CANYON – The West Texas A&M baseball team is set for its first NCAA Tournament appearance as it is the No. 2-seed in the upcoming NCAA South Central Regional at Colorado Mesa University in Grand Junction, Colo., beginning Thursday.
The Buffs open the regional with a familiar foe against No. 5-seed Tarleton State Thursday at 4:30 p.m. CT. It will be the 10th meeting between the two teams this season as they most recently played in the Lone Star Conference Championship last Saturday with Tarleton State pulling out a 4-3 victory in Kingsville, Texas. TSU leads the series this season 5-4. WT won three of four in Stephenville in March and TSU won two of three in Canyon in April. The Texans opened the LSC Championship with an 8-4 win over WT.
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Colorado Mesa of the Rocky Mountain Athletic Conference is the top-seeded team in the regional, while LSC member Texas A&M-Kingsville is the No. 3-seed. St. Edward’s of the Heartland Conference is the No. 4-seed, followed by the Texans and New Mexico Highlands of the RMAC is the No. 6-seed.
The winner of the double-elimination tournament running from Thursday to Sunday, will advance to the NCAA Division II College World Series in Carey, N.C. at the USA Baseball Complex, May 24-31.
“This is a really tough region and tough to make it out of there,” WT head coach Matt Vanderburg said. “We think we have a good team and have just as good of a shot as anybody to make out of the region.”
WT is 35-19 on the year and went 21-14 in Lone Star Conference play this season. The 35 wins are the most in school history, topping the previous mark of 34 set in 1997. The Buffs have won 30 or more games in back-to-back seasons for the first time in school history this year and 2014 marks the sixth season of 30 or more wins since baseball was reinstated at WT in 1994.
“We’ve been building it up for six years now,” Vanderburg said. “We feel like we have had some really good teams the last couple of years. This group has been great all year and we have some great team chemistry, some great leaders and some great seniors who have bought into everything we have been preaching to them.”
The Buffs have a 12-8 record against the South Central Region field this year. WT is 3-0 against New Mexico Highlands, 5-3 against Texas A&M-Kingsville and 4-5 against Tarleton State.
Overall, the Buffs are 15-12 all-time against New Mexico Highlands as the series was renewed this season for the first time since 2005. Tarleton State leads the all-time series with the Buffs 57-39. WT head coach Matt Vanderburg is 14-15 all-time against TSU. St. Edward’s leads the all-time series 8-0 and won last season in Canyon 8-3. TAMUK leads the series with the Buffs 60-39, while Colorado Mesa leads the series 1-0 with a neutral site win in Pueblo, Colo., in 1996, 5-2.
This season the Buffs have been led by senior Tyler McKnight who leads the team and the conference in hitting at .391. He is fourth in hits with 70, along with 12 doubles, five triples and one home run while driving in 26 and scoring 33 runs. McKnight is slugging .531 and reaching base at a .428 clip. He is a team-best 11 of 13 in stolen bases to lead the team.
Second in the team in average is junior Nick Chapman at a .376 clip. He leads the team and conference in hits with 77 and ranks 28th nationally. Chapman is second on the team in runs scored with 44 and has 12 doubles, three triples and four home runs, while driving in 35. Chapman is slugging .522 and reaching base at a. 432 clip.
Senior David Hebert is third in average at .352 and is second in hits with 75. He has 10 doubles, two triples and one home run with 35 driven in and 38 runs scored. Senior Matt Redfearn leads the team and conference in runs scored with 55 which ranks him 27th nationally. Senior Beto Rodriguez leads the team in home runs with six and triples with six which is good for 13th nationally.
The Buffs are hitting .322 as a team which leads the conference and is 19th nationally. WT has scored 367 runs which leads the league and is 18th nationally. The Buffs have hit 93 doubles, 25 triples, 27 home runs and driven in 318. The 25 triples are third nationally and the 93 doubles leads the league. WT leads the conference in scoring at 6.8 runs per game and third nationally in hits with 609. WT is slugging .441 and reaching base at a .384 clip.
On the bump, the Buffs have a 4.19 ERA with 10 complete games and seven shutouts. WT has eight saves in 453.1 innings. WT has allowed 262 runs with 211 earned, along with 167 walks and fanned 409. The Buffs are averaging 8.1 strikeouts per game which leads the conference and is 13th nationally. WT has a .966 fielding percentage with 69 errors leading to 51 unearned runs.
Senior Dylan James leads the team with a 2.40 ERA. He is 8-3 on the year in 14 starts with three complete games and two shutouts in 90 innings of work. The opposition is hitting just .202 against him. James has allowed 34 runs with 24 earned, along with 25 walks and he has fanned a school-record 114 which is fourth nationally. He was named LSC Pitcher of the Year last week.
Second on the team in ERA among starters is senior Scott Cone at 4.07. He is 7-2 on the year in 14 starts with one complete game and one shutout. Cone has pitched 79.2 innings, allowing 44 runs with 36 earned, 26 walks and fanned 71. Senior Joshua Weyker has a 4.48 ERA and an 8-5 record in 86.1 innings. He has appeared in 15 games with 14 starts, allowing 45 runs with 43 earned runs, 23 walks and 67 strikeouts. Junior closer Paul Lujan is 34th nationally in saves with eight.