College baseball’s regular season was wrapped up this past weekend. Now, the Mountain West squads prepare to descend on Beiden Field in Fresno in order to begin the conference tournament, the winner of which will earn a berth in the NCAA tournament and entertain dreams of a trip to Omaha.
Local writers in each of the six communities were gracious enough to provide insights on their teams ahead of the tournament. Nicholas Arseniak is the assistant media relations director for the Air Force Academy’s baseball team, and the Falcons open the tournament against San Diego State on Wednesday, May 22.
1. Catcher Garrett Custons was recently named a semifinalist for the Johnny Bench Award, given to the top D-I catcher in the nation. What attributes does Custons bring to the field? Would you say he has lived up to the all-conference accolades he received in the preseason?
Garrett gives you everything he’s got from the moment he steps on the field. He’s the complete package as a baseball player, in that he can hit, he can run and he can throw. I’d say he’s deserving of the Johnny Bench semifinalist nomination.
2. Finishing sixth in the conference was probably not what anyone on the Falcons wanted, but the tournament provides a clean slate for every team. Will the team make any preparations for this opportunity that differ from those made in the regular season?
The Cadets at the Air Force Academy go through so much before they even step onto the ball field. Coach Kaz (Mike Kazlausky) will tell you it’s not all about the wins and losses at Air Force, but in competing not only on the field, but in the class room, in all aspects of cadet life and in the game of life in general.
The team will practice today (Monday) at the Academy. They will fly into Fresno Tuesday morning, then head out to their practice and be ready to play Wednesday. The only difference in routine is the team had Sunday off instead of Monday.
3. The Falcons had a very positive record when holding a lead in the middle innings. Is it a matter of adjustments after the pitcher’s first trip through the lineup or is there something else at work?
A lot of the team’s success has been at home this season. Any time you’re in a comfortable environment, you tend to play better and that’s what our team has been able to do at home. We’ve been struggling all season in true road contests, but have fared a little better in neutral site games. The team has nothing to lose, so I’m sure they will be playing loose and free all weekend and expecting to win.
4. Who will take the mound in the Falcons’ first round matchup? What kind of arsenal does he possess?
Steven Trojan has been a weekend starter all season for the Falcons and is tied for the team lead with four wins. He struggled in his last outing against San Diego State, but we are confident in his abilities to improve upon that performance. Despite being a freshman, Steven has shown a strong ability to miss bats. He mixes speeds and locations to keep opposing batters off balance.
5. Are there any players that are riding high into this tournament whom we should take note of?
Custons will lead our offense, but junior first baseman Seth Kline batted .387 in conference play and senior shortstop Matt Thorne finished the season strong, batting .328 in MW play. Junior center fielder David Baska leads our team in homers and is a dangerous hitter on the back end of the lineup.
6. What has to go right for the AFA to win in the tournament?
Air Force will have to play its best baseball of the season to surprise some very good baseball teams if they are going to win the tournament. The team will take it game-to-game and look to get past San Diego State first. As the No. 6 seed, the Falcons have nothing to lose and are a dangerous team to face in a double-elimination tournament.
Being the No. 6 seed means that Air Force plays in the opening round game on Wednesday. They will be facing No. 3 seeded San Diego State at 6 p.m. ET, and if they win they will face top-seeded New Mexico on Thursday night.