Air Force Travels to Wichita State, Falcons Take Three of Four From VMI in Tampa
The Games: Air Force (8-1) travels to Wichita, Kan., for a three-game non-conference series against Wichita State, Feb. 17-18.
Sat. Feb. 17 1 p.m. Wichita State (DH) Wichita, Kan. Sun. Feb. 18 1 p.m. Wichita State Wichita, Kan.Road Warriors: Air Force continues its 11-game road swing this weekend in Wichita. Next week, the Falcons travel to Millington, Tenn., for the annual Service Academies Spring Classic, Feb. 23-25.
Pitching Stays Solid -- Defense Coming Around: The Falcons' pitching staff continues to be impressive this season. It posted a 3.66 ERA in the four games against VMI with 26 strikeouts and just 12 walks. VMI hit .286 in the series and had only six extra base hits, compared to 11 for Air Force. For the season, the pitching staff has a 3.42 ERA and 68 strikeouts with just 21 walks. The Falcon defense picked up its play against VMI, committing only seven errors in four games, compared to 19 in the first five games of the season.
Offense Stays Consistent: The Falcons batted .300 (36-120) against VMI with two home runs, nine doubles and 27 runs scored. Sophomores Brian LaBasco and Daniel Petro and freshman Price Paramore each had six hits in the series, and Paramore scored a team-high five runs. Senior Gerremy Goldsberry hit his fourth home run of the year, and had five RBI and four runs scored. Goldsberry has a 1.074 slugging percentage in nine games this season.
Best Start Since '86: Air Force's 8-1 start equals the 8-1 start of the 1986 team. The 1964 squad put together the best start in the program's history, beginning the season 10-1 en route to a 22-5 record.
Quick Recovery For Thiessen: Preseason All-American Mike Thiessen returned to the lineup against Iowa State two weeks ago after missing two games vs. Hastings College due to a separated shoulder suffered during football season. Thiessen was expected to miss two to five weeks for his recovery. He did not see many good pitches against VMI, going 3-for-8 with three RBI and eight walks. His 15-game hitting streak came to an end, however, in the second game of Saturday's doubleheader. Thiessen led the conference with a .414 batting average last year, when he was was a first-team all-conference and all-MWC Tournament choice.
Preseason All-American: Thiessen, who became the sixth player in AFA history to earn All-American honors (third-team baseball writers in 2000), was named to the National Collegiate Baseball Writers of America preseason All-American second team for 2001.
Scouting the Opponent: Wichita State opens its season against Air Force. The Shockers were 44-21 overall last season and 24-8 to win the Missouri Valley Conference title for the 14th consecutive year. Wichita State is under the leadership of head coach Gene Stephenson, who is in his 24th season and has a career record of 1,268-381-3. Outfielder Justin McCarty is the top returning hitter. The left-handed hitter batted .347 with six doubles and 11 RBI last season. Pitcher Ben Keiter, who posted a 10-1 record with a 3.73 ERA in 16 starts is the top returning hurler. Keiter allowed 98 hits in 94 innings and had 69 strikeouts with 42 walks.
Series Records: Air Force and Wichita State have played only two times with the Shockers winning both games in 1998. Wichita State won by scores of 11-0 and 11-7.
About the Conference: Air Force embarks on its second season in the Mountain West Conference. The Falcons face Brigham Young, New Mexico, San Diego State, UNLV and Utah. The teams play a three-game series at each site for 30 conference games. Colorado State and Wyoming do not have baseball programs. New Mexico won the inaugural regular season championship last season while SDSU won the tournament championship. AFA placed sixth in the regular season and second in the tournament.
New Triples Record: Air Force set a new school record with six triples in the game against Hastings College, Jan. 26. Goldsberry and Derck Kasel each had two while Bowie Frost and Nelson Prouty each had one. The six triples broke the record of five set against Colorado College in 1993. The Falcons had only five triples as a team last season.
Consecutive .400 Seasons: With a .414 batting average last season, Thiessen became the first Falcon in 14 years and just the sixth in school history to have consecutive .400 seasons (among players averaging three or more at-bats per game). Thiessen led the conference in batting in 1999 and 2000. Thiessen is attempting to be the first player in the 44 years of Falcon baseball to have three straight .400 or better seasons. He would be the second player to have three .400 seasons in their career. Below is a list of the Falcons who had consecutive .400 seasons.
Mike Thiessen 1999 (.424) 2000 (.414) 2001 (.333 currently) Eric Pharris 1983 (.430) 1985 (.434) 1986 (.476) John Johnson 1981 (.407) 1982 (.491) Jeff Brown 1974 (.400) 1975 (.419) Dick Smithwick 1969 (.442) 1970 (.441) Bruce Huneke 1963 (.438) 1964 (.402)Hot Hurlers: Pitching coach Bobby Applegate assembled one of the best staffs in school history last season. That's the good news. The best news is they are all back this season. Applegate's staff produced some phenomenal numbers last season. The team finished the season with a 6.87 team ERA with eight complete games. The team ERA was the best since the Falcons posted a 6.15 team ERA in 1993. The staff had a strikeout-to-walk ratio of 1.8 -to- 1 with 337 K's and only 183 walks in 461 innings. The staff shattered the school record with 337 strikeouts last season. In nine games this season, the staff has a 3.42 team ERA with 68 strikeouts and just 21 walks.
Fisher Coming Off of Banner Season: Erik Fisher completed one of the best seasons recently by a Falcon pitcher. The right-hander from Riverside, Calif., finished the year with a 5.33 ERA, the best by a starter since Jon Mosier posted a 5.31 ERA in 1989. Fisher shattered the school record for innings pitched in a season. His 104.2 innings broke the previous record of 98 set by Pete Bracci in 1964. Fisher's 85 strikeouts tied as the third most in school history and the most since Bob Wright had 85 in 1982. He is off to another good start this season with a 1-0 record and a 2.25 ERA. He defeated Hastings College in the season opener and pitched seven strong innings in the 6-4 win over Iowa State. He added eight innings of six-hit ball against VMI but did not figure in the decision. In 20 innings this year, Fisher has recorded 22 strikeouts and allowed only three walks.
The Coach: Reed Peters (UNLV, 1992) is in his second season as the Falcons' head coach and his third season overall with Air Force. He came to the Academy as an assistant coach in the fall of 1998. His career and Air Force record is 31-35. His first career victory came against Iowa State, Feb. 6, 2000. 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-ups. After serving as the acting head coach during the season, Peters was named the head coach May 17, 2000.
Thiessen's Assault of the Record Book: Last season, Thiessen broke the school records for hitting streak (33), doubles in a season (28), doubles in a career (59), hits in a season (91) and at-bats in a season (220). Some of the records were absolutely shattered. The previous records were: hitting streak (29 in 1980), doubles in a season (21 in 1990), doubles in a career (56 in 1991), hits (86 in 1988) and at-bats (215 in 1998). Thiessen is within reach of several Falcon career records. His career batting average of .383 (239-624) is the third best ever by a player with more than 500 at-bats. The list is below:
Career Stats Current Rank Needs for Record School Record 61 doubles 1st - -- 200 runs 2nd 14 213, Mike Kazlausky, 1991 115 walks 2nd 2 116, Mike Kazlausky, 1991 239 hits 2nd 5 243, Vern Mullis, 1994 394 total bases 3rd 61 454, Vern Mullis, 1994 624 at bats 3rd 23 646, Vern Mullis, 1994 35 stolen bases 7th 43 77, Jim Best, 1980 26 home runs 13th 21 46, Steve Saleck, 1980Double Trouble:M Four Falcon baseball players are two-sport athletes at the Academy. Thiessen and Brian LaBasco also play football while Brian Gornick plays hockey and Josh Wallace plays basketball. Thiessen is the most recognizable name on the list. The Falcons' starting centerfielder was also the starting quarterback for the football team this past fall. He was named the MWC co-offensive player of the year and was also named the offensive MVP in the Silicon Valley Classic bowl game. The senior from Modesto, Calif., broke school records for passing yards and touchdowns in the option era. He also led the team in rushing and rushing touchdowns. LaBasco was a wide receiver on the Falcon football team. The sophomore from Ft. Lauderdale, Fla., was second on the team in receptions and third in yards. He led the Falcons in receiving yards at the bowl game. Gornick, who is a reserve outfielder with a lot of power at the plate, is one of the Air Force's top scorers on the ice. He was a preseason all-conference selection as a forward. A draft pick of the Anaheim Mighty Ducks in 1999, the St. Paul, Minn., native was a second-team all-conference choice last season. Wallace is a reserve center on the Falcon basketball team and is expected to pitch for the baseball team later in the season. The 6-foot-9 Wallace opened eyes during fall practice with a live fastball. Wallace and Gornick will not join the baseball team until mid-March.
Last Week: Air Force won three games of a four-game series against Virginia Military Institute at the New York Yankees spring training facility in Tampa, Fla. The Falcons claimed a come from behind 4-3 victory on Friday and a 6-1 win on Sunday, sandwiching a doubleheader split on Saturday (W, 15-7; L, 2-7).
Friday vs. VMI: Sophomore Derck Kasel drove in the winning run with a one-out, pinch-hit single in the bottom of the ninth inning, scoring pinch runner Brad Bashore. The Falcons trailed 3-1 entering the bottom of the eighth inning, and had only two hits off three Keydet pitchers. Adam Howes led off the eighth with a double to left field, and came around to score when Brian LaBasco doubled to left center. LaBasco went to third on an infield hit by Mike Thiessen, then scored to tie the game on a sacrifice fly by Gerremy Goldsberry. Daniel Petro led off the ninth with a single and was replaced on the base paths by Bashore. Bashore advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by Brock Schnute, then went to third on a wild pitch to set up Kasel's heroics. Erik Fisher pitched eight strong innings for the Falcons, scattering six hits and striking out seven. David Diehl came in to pitch a perfect ninth inning and gain his first win of the season.
Saturday vs. VMI (Game 1): Air Force jumped out to a quick lead in game one with three runs in the top of the first. With one out, LaBasco singled and advanced to second on a wild pitch. Thiessen knocked in LaBasco with a single, extending his hitting streak to 15, then advanced to second on a walk to Goldsberry. After a single by Kasel loaded the bases, Thiessen and Goldsberry each scored on a wild pitch from VMI starter Matt Liffick. The Falcons held their 3-0 lead until VMI tied the game in the bottom of the fourth with three runs on three hits off Falcon hurler Matt Kaercher. Air Force regained the lead for good, however, by exploding for six runs in the top of the fifth. Thiessen led off the inning with his first home run of the season, and Price Paramore knocked in two runs with a pinch hit single to center field. LaBasco added an RBI single, and Thiessen and Goldsberry both walked with the bases loaded to give the Falcons a comfortable 9-3 lead. VMI scored one in the bottom of the fifth to cut the lead to 9-4, but the Falcons put up three runs in each of the sixth and seventh innings. Paramore knocked in two more runs with a double in the sixth, while Petro and Schnute added RBI singles in the seventh. Paramore knocked in a career-high four RBI in the game, and Kaercher improved to 2-0 this season.
Saturday vs. VMI (Game 2): In Saturday's second game, VMI pounded 14 hits off Falcon starter Johnny Koegel (1-1) and two relievers to hand Air Force its first loss of the season, 7-2. AFA mustered only five hits, all singles, against Keydet pitchers Willie Lyles and John Sloan. VMI took command of the game in the top of the fourth inning with four runs on only three hits. Koegel retired the first two batters with ease, then gave up two consecutive walks. Three singles and an error later, the Falcons were down 5-1 and never threatened the rest of the game. Thiessen went 0-for-1 with two walks to halt his hitting streak.
Sunday vs. VMI: Air Force rebounded Sunday behind the pitching of Mike Tufte. He scattered four hits in seven innings as the Falcons won handily, 6-1. Tufte, 3-0 this season, threw a very efficient game, striking out five while allowing no walks. He allowed a three-ball count to only two Keydet batters. Bashore and Kiwedin Cornell each pitched an inning to close out the game. The Falcons put a run on the board in the top of the first inning and never looked back. Howes led off the game with a single and stole second. He advanced to third on a fielder's choice by LaBasco, and scored on a fielder's choice by Goldsberry. Goldsberry struck again in the fifth with a two-run home run to left center field off Keydet pitcher Phil Hendrix. It was Goldsberry's lone hit of the four game series. He did have five RBI and four runs scored, however. Air Force added a run in the sixth with a sacrifice fly by Howes, scoring Josh Phifer. The Falcons suffered a scare in the bottom of the seventh inning when VMI's Jason Annis drilled a one hopper back to the mound. The ball glanced off Tufte's glove and struck him in the left ear, then ricocheted right to first base where Howes recorded the putout. After laying on the ground for several minutes, Tufte stayed in the game and retired the final two batters of the inning before leaving the game for good. LaBasco, Paramore and Petro each posted six hits in the series for the Falcons. Thiessen had his 15-game hitting streak snapped in Saturday's second game and walked eight times in the series, while Goldsberry was given a free pass six times. Falcon pitching continued to be impressive, recording 26 strikeouts and only 12 walks in the series, and posting a 3.66 ERA.
On Deck: Following the Wichita State series, Air Force travels to Millington, Tenn., for the annual Service Academies Spring Classic, Feb. 23-25. The Falcons will play Army and Navy on Feb. 23 at 10 a.m. and 1 p.m., respectively, then battle Memphis on the 24th at 4 p.m. The consolation and championship games are set for Feb. 25.
Erik Fisher -- C2C (Jr.), P, Riverside, Calif.
Gerremy Goldsberry -- C1C (Sr.), OF, Omaha, Neb.
Adam Howes -- C3C (So.), 1B, Phoenix, Ariz.
Matt Kaercher -- C2C (Jr.), P, Billings, Mont.
Mike Thiessen -- C1C (Sr.), CF, Modesto, Calif.
Mike Tufte -- C1C (Sr.), RHP, Highlands Ranch, Colo.
Additional Player Notes: Sophomores Brian LaBasco and Daniel Petro and freshman Price Paramore each had six hits against VMI... Paramore hit .600 with four RBI and five runs scored... He produced a career-high four RBI coming off the bench in the second game of the series (15-7 win)... Paramore is batting .444 (12-for-27) this season and has a .593 slugging percentage... LaBasco is hitting .400 (12-for-30) this season with six RBI and seven runs scored... He was 6-for-11 in the first three games of the VMI series before going 0-for-5 in the finale... Sophomore designated hitter Derck Kasel drove in the winning run with a pinch-hit single in the bottom of the ninth inning in the series' first game... He led the team with seven pinch hits last season, and hit .500 (2-for-4) with five runs scored and four walks in the season opening series against Hastings... He had two triples in the first game, helping the Falcons set a school record with six in one game... Senior David Diehl pitched a perfect ninth inning in the first game against VMI to earn his first win of the season... Diehl and senior Kiwedin Cornell each have a save this season... Diehl threw three scoreless innings to close out the third game against Iowa State... He scattered two hits and struck out three... Cornell cleaned up the second game against ISU, pitching a perfect ninth inning with two strikeouts.