Baseball team opens season Feb. 1
Jan. 28, 2003
This Weekend: Air Force opens the 2003 campaign with a three-game non-conference series against the University of Northern Colorado. The Falcons and Bears play a doubleheader (7-9) on Saturday, Feb. 1, at 10 a.m. and a single game on Sunday, Feb. 2 at noon.
Scouting the Opponent: Northern Colorado is a Division II university from Greeley, Colo. The Bears are under the direction of first-year coach Kevin Smallcomb. UNC was 19-27 overall last season and 9-11 for seventh place in the North Central Conference. The Bears return 19 lettermen and six starters from last season.
Series History: Air Force and Northern Colorado have played 107 times and UNC holds a 63-44 record. The teams have not played since 1997 when the Bears beat the Falcons, 13-4, in Greeley. Before that game, Air Force had won nine straight games from 1990-1996. First Seven at Home: Air Force opens the 2003 season with seven straight home games. Weather permitting, if all seven games are played, the seven-game season-opening streak would be the longest since the 1957 team (the second team in school history) played nine home games to start its 18-game schedule. The Falcons are scheduled to play 24 games at Falcon Field this season.
Baseball at Home? In Colorado?: History has shown that despite some cold and windy days, the Falcons have always played home baseball in February. It may not seem believable, but the Falcons played four home games in February last season, including a three-game home series vs. Hastings College, Feb. 2-3. Because of Colorado's mild winter last year, Air Force had just three home games cancelled (all three were in early March) all season. In the last 10 years, Air Force has averaged five home games played before Feb. 15.
Looking Back: Air Force finished the 2002 season with a 27-28 overall record and a 14-15 record in the Mountain West Conference. The Falcons placed fourth in the conference and were the fourth seed (both school records) in the tournament. Air Force lost to BYU, 18-3, in the first round of the tournament. SDSU ended the Falcons' season with a 9-6 win on the second day of the six-team, double-elimination tournament.
School Record 14 Conference Wins: Air Force set a new school record with 14 conference wins last season. The previous record of 13 was set in 1989. In 22 years of conference baseball (19 in the WAC), AFA has won more than 10 league games just five times.
Most Wins Since 1995: Air Force's 27 wins were the most in seven years. The 1995 team won 29 games, the second most in school history. Last season's 27 wins tie as the fifth most in the 45 years of Air Force baseball. The 1995 team was the last team to post a winning record, 29-25.
Division I Wins Set School Records: With 20 Division I wins last season, the Falcons broke the record of 19 set in 2001. Air Force also set a new school record for the most Division I wins in a three-year period with 54. The Falcons won 15 Division I games in 2000, 19 in 2001 and 20 last season. The previous record was 49 Division I wins set in 1982-85.
New Team School Records: AFA's home sweep over New Mexico in April last season was the first home conference sweep since 1982. It was the first sweep at any location since 1995. The Falcons swept San Diego State two weeks later to set a new school record with six straight conference wins and six straight conference home wins. Air Force's 98 stolen bases are the third most in school history and the most since the Falcons set the school record with 122 in 1979.
Unfamiliar Territory: Air Force placed fourth in the MWC last season, the highest finish in school history. AFA had finished last or second to last in each of the previous 12 seasons. In the first two years of the Mountain West Conference, Air Force was sixth (last) each season. In 19 years in the Western Athletic Conference (1981-99), the Falcons finished in last place 11 times and second to last four times. The 1982 and 1984 teams placed second in the WAC North Division but finished fifth overall.
Phifer Fifth Falcon in 10/10 Club: Outfielder Josh Phifer became just the fifth player in school history to join the 10/10 club (10 home runs and 10 stolen bases) in a season. He finished last season with 13 home runs and 15 stolen bases in 54 games. He is the first Falcon since Glenn Harris (16 HR and 11 SB) in 1994 to join the club. Based on the number of at-bats and games played, the 10/10 club in college baseball is similar to the 40/40 club in Major League Baseball, which only has three members (Jose Canseco in 1988, Barry Bonds in 1996 and Alex Rodriguez in 1998). Projected over 162 games, Phifer would have had home runs and 45 stolen based in a theoretical major league season.
Defense Wins Games: Defense was biggest improvement in the 2002 Falcons, but a late season slide thwarted any chance at setting a new school record. The Falcons fielded over .953 for most of the season which would have been the best in eight years and tied as the third best in school history. However, the Falcons made 16 errors in the last four games and fell to .948 for the season. That mark is still the best in eight years and the seventh best in school history. The biggest black mark for the Falcons was a nine-error game against Utah, May 17. The Falcons made more errors in that one game than in any series during the season.
The Coach: The 2002 Mountain West Coach of the Year, Reed Peters (UNLV, 1992) enters his fourth season as the Falcons' head coach and his fifth season overall with Air Force. Peters came to the Academy as an assistant coach in the fall of 1998. His career and Air Force record is 73-95. Peters' coaching career began at his alma mater, UNLV, where he was an assistant coach from 1990-94. The Denver native was the head coach at Colby Community College (Kansas) from 1995-98. He led the Trojans to a 123-80 record for a .600 winning percentage. He led the team to a regional championship and two regional runner-up finishes. He is assisted by Greg Brummett (pitchers), 1st Lt. Chris Humphrey (catchers/outfielders) and Mark Breeding (infielders/junior varsity).
Peters Posts Most Conference Wins in First Three Seasons: Reed Peters has won more conference games than any other Falcon coach in their first three seasons. Peters won 28 league games in three seasons, passing the record of Joe Robison and Eric Campbell who each won 24 games in their first three seasons. Jim Hanley won 23 in his first three years and Paul Mainieri won 21.
Peters Has Second Most Wins in First Three Years: In three seasons, Reed Peters has won 73 games, the second most by a Falcon baseball coach in the first three seasons. Paul Mainieri, currently the head coach at Notre Dame, won 75 in his first three years (1989-91). Peters led the Falcons to back-to-back 23-win seasons in 2000 and 2001 and to 27 last season. In the history of Falcon baseball, there have been seven head coaches (including Peters) who have coached at least three seasons. Peters has won more games than Wendell Lawrence, John Sparks, Joe Robison, Jim Hanley and Eric Campbell.
True Student-Athletes: Three Air Force baseball players were on the Verizon Academic All-American team last season. Adam Howes and Josh Phifer were named to the first team all-district for baseball. Phifer was a second-team All-American selection while Howes was a third-team choice. Howes, a first baseman from Phoenix, Ariz., had a 3.55 grade point average and is an economics major. Phifer, an outfielder from Torrington, Wyo., had a 3.85 GPA and majors in operations research. Brian Gornick was a first-team selection to the at-large All-American and all-district teams as a hockey/baseball player. Gornick, a 2002 graduate, had a 3.92 GPA in operations research. Six Falcons were named to the Mountain West Conference all-academic team. Phifer and Howes were joined by Dan Petro, Jason Pruitt, Bowie Frost and Jesper Stubbendorff.
Experience in the Field: The Falcons return all but one position player from the 2002 team (second base). Air Force returns eight position starters and 81 percent of the offense. Senior Adam Howes (first bases) led the team with a .379 average and 27 stolen bases. Senior Bowie Frost, a first-team all-MWC selection, hit .377 and had 22 doubles, seven home runs and 44 RBI. Senior outfielder Josh Phifer hit .364 with 15 stolen bases and led the team with 13 home runs and 69 RBI. Designated hitter Derck Kasel hit .368 with four home runs and 39 RBI.
On the Mound: The Falcons lost 52 percent of the innings pitched from last season's team. Air Force lost starters Matt Kaercher and Erik Fisher to graduation and closer Paul Pratt to a church mission. Kaercher and Fisher were two of the top three starters last season and combined for nine wins and two saves. Pratt led the team with four saves and had a 2-1 record in a team-best 24 innings. Johnny Koegel will be the top returning starter. He was 6-6 last season and led the starters with a 5.93 ERA in 17 starts. However, Koegel will miss the first third of the season due to off-season elbow surgery on his throwing (right) arm. Jesper Stubbendorff moves into the starting rotation. He led the team with a 5.53 ERA and had a 3-1 record with one save. His 42.1 innings were the most among the relievers while his 23 appearances were second. Senior Jason Pruitt is the team's closer. He threw 14 relief innings in 15 games last season and had seven strikeouts and nine walks but did not have a decision.