Green tried to blow a fastball by her, but Hipa was able to hit a blooper past Aggie short-shop Haley Nakamura and it scored Simmons to put the score at 6-5.

After that, neither team posed a scoring threat for the rest of the game, as Green was excellent in her relief appearance, only allowing two hits, and she was able to pick up for first career save in the process.

NM State will play CSU-Bakersfield in a doubleheader tomorrow at the New Mexico State softball complex with the first game beginning at four p.m., with the second game beginning approximately 30 minutes after the conclusion of the first game.

Derek Gonzales can be reached at gordooo5@nmsu.edu

Follow Round Up Sports on Twitter at: @RoundUp_Sports

Aggie Football in depth: Tyrian Taylor

Staff Writer Derek Gonzales sits down with NMSU football’s Tyrian Taylor to discuss the past and the upcoming season.

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Todd Bennett/Getty Images.

By Derek Gonzales

Staff Writer

Tyrian Taylor is no stranger to adversity. How could he be? He’s been fighting for his dream for too long and overcome too much not to go all out now.

“You’re too small, you don’t have enough accolades.”

This is just the beginning of what Taylor has heard his entire life. Yet when Taylor, an upcoming senior wide receiver for the New Mexico State football team, steps onto the football field, all that talk might as well be white noise.

Taylor grew up in a crime-filled part of Orlando, Florida, where trouble was not hard to find. His mother, Lisa Taylor, and father, Freddrick Williams, made sure that their son did not fall into the dangers that were constantly around him.

“It was kind of crazy,” Taylor says. “I did not stay in the best upscale neighborhood. There was a lot of crime in the area, so my dad got me into football. I always played football with older kids, so when it was time to play outside, the older guys would come knock on my door to see if I could come play.”

Taylor played organized football earlier than most kids in the Orlando-area, and he quickly developed a feel for the game, which made him one of the top players in the area. He eventually made it to Jones High School in Orlando, and as a sophomore garnered interest from Division I football programs.

“In 10th grade, I actually received letters from Clemson, Middle Tennessee State, and Massachusetts, but for whatever reason it didn’t work out,” says Taylor.

Taylor put up solid numbers as a senior, catching 11 touchdowns en route to a 1,000-yard season, but being at 5’9’’, 155 pounds coming out of high school, coaches saw his smaller frame and didn’t believe he could handle the rigors of Division I football.

That forced Taylor to settle on Division-II Lindenwood University in Saint Charles, Missouri, right after high school.

“I played there (Lindenwood) as a true freshman,” he says. “After that season, I wanted to transfer and go to a Division I school. A friend of mine told me about Ellsworth because he was planning on going there himself, and since it is a junior college, it allowed me to do what I wanted and get re-recruited.”

Ellsworth Community College is located in Iowa Falls, Iowa, which is 1,391 miles away from the Orlando International Airport. The distance between the two cities didn’t affect Taylor, as it was almost expected from athletes in central Florida to earn scholarships from football-playing institutions. In high school Taylor was also a track and field star and he ran the 4×100-meter relay with three other teammates, who went on to play Division-I football (Kermit Whitfield – Florida State, C.J. Jennings – Wyoming, Wilkinson Myrtil – Florida International).

As a sophomore at Ellsworth, Taylor shined for the Panthers. In his first game he caught 11 passes for 159 yards and two touchdowns. The next week he had eight more catches for 114 yards and another touchdown. In 11 games he totaled 66 receptions for 1,029 yards and 10 touchdowns. He earned a spot on the All-American second team and was a first-team all-conference performer.

After that season, his time at Ellsworth was over. Luckily, it wouldn’t be the last time Taylor would put on football pads. The New Mexico State coaching staff was on the recruiting trail for a wide receiver, and as Head Coach Doug Martin and his staff have done throughout their tenure in Las Cruces, he found another diamond in the rough.

Taylor finally accomplished his goal of play in a Division I program, but he was not content. He didn’t want to just be on the team, he wanted to leave his mark on a program that has not been to a bowl game since 1960.

After playing his first FBS game in his home state against the University of Florida in front of 25 family members and friends, the Aggies came home to face Georgia State in the Sun Belt Conference opener. Though the Aggies fell 34-32, Taylor busted onto the scene with an outstanding game. He had 10 receptions for 206 yards and a couple of touchdown catches in front of a nearly sold-out crowd in Aggie Memorial Stadium.

“I expected big things coming into FBS football, and I always knew I had the ability to prove myself, but I finally was able to show it and it was crazy,” Taylor says.

Even with that performance against Georgia State and an acrobatic touchdown catch against rival UTEP, in a game where NMSU blew a 14-point lead with four minutes left and eventually lost in overtime, 50-47, it was hard on Taylor as the Aggies started off the season 0-7.

After the team hit rock bottom with a 52-7 loss against then 1-5 Troy at homecoming, they pulled off a miraculous comeback against the Idaho Vandals on Halloween night, sparking a three-game winning streak, something that Taylor still thinks about as the team prepares for 2016.

“It showed the potential we have,” he says. “We have a good team, we just hadn’t come together as a unit to finish. Once we started learning how to win, we started being that good team. This year will be a very good year for us.”

Taylor finished the season with a modest 39 receptions for 691 yards and four touchdowns. The Aggies finished the season 3-9, and if they want to improve on that record this upcoming season, many believe the impetus is on Taylor to be more productive, especially after the transfer of teammate Teldrick Morgan. Taylor says it’s a challenge he is ready for.

“I will be able to be more productive,” he says. “We spread the ball around, but I’m expecting to do bigger things and put up better numbers than I did last year.”

As a senior, he ultimately wants to accomplish what he came to New Mexico State for: go to a bowl game and be part of the team that ended the nation’s longest bowl drought.

“I really want to win a bowl game, and I want everybody to come together as a team and finish games,” he says.

Taylor says he’d like 60 individual receptions and 10 touchdowns in his last year playing college football.

The young man has proved he can counter any punch that life throws at him. And despite being a senior, his football career is likely just starting.

NM State Football Concludes Spring with Annual Crimson and White Game

Annual spring game gives Aggie fans reason to hope in the fall.

 

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The game on Saturday afternoon.  Photo by Derek Gonzales.

By Derek Gonzales

Staff Writer

The New Mexico State football team concluded spring practices on Saturday afternoon with the annual Crimson and White game at Aggie Memorial Stadium.

The defense won the game, 68-18. For the defense, the point system included six points for a turnover, four points for a sack, three points for a three-and-out, and a point for a tackle for loss. The Aggie offense, which was in the crimson home jerseys, were given six points for a touchdown, three points for a field goal, and two points for a two-point conversion and a point for a point-after-touchdown.

The defense imposed their will upfront for most of the day, much to the pleasure of first-year defensive coordinator Frank Spaniani. Spaziani has tried to implement creative blitzes, and it seemed to baffle back-up quarterbacks Conner Cramer and Nick Jeanty.

Another encouraging sign was that linebackers Terrill Hanks and Javahn Ferguson did not play Saturday. Those two were key contributors as freshmen and will help bolster the defense along with some incoming recruits beginning in fall camp.

Junior Dalton Herrington led the Aggie defense with 11 tackles, including a tackle-for-loss. Defensive end Dalton Rocha was able to record two sacks and defensive tackle Kourtland Busby pitched in a sack of his own. The three turnovers were another encouraging sign defensively as defensive backs Christian Gibson and Noah Brown each intercepted a pass and a fumble was recovered by the defense also.

The Aggie offense did show signs of growth with Cramer and Jeanty getting a majority of the snaps. Cramer went 22-28 on the day for 173 yards. His ability to throw the ball downfield and escape pressure with his legs should make him the back-up to Tyler Rogers going into fall camp, but graduate transfer Tyler Matthews will be in the mix for the starting job once he graduates from Southern Mississippi and enrolls at NMSU.

“We have everyone buying in and we have capable backups too,” says junior safety Jaden Wright.

He, along with Jacob Nwangwa and Brown, lead an experienced Aggie secondary into the fall and if they can make some leaps forward as a unit, they should have NMSU vying for a bowl-bid.

Derek Gonzales can be reached at gordooo5@nmsu.edu

Follow Round Up Sports on Twitter at: @RoundUp_Sports

Opinion: Could Marvin Menzies still leave for UNLV?

Staff writer Derek Gonzales examines recent updates in the Marvin Menzies shakeup at NMSU.

By Derek Gonzales

Staff Writer

Just as we thought the dust had settled and the coaching carousel had run its course through Las Cruces as it comes to rumors around NMSU head basketball coach Marvin Menzies, another situation has surfaced and it appears this one poses the biggest threat to the Aggie Basketball program losing its head coach since Menzies arrived on campus in 2007.

Menzies has been linked to jobs in the past at schools such as Arizona State, Texas Tech, Tulsa, UNLV, and Washington State. Though he has not left to this point, his sustained success at NMSU has made him a commodity to high-profile programs.  He is 198-111 in nine seasons, and has led NMSU to the postseason six times. His teams have been highly unimpressive against quality competition, going 3-15 against New Mexico and 0-16 against Power 5 Schools. His best win outside of beating New Mexico or UTEP while he’s been in Las Cruces was against Pacific in 2013.

It is being reported that since Texas Tech lost head coach Tubby Smith to the University of Memphis, the Red Raiders are looking at Chris Beard (though he has only been at UNLV six days) to be their next head coach. Beard was able to get the job after a 28-5 season at Arkansas-Little Rock, which was his first at the school. UNLV athletic director Tina Kunzer-Murphy chose Beard over Menzies, but now it appears UNLV might lose Beard.

Beard was an assistant coach at Texas Tech for 10 seasons (2001-2011). He coached under Bobby Knight, and was a part of the coaching staff that led Tech to four NCAA Tournament appearances during that time. As of Thursday night, Beard had met with Texas Tech officials about the opening and Kunzer-Murphy issued a statement confirming the meeting and adding that she looks to have the situation resolved in the next 24 hours, according to Mark Anderson of the Las VegasReview Journal.

If Beard were to bolt for Lubbock, UNLV would be sure to give Marvin Menzies another call to see if he is still interested in UNLV. Menzies was an assistant under Lon Kruger for the Runnin’ Rebels during the 2004-2005 season, and has familiarity facing Mountain West schools. His 1-11 in 12 games against Mountain West opponents would cause Rebel fans to cringe, but the upgrades in facilities and a larger recruiting budget would help Menzies bring in players that will help him build a sustainable program.

It is a real uncertain time for the Aggie basketball program. With Pascal Siakam entering the national scene, testing the NBA waters, and the team bringing back all of the key contributors from a year ago, it looks to be only a matter of time until a program with more money, more fan support, and stability in a conference comes knocking on Menzies’ door. If it happens this weekend, Aggie fans can only be grateful we were able to keep him almost a decade and can look forward to turning the page after an amazing chapter in Aggie basketball history.

Derek Gonzales can be reached at gordooo@nmsu.edu

Follow Round Up Sports on Twitter at: @RoundUp_Sports

Opinion: Marvin Menzies staying is a good thing, right?

Too many NMSU basketball fans focus on a season’s final result, rather than measuring improvement on a game-by-game, player-by-player basis, writes Sports Editor Albert Luna.

By Albert Luna

Sports Editor

Covering NMSU basketball this past season was a rollercoaster. Many fans can agree the Aggies had a bit of a letdown season after failing to make the NCAA Tournament a record-tying fifth consecutive time. Despite all the success the Aggies were having on the court this season, it always felt that it would all be for nothing, and that the “upset” they suffered in Las Vegas at the WAC Tournament Championship game to Cal State Bakersfield was expected.

The Aggies could not get over the hump. That was the feeling I got when I was covering games this year—that for every quality home win against an inferior opponent, there was an impending road loss to another team that was “good.”

For every win against UTEP or Grand Canyon at home, there was a close loss to Long Beach State or Air Force. By February and March, it was clear that, even if NMSU was to win their automatic bid conference tournament, a likely 15-seed and first-round exit was the same as missing the tournament altogether.

Then, when the Aggies did lose that conference tournament and the subsequent NIT first-round exit (which should not rest on Braxton Huggins as he played his best basketball in March), it made many fans cherish their 15 minutes of fame on national TV and the past four NCAA appearances that much more.

When news broke last week that Marvin Menzies was being interviewed for the UNLV coaching position, it really came as a shock to no one: he had been long linked to it for months on end. It was during these days that there was uncertainty as to who would be coaching the team in the fall, and this validated something I had suspected for a while: the fans have it all wrong. On multiple occasions, I’ve had fans and spectators come up or write to me that Menzies is not a good coach.

To that I say to NMSU fans, shame on you. Some common things I have heard about Coach Menzies are things that almost have nothing to do with basketball.

“He’s not as active as previous coaches are, he doesn’t care,” I have heard once. “He can’t make in-game adjustments,” was another.

Some things are not his fault, such as the lack of competition that is coming in, which is another big complaint. The WAC is currently depleted of talent, which NMSU has not seen in a long time. That has served as a positive, as well as the killer for Aggie basketball. It makes winning easier when you play schools that were formerly in Division II just a few years ago, as opposed to Utah State or Nevada that the WAC was housing less than a decade ago.

With no surprise, this is why attendance is down at games: no one wants to see a good team beat a bad team by 20, as is the case in about 75 percent of NMSU home games.

However, when Menzies later informed Mark Rudi of the Las Cruces Sun-News of his intentions to stay, and sign a multiyear contract extension, not a peep of negativity was said.

The reason?

Menzies is the best we can get. No better coach, at least not willing, is still in the WAC, nor will any be fleeing from a respectable conference school to come coach here without being fired and having no other options. The rumors of if Menzies knew he was not going to get the UNLV job are meaningless at this point too: he could have still tried his luck with opening this summer or even next year.

This extension shows he’s committed. The product on the floor is also only going to get better. He lost basically three of his best five players and still was able to coach guys through the pressure of being full-time starts and contributors, something that will never be easy to do with college kids.

To bring a team like NMSU had this year (no seniors) to within a bucket of five-straight tournament appearances? It was nothing short of brilliant. The players never showed a sign of disbelief, but rather knew their individual games and what they could do. It felt, for many that I have talked to, that this team was not the NMSU basketball teams of the past.

We saw talented young men improve their individual games in front of our eyes this season, but the only thing many people focus on is the final result, did we make it to the tournament?

Looking ahead, if Pascal Siakam stays an Aggie one more year, NMSU will more than likely have a season like they did this past year, but obviously no one can predict the final results in terms of NCAA berths or not this early.

If NMSU is a first-round out the next three seasons in a row or barely misses the NCAA tourney, why can’t fans simply regroup and come back in better numbers the next year? The quality of play is still going to be there, and whether a player believes it or not, seats filled in their arena make them perform at higher levels.

Shouldn’t that be what people are supporting? Not a coach, but the program.

So before fans start deciding that NMSU basketball is stuck in this never-ending cycle of mediocrity and think a new coach is the answer to breaking out, think again, and next year, go to the games.

Albert Luna may be reached at ALuna32@NMSU.edu

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Aggie Softball sweeps Seattle in conference series Opener

image
Photo by Derek Gonzales.

By Derek Gonzales

Staff Writer

The defending WAC Champion New Mexico State softball team has come back after an 11-day break to string together three straight wins to open up conference play. NM State won both games of the Saturday doubleheader by scores of 2-0 and 5-0 at the New Mexico State softball complex after winning Friday’s series opener, 12-0.

NM State (23-16) leaned on the superb pitching of senior Karysta Donisthorpe in the first game against Seattle (14-22), as she was able to throw a complete game shutout, only allowing three hits. She earned her seventh win of the year, and lowered her ERA to 2.83 in the process.

“It was a great feeling to get that (good defensive play) from everybody, and it was nice to see everybody come out and do their job,” says Donisthorpe. “Coach has really worked with us this past week on three-pitch sequences, and it helped us out a lot. It (The 11-day break) helped us focus on little details, and it helped us get everything back on track.”

Offensively, NM State generated both runs in the second inning, when catcher Tatum Reedy (1 for 2) was able to get a single off of Redhawk starting pitcher Andie Larkins with two outs. Reedy then advanced to second on a passed ball, and freshman Victoria Castro (1 for 2 with an RBI) brought her home with a triple into the left-center field gap. Infielder Amy Bergeson (1 for 2 with an RBI) then grounded a single passed the third baseman, scoring Castro.

That’s all Donisthorpe would need in her start, as the Farmington, New Mexico native got herself in only one jam, with that being in the sixth inning. Runners were able to reach second and third with two outs, but Donisthorpe forced Redhawk infielder Rose Saenz to line out to left field to end the scoring threat.

Freshman Kayla Green started in the circle for NM State in the series finale, and she continued her outstanding season with another quality start, in which she went five innings, allowing no runs and three hits after dealing with the flu the past couple of days. She improved her record to 6-2 on the year and helped the Aggies improve to 13-0 all-time against the Redhawks.

“We’ve spent a lot of practice time to try and come up with easier ways to get in a rhythm in the circle, and the flow of the game seems a lot easier,” says head coach Kathy Rodolph. “To throw three consecutive shut-outs is something that we weren’t able to do last year, and I think that shows where our mindset is as a team, because it’s one thing to get ahead and win, but it’s another to hold strong when runners are in scoring position. I was really proud of us for doing that.”

Aggie RBI leader Fiana Finau (3 for 3) began the scoring in the bottom of the first when she brought in freshman Kelsey Horton (2 for 3 including two-run home runs) for her 37th RBI, via a groundball single that squeezed passed the second baseman to center-field.

Both starting pitchers settled in after that point, as Seattle starter Alyssa Reuble and Green didn’t allow another run until the bottom of the fourth inning where NM State tacked on a couple more runs. Finau started the rally off with a lead-off single, and Reedy (1 for 3) followed suit with a single to right-center, and Finau advanced to third and Reedy advanced to second on the throw. Castro was able to produce a sacrifice fly to bring home Finau and advance Reedy to third, where a Nue Sivia sacrifice fly scored Reedy to bring the NM State lead to 3-0.

The following inning, Horton got ahold of a Reuble pitch and sent it over the left-field wall for a two-run home-run, her 11th on the year to increase the Aggie lead to 5-0.

Senior pitcher Makayla McAdams came on in the top of the sixth to relieve Green, and was able to keep the Redhawks scoreless through two innings of work as she finished off the conference opening sweep for the Aggies.

NM State outscored Seattle 19-0 in the three-game series and only allowed 10 hits in a dominant conference opening weekend. Looking ahead, NM State heads to Tucson this Wednesday to face the Arizona Wildcats in a mid-week doubleheader. The next time the Aggies play at the NM State softball complex will be April 22-23 as they face Cal-State Bakersfield in the final home series of the year.

Derek Gonzales can be reached at gordooo5@nmsu.edu

Follow Round Up Sports on Twitter at: @RoundUp_Sports

Could there have been any more Madness this March?

How has the college basketball scene been changed by a frenetic March?

UNI's Jesperson
Photo from CBSSports.com.

By Derek Gonzales

Staff Writer

What. A. Month.

As March ends, we can finally catch our breath and gather our thoughts after the month brought us some of the most exhilarating moments of the basketball year. The round of 64 saw 10 double-seeded teams win a game, the most ever in the NCAA Tournament. Eight teams seeded 11th or worse won a game, and 13 games saw the lower-seeded team win. So much for that perfect bracket, right?

How We Got Here:

Let’s start with selection Sunday. Syracuse, who was coming off a 19-13 regular season in arguably the country’s toughest conference, was considered to be on the outside looking in. Though they ended the season losing five out of six, they were a considerably different team with Hall of Famer Jim Boeheim on the side line. (15-8 with Boeheim, 4-5 while he served nine game suspension.) That was enough to gain a 10 seed in the Midwest Region. Tulsa inexplicably was given an at-large bid with a pedestrian 20-11 record with its best win being against a Wichita State team that finished the regular season unranked.

As the first day of the tournament began, #2 seeded Michigan State faced #15 seeded Middle Tennessee State out of Conference USA. Michigan State featured Wooden National Player of the Year finalist Denzel Valentine, and 40 percent of ESPN brackets had the Spartans going to the Final Four. None of that meant much to the Blue Raiders, as they shocked America with a 90-81 win, becoming only the eighth 15th seed to move past the first round.

Northern Iowa beat top-ranked North Carolina early this year as well as Wichita State, and faced a Texas squad in the 6-11 matchup in the West region that had a surprisingly good year under first-year coach Shaka Smart. After Longhorn guard Isaiah Taylor tied the game at 72 with a drive to the basket with 1.7 seconds left, UNI’s Paul Jesperson took the inbounds pass and heaved a shot from half-court, banking it in and sending the Panthers onto the next round and put an abrupt end to Texas’ season.

You would think that Northern Iowa would be out of magic after the Texas game, but they faced three-seeded Texas A&M in the next round. Coach Billy Kennedy and the Aggies were back in the tournament for the first time in five years, but it appeared that they would be going back to College Station when they were down 69-57 with 35 seconds left. A&M applied vicious full-court pressure and it caused UNI to turn the ball over four times, none of which passed half-court, and the (other) Aggies scored 14 points in those 35 seconds to send the game into overtime. A&M would finally complete one of the greatest comebacks in NCAA history with a 92-88 double overtime win.

Looking Ahead:

As the Final Four approaches this weekend, who could have possibly had North Carolina, Oklahoma, Syracuse, and Villanova as the teams playing for the title in Houston? 1,140 ESPN bracket entries had these four teams in the Final Four, out of 13 million submitted brackets (.009 percent).

Syracuse has to be the most surprising team, the 10-seed that was on the bubble on Selection Sunday, and their 13 losses this season are tied for the most ever by a Final Four team. They went on a 21-2 run in the second half against top-seeded Virginia to turn a 56-43 deficit into a 64-58 lead en route to the win in the Regional Final.

Oklahoma flies into Houston on a high after beating the West Region’s top-seeded Oregon Ducks 80-68 in the Elite Eight. They have the tournament’s leading scorer in senior guard Buddy Hield, who is averaging 29.2 points in the four tournament games. Coach Lon Kruger is experienced in this situation, having led Florida to their first Final Four in 1994.

Villanova boasts a stingy defense that was key in beating Kansas 64-59 in the Elite Eight. The wildcats are ranked 15th in the nation in scoring defense and have five seniors in their rotation who contribute, including talented point guard Ryan Arcidiacono, and they’re only allowing 63.6 points per game, so it will be a classic offense vs. defense clash against the Sooners on Saturday.

North Carolina was the only one-seeded team able to survive the madness of the tournament to make it to Houston. As the pre-season number one team, they have had ups and downs, but appear to be peaking at the right time after averaging 89.2 points a game, up six points from their regular season average. Senior Marcus Paige is shooting the ball well, with a 48 percent average thus far in the tournament. They are imposing their up-tempo style on each team they face and are the Las Vegas favorite to come away with the title.

As it is sad to see March come to a close, it will be one to remember as this year’s Big Dance brought us more heart-wrenching moments than we have ever seen. Enjoy these last two games that the Final Four brings us this weekend, because as this month proved, absolutely anything can happen, and that’s what March Madness is all about.