I think most followers of Mountain West baseball were aware that the Falcons had a chance to come away from the conference tournament as champions. They had the best pitcher in the tournament, Paul Skenes, who would most likely be able to come away with a win in the opening game against the No 1 seed. They had an offense that led the league in homeruns and could score runs by the bucket, highlighted by the Tony Gwynn Player of the Year, Sam Kulasingam.
However, they also had a pitching staff that had a staff ERA of 6.5, and lacked a lot of depth. Their starting pitchers consisted of Skenes and a sophomore who had started the year in the bullpen as the closer and a freshman with five starts under his belt.
Skenes was Skenes in the opener, and the Falcons came away with a 5-2 victory over UNLV who could only manage 3 hits in the game.
In game 2, sophomore Doyle Gehring matched Skenes’ excellence with 7 1⁄3 inning of 4 hit pitching while striking out 13 batters. The Falcons led the entire game and came away with the 7-3 victory over San Jose State. That victory put the Falcons in a dominating position to win the tournament.
In game 3, the Falcons again faced the Spartans, who had to play earlier in the day against Nevada to advance to the final matchup. Freshman Dylan Rogers was the starter for the Falcons, trying to repeat his performance in the final regular season game.
Rogers was more hittable in this game than he was in his last start against New Mexico. He gave up 10 hits in 7 1⁄3 innings, but he followed pitching coach Ryan Forrest’s advice to just throw strikes. The benefit from that strategy for Falcon pitchers is that the defense behind them is excellent, and they can make some big plays.
Here’s a summary of some of the defensive gems:
In the first inning, 3B Jay Thomason started a nice 5-4-3 double play:
Roll it boys!#AmericasTeam | #FlyFightWin⚡️— Air Force Baseball (@AF_Baseball) May 29, 2022
» https://t.co/UxjVESxhb8 pic.twitter.com/qZ7nuGXCuF
In the third inning, CF Blake Covin went horizontal to rob the Spartans of an extra base hit with one out and a runner on first. This was turned into a double play when the base runner got confused about who had the ball:
Is this the best grab you've ever seen? Or the best grab you've ever seen? #AmericasTeam | #FlyFightWin⚡️— Air Force Baseball (@AF_Baseball) May 29, 2022
» https://t.co/UxjVESOkd8 pic.twitter.com/VLttY5kN7j
In the fourth, C Paul Skenes one-handed a pitch in the dirt and threw out a runner trying to steal second:
Pitching and catching.— Mountain West (@MountainWest) May 29, 2022
Get you a guy who can do both.#AtThePeak | #MWBSB | #FlyFightWin | @AF_Baseball pic.twitter.com/Sq7UXv4mlp
In the fifth, 3B Jay Thomason made a fantastic play to start another double play:
It's a defensive masterclass by the Falcons!#AmericasTeam | #FlyFightWin⚡️— Air Force Baseball (@AF_Baseball) May 29, 2022
» https://t.co/UxjVESOkd8 pic.twitter.com/UcOBraz41X
And just for fun, Blake Covin did it again:
#NCAABaseball x @AF_Baseball pic.twitter.com/xcdY4gdT9K— NCAA Baseball (@NCAABaseball) May 29, 2022
The Falcons certainly proved themselves worthy to represent the Mountain West in the Regional tournaments. The format for those tournaments is identical to the tournament for the conference championship. Matchups will be announced at noon ET on ESPN2. I don’t think any 1 seed in the tournament would be too happy to see a Skenes-led Falcon team as their opening opponent in the regional.