The Falcons are returning to the place where its drive to the Mountain West championship started.
On April 19th, the Falcons rode in to Austin to face the Longhorns sporting a record of 14 wins and 19 losses. Dylan Rogers made the first start of his collegiate career, and he and three other pitchers allowed only two runs to the nation’s 10th ranked D1 baseball team. The hitters produced 11 hits and 14 runs in the victory over the Longhorns.
Since that game the Falcon’s record is 15 wins and 8 losses. The stretch run has been paced by some of the best hitting we’ve seen from an Academy team. Over the last 23 games, the Falcons have batted .347, which if sustained over the entire season would lead the nation by a large margin.
However over the last few weeks, what has enabled the team to win the conference championship and make the trip to the regional playoffs has been strong starting pitching that has been throwing strikes and keeping runners off the bases, allowing them to stay on the mound for 7-8 innings. With a bullpen that is thin on depth, if the starters get knocked out in the first few innings, the results can be disastrous. This is what happened in the only 2 losses of the final two regular season series against New Mexico and San Jose State. The Falcons lost those two games; 30-9 against San Jose State, and 13-12 against New Mexico when the staff gave up 7 runs in the bottom of the ninth.
The tougher competition will make the task more difficult, along with a baseball field that has similar dimensions to Falcon Field and is outfitted with field turf.
In line with Coach Kazlausky’s philosophy of facing top competition during the regular season, the Falcons have played recently against all three of the teams in the regional. The Falcons split the series with Texas this year, and faced both Dallas Baptist and Louisiana Tech last year. They lost their only game to Louisiana Tech and beat DBU two out of three.
First up is Texas, who is led by likely Golden Spikes Award winner Ivan Melendez. Melendez sports a batting average of .406 with 29 homers and 87 RBIs. As a team, the Longhorns hit .315 on the year with 114 homers.
The ace of the Longhorn staff is lefthander Pete Hansen. His record this year is 10-1, with an ERA of 3.01. The stat that really jumps out is Hansen’s strikeout to walk ratio of 6.7 to 1. He had 16 walks and 107 strikeouts in 93 innings. Reports are indicating that Hansen will get the start in the opening game against Paul Skenes, although Texas would rather have saved him to face a higher-seeded opponent.
Louisiana Tech is led by 2021 3rd team All-American Taylor Young, who batted .358 with 11 homers and 26 stolen bases. Their best starting pitcher is Jonathan Fincher, who had an ERA of 3.63 with a 7-2 record. Kyle Crigger is an outstanding relief pitcher who appeared in more than half the Bulldogs games and had 6 wins and 9 saves with an ERA of 1.79.
Dallas Baptist’s best hitter is Cole Moore, with an average of .356, 10 HRs, and 44 RBIs. Jace Grady was a Freshman All-American last year and is hitting .307 with 25 stolen bases. In the pitching department, it appears that the main starters tend to pitch only 4-5 innings and then they hand the ball over to a strong group of relievers. Relievers Zane Russell, Bubba Hall, Brady Rose and Chandler Arnold all have strikeouts per nine innings well over 9 with low opponent batting averages.
Air Force will play the Longhorns at noon MT. The game is only available on the Longhorn network. The other games in the regional are available for streaming on ESPN+.