Knudson: Falcons Will Have Say in MW Postseason
By Mark Knudson, The Mtn. InsiderMay 7, 2012
It’s not very often that a team in any sport gets a chance to play spoiler and have a chance to reach their own postseason goals at the same time. It’s been even less often that the Air Force Academy baseball team has been any sort of factor in the Mountain West title chase. All of the above are in play with two Conference series remaining in the 2012 season.
After traveling to Lawrence, Kansas for a non-conference weekend tournament that saw them pick up their first true road win of the season, the Falcons return to the diamond this week knowing that they still have a chance of fulfilling their top preseason goal: Qualify for the Conference postseason tournament for the first time in seven years. They will also have a huge say in who wins the MW regular season title.
Air Force is currently a single game behind UNLV (in terms of conference wins) for the fourth and final slot in the Conference tournament. The Rebels came up with a season-saving ninth inning rally to edge San Diego State 5-4 on Sunday to edge in front of the Falcons. UNLV has just a single conference series remaining when they host New Mexico this weekend. But UNLV holds a 4-2 season series edge over Air Force, having swept the Falcons in Vegas three weeks ago in a series that included a pair of nail-biting one run wins. That was the series that the Falcons’ best player, Garrett Custons, missed with an injury. Air Force needs two wins in their final six games and three UNLV losses to make the postseason. If the two teams finish with the same Conference record, the Rebels get the invite.
The two remaining conference series for the Falcons happen to be against the two teams that are currently knotted at the top of the Conference standings. After hosting TCU for three games this weekend, coach Mike Kazlausky’s team finishes the regular season with three games at New Mexico. If the Falcons are unable to win even one of those final six games, they’ll stay home again. And don’t expect either the Lobos or Frogs to take their foot off the gas or take any pity on Air Force. Nobody’s going to sit or be rested in these final series as both TCU and UNM need to score wins over the Falcons just as badly as they need to beat one another. Even a single loss to the Falcons could keep the Lobos or Horned Frogs out of the NCAA Tournament.
There’s pressure on the Air Force players to be sure, but pressure also remains on both TCU and New Mexico to beat Air Force because they’re also starring at a tiebreaker scenario to determine the top seed. It’s possible that the top seed designation could come all the way down to both those team’s season records against Air Force.
Try to follow this: If TCU and New Mexico remain tied, record-wise and head to head (their season series ended 3-3) the next tie breaker is their record against third seed San Diego State. The Lobos finished 5-1 against the Aztecs. The Horned Frogs are currently 2-1 against SDSU with three games left. If they were to sweep SDSU and finish 5-1 just like UNM, the next tiebreaker would be the series record against the fourth-place finisher, which will be either UNLV or AFA. Follow all that?
In short, there’s still a lot up in the air. Only San Diego State knows its postseason fate, having locked in the third seed in the tournament. The Aztecs can play loose and free the rest of the regular season and try to set things up for the tournament. Everyone else is grinding hard for tournament placement, including for the first time in recent memory, Air Force.
The bottom line is that the Falcons are playing for a lot more than pride in mid May, which is a very positive development for Coach Kaz and his program. They’ve endured a rugged non-conference slate and some tough luck in the form of injuries to key players at key times, but they’ve kept battling through all of it. There’s no question that this is a program that is heading in the right direction.
Will they be heading back to Las Vegas? Stay tuned.
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