Falcons open MWC play at New Mexico

    Senior pitcher Scott Zicarelli
    Senior pitcher Scott Zicarelli

    Feb. 26, 2003

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    This Weekend: Air Force (6-5 overall, 0-0 MWC) opens Mountain West Conference play with a three-game series at the University of New Mexico (7-6, 0-0). The schedule is below.

    	Fri.	Feb. 28	2 p.m.	at New Mexico	Lobo Field (Albuquerque)
    	Sat.	Mar. 1	2 p.m.	at New Mexico	Lobo Field (Albuquerque)
    	Sun.	Mar. 2	1 p.m.	at New Mexico	Lobo Field (Albuquerque)

    Radio/Television: There is no radio or television in the Colorado Springs area. Selected baseball games will be broadcast later in the season, but the schedule has not yet been set. Once the schedule is confirmed, it will be posted on the baseball page of the website on the right side of the screen.

    Conference Openers: Air Force has not had much success in conference openers. Since joining the Western Athletic Conference in 1981 (and then the MWC in 2000), the Falcons are 4-18 in the first conference game of the season and 15-51 in the first conference series of the season. In the MWC, the Falcons are 1-7 in the first series of the season. In 2000, the Falcons dropped two home games to New Mexico, 3-2 and 13-5. In 2001, Air Force was swept in three games at UNLV. Last season, Air Force won one of three at San Diego State. The Aztecs won games one and three by scores of 2-1 and 14-5. AFA won game two, 7-6.

    Last Year in the Conference: 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. Air Force placed fourth in the MWC last season, the highest finish in school history. AFA has 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.

    Scouting the Opponent: New Mexico is 7-6 overall this season and has played 10 of the 13 games on the road. UNM has collected some big victories this season, defeating Texas Tech, SW Missouri State, New Mexico State and Oregon State. First-baseman Chris Alexander was named the MWC Player of the Week, Feb. 24, as he hit .417 (7-for-17) with four home runs and two doubles in the Baseball Fiesta in El Paso, Texas. Alexander leads the team with six home runs and 20 RBI. His .358 is third among the regular starters. Third-baseman Josh Mader leads the team with a .462 average while center-fielder Cory Lizarraga is hitting .432 average. James Vermilyea leads the team with a 2.59 ERA and 27 strikeouts. UNM has won four of its last six games.

    Series History: Air Force and New Mexico have played 110 times, the Falcons' third-longest active rivalry. UNM holds a 72-38 lead in the series that began in 1957. Last season, Air Force won four of six in the series. The Falcons swept the series at Air Force by scores of 7-5, 7-5 and 11-9 in late April. New Mexico took two out of three in Albuquerque in late March. Air Force won the first game, 8-4, while UNM won the next two, 19-9 and 9-8.

    Crime Pays: Air Force has already stolen 14 bases this season in 17 attempts for an incredible 82 percent success rate. Last season, Air Force's 98 stolen bases were the third most in school history and the most since the Falcons set a school record with 122 thefts in 1979. The 1978 team also stole 122 bases. Last season, the Falcons led the Mountain West Conference in steals and were only caught stealing 34 times for an incredible 75 percent success rate.

    Welcome Additions: Air Force has had two true freshmen emerge as major contributors, second baseman Zach McAngus and starting pitcher Paul Vignola. McAngus has started all 11 games and is hitting .371 with four doubles, three home runs and 10 RBI. Defensively, he has been perfect in 40 chances. Vignola is 3-1 in four starts and combined with Jason Pruitt to shutout Southern Utah. He has thrown a team-high 18.2 innings and has a 5.79 ERA with a team-best 11 strikeouts. Several other newcomers have come from the junior varsity program, including infielder Nathan DeRohan (.500 average and two home runs) and Brent Tittle (.364 average and one one home run). In his first season with the varsity, senior Josh Zumbrun has a 2.70 ERA with a 1-0 record and four strikeouts in 10 innings.

    On the Road Again: Air Force concludes its 10-game road swing with a three-game series at New Mexico, Feb. 28-Mar. 2. The Falcons are 2-3 on the road stretch and two other games were rained out. Air Force is 2-3 on the road this season. Beginning with the Monmouth series, March 8-10, Air Force is home every other weekend throughout the rest of the season.

    Light Up the Scoreboard: Despite hitting under .250 in the last five games combined, the Falcons are hitting .372 with 20 home runs and 54 extra-base hits in 11 games this season. Air Force is averaging nine runs per game while allowing nearly seven per game. The Falcons are slugging .669 as a team with a .439 on-base percentage. Josh Phifer leads the team in nearly every offensive category, including batting average (.475), hits (19), doubles (5), home runs (6), RBI (20) and slugging percentage (1.100). Nathan DeRohan is hitting .500 while Dan Petro is batting .448 and Adam Howes is hitting .410. Howes and Zach McAngus are tied for the team lead with 15 runs scored. Howes leads the team with seven stolen bases in seven attempts. Howes, McAngus and Bowie Frost are tied for second on the team with three home runs each.

    Hot in the Field: Air Force's defense, which showed great improvement last season, is picking up where it left off in 2002. The Falcons are fielding .960 with 14 errors in 11 games. Prior to four errors in the third game vs. Hastings, Air Force was fielding a sizzling .972. Freshman second baseman Zach McAngus is perfect in the field in 40 chances. Outfielders Josh Phifer and Mike Rose are also perfect in 13 and 14 chances, respectively. Last season, AFA fielded over .953 for most of the season and finished the year at .948, the best in eight years and the seventh best in school history.

    Last Week: After waiting nearly 48 hours to start their game against Air Force at the Service Academies Classic in Millington, Tenn., the Memphis Tigers scored early and often in a 14-1 victory Sunday, Feb. 23.

    On Deck: Following the New Mexico series, the Falcons return home to Falcon Field for a three-game series against Monmouth University (N.J.), Sat.-Mon., March 8-10.

     

     

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