In a series worthy of a late season matchup between two top teams in the conference, the Falcons squeezed by the Aztecs by winning two of the three games, splitting two low scoring affairs and then exploding for 16 runs in the finale.
Both teams were sound fundamentally. The games featured all the types of plays loved by aficionados: perfectly executed squeeze plays from both teams, outfield assists from Matt Thompson and Chase Spencer, five double plays by the Aztecs in game 2, diving catches by Aztec outfielders, a diving grab by Jay Thomason to throw out a runner at first, Matt Thompson reaching over the fence to steal a home run, eight stolen bases by the Aztecs, and a double steal by the Falcons.
In my preview, I emphasized that the Falcons needed to get solid 6 inning performances by the starters to have success, and were fairly close to acheiving that goal.
In game one, Jake Sansing did not give up a run, but came out of the game with one out in the 6th with the bases loaded after 94 pitches. Coach Kazlausky surprised me by calling for Sawyer Hawks early, but the move paid off spectacularly as Hawks got out the jam without giving up a run. Hawks was then able to work the last three innings giving up two runs but picking up the win.
In game two, Doyle Gehring got through six innings while surrendering 4 runs, and Ben Weber pitched the final three only allowing one run. However, those performances were not quite enough to get the win. The Aztecs turned 5 double plays to stymie several Falcon attempts to go ahead. I believe every double play was a line drive right at an infielder with a pickoff of the runner trying to get back to the base. The game ended with Trayden Tamiya hitting a liner to third and the tying run in the person of Sam Kulasingam getting thrown out trying to get back to second base.
In game three, Dylan Rogers struggled through 4 1⁄3 innings giving up eight runs, but the Falcon bats were too much for the Aztecs. They won going away, 16-10 as Sawyer Hawks and Duke Benge combined to hold the Aztecs to 1 run over the final 4 innings.
The Conference Race
The Falcons have a half game lead over the Aztecs and the Spartans with three games each to go. The Aztecs play at home against New Mexico and the Spartans are at home against Nevada.
The Aztecs and Spartans had a game against each other cancelled, so the Falcons have an extra win and will take the conference if they win at least as many games as the other two teams this weekend. San Jose State has a 3-2 advantage in head-to-head games with the Aztecs, so they will be the champions if those two teams end up tied after this weekend ahead of the Falcons.
The conference tournament will feature the Falcons, the Spartans, Fresno State, and the Aztecs unless the Lobos sweep their series against the Aztecs this weekend, in which case the Lobos will be in the tournament.
UNLV Scouting Report
The Rebels are currently tied for last in the conference with Nevada at 10-17. Their pitching has struggled this year, and none of their starters has stood out as a strong #1. Josh Sharman has a 6-1 record, but has a .325 batting average against. Noah Beal and Joey Acosta are 1-5 and 1-4 with batting average against of .348 and .291. They do have a strong closer in Jack Sellinger, who has tallied 5 saves and 2 wins, with 61 strikeouts in 37 innings.
The Rebels hitting has fallen off quite a bit from last year when they were on of the top hitting teams in the country. This year the team batting average is .274, down from .326 last year. However, when the two teams met for a three game series earlier this year, the Rebels had no trouble smacking the ball around against the Falcons, scoring 36 runs on 46 in the series. The Falcons answered with 32 runs on 45 hits of their own. The indicators point to another slugfest of a series this weekend. Hopefully, the Falcons can turn the tables on the Rebels and take the series.
Hopefully I can get a summary out next week after the series along with a preview of the tournament, but I’ll be in my RV checking out the Black Hills and Yellowstone Park, so it might be very brief.