Monday, January 9, 2017

NM State Aggies vs Chicago State Cougars Women’s Basketball 1-7-17

My work situation is still up in the air, and I question if I should be spending money unnecessarily, but I went to today’s game in a better mood than last week.  Part of that may have been Thursday’s double win by the Aggies Men’s and Women’s basketball teams against UMKC.  I got to listen to most of both games on the radio at work.  The guys continued their streak.  The girls had a tough game at home, but never let the Roos get too far ahead and were able to eventually overpower them.  Gia Pack followed up her career game versus Western New Mexico last week with another double-digit performance.  So, I was up for today’s game, though a bit nervous about the advertised autograph session afterward.  I get butterflies in such situations, but I’ll take advantage of the opportunity anyway.

The parking lot looked a bit empty as I pulled in.  There was an NFL Wild Card playoff game on.  The weather was colder here than last weekend, but nowhere near as unpleasant as then.  I was wearing the same outfit, though not for luck purposes.  For the autographs, I did want to be wearing my Aggie Women’s basketball “Back to Back Champions” t-shirt.  I picked up a Pete’s Combo again at the concessions.  The hot dog was really good.  I think my main complaint is that the quality of their hot dogs is not consistent from venue to venue.  They were out of Dr. Pepper, so I had the blackberry tea and that was excellent. 

Inside, the crowd did look small.  I sat way down next to the boosters’ section this time.  I think the crowd filled in behind me after I got there, so I didn’t notice them until I got up later.  It might have been around 800 looking at previous attendance figures on the program.  (I’m not sure where I got that 3,000 number for the last game.  That was 860 officially.)  However, the crowd seemed really loud and into the game today. 

On court in our Assistant Coach Watch segment, Ashley Ford was dressed very casually today in a loose blouse and dress slacks.  Casual, but elegant.  She also seemed to be in a good mood, laughing and smiling a lot.  On the other side of the court, I don’t know her name, but “Wow.”  One of the other team’s assistant coaches was extraordinary tall and glamorous and gorgeous.  I would liked to have seen her and the other lovely (and also quite tall) Aggie assistant coach, Blanche Alverson, suit up and play center against each other today.  (I wonder if they saw each other before the game and had the same thought.)            

After last week’s game against a Division II opponent, I was looking forward to seeing this conference game and some stiffer competition.  Then I listened to pre-game show on the radio with Adam Young.  Today’s opponent, Chicago State, was currently winless this season.  Not only that, they’re on a 22-game losing streak dating back to last season.  I could see for myself out on court that they were only had six players.  I thought Western New Mexico was playing short with just eight last week.  Not only all this, but their athletic program is in jeopardy because THEIR ENTIRE UNIVERSITY MAY BE GETTING DISSOLVED.  I had thought I had job stress.  It’s nothing compared to these girls.  However, Adam did emphasize that the Cougar players are good.  They just don’t have the horses to play a whole game well.

The Men were, in unfortunate scheduling, playing at Chicago State during this game.  I say “unfortunate” because I would have liked to have been able to listen to that game in the evening.  They announced that the Aggies were winning there at halftime right before this game started.  I don’t think they were trying to demoralize the girls here.  They usually give out-of-town scores for other Aggie teams during home games.  (Still, I felt bad for them anyway.)  The video board seemed to have a problem during player introductions, so they didn’t play the Aggies’ intro movie. 

The game didn’t start well for the Cougars.  A minute and half into the game, Destiny Harris fell to the court on an injured ankle and had to come out.  For an opposing player, she got a very nice round of applause as she was helped to the sidelines.  I think everyone there could count.  The Cougars were now playing their entire team on court.  Destiny was able to come back in later, though never really figured in the scoring for the rest of the game.

I found myself watching Tamara William in the first quarter.  She had a good touch on a three-pointer early, but seemed reluctant to shoot.  She had a great drive to basket that got waved off on a travelling call (and strangely the Cougars turned it right back over on another travelling call right after).  Gia Pack came in as a sub briefly.  She had a steal and made a great block on a layup.  The Aggie defense was pretty oppressive, but both teams played up tempo.  The biggest event of this quarter was Aggie senior, Brianna Freeman, scoring her 1,000th point.  There wasn’t a big announcement and play only stopped for a few moments, but the crowd knew and gave her a big round of applause.  27-20 Aggies after 10 minutes.  The Cougars may have been undermanned, but a couple of their girls were really shooting lights out.

The second quarter started with Chicago State committing several fouls.  For the game, they never really got into foul trouble, but it must have been scary for their coach.  Aggie senior, Brandee Walton, came into the game and hit a three.  This set off a big cheer from the crowd.  Brooke Salas, on the sidelines at the time, high-fived everyone on bench.  Adam was effusive in his praise of her on the radio call.  He reported that she was an extremely pleasant young woman.  Play-wise, Chicago State found a hole in the Aggies’ defense that allowed them several “backdoor” trips under the hoop that they converted on.  However at the half, Aggies 58, Cougars 40.

For halftime, a group of girls participated in a trike/layup contest, as they rode a little tricycle up and down the court and had to make a shot.  Pistol Pete got involved in helping push the trikes.  I think the girls were all from a sorority.  Meanwhile, the Aggie Men’s team won their game, 70-62.  Braxton Huggins was the leading scorer.  (I love that name and it allows for so many possible nicknames.)  Both teams were still in the locker rooms during the announcement, so no mind games on the lady Cougars this time.  The halftime stats showed the Aggies up 3-9 in turnovers and 17-7 in rebounds, but both teams were shooting over 60% inside the arc and 40% outside.  Whew!

To start the third quarter, Brianna scored a couple times.  Chicago State came out cold and went about three and half minutes before finally scoring on a free throw.  The Cougars got that “backdoor” play working again, and the Aggies went cold for a couple minutes.  What goes around, comes around.  Brianna would break that streak with an Aggie “backdoor” to her under the basket.  Moriah Mack put in a coast-to-coast layup.  Tamara dropped a three.  At this point, I think Chicago State called a timeout.  The Aggies almost went back out with only four players on the court before one of the players finally noticed. 

Brooke missed an open look for a three at one point.  Later, she took another one that also missed.  The Aggies got the rebound and fed it back to her.  Brooke drove the lane and took it to the rim.  Running back down court, she said something to somebody on the bench.  I would have like to have known what was said there.  At the end of the quarter, the Aggies made a bad transition that turned into a steal and Cougar layup at the buzzer.  I watched the refs puzzle over the replay for a while between quarters.  I think they counted it.  78-55 Aggies after three quarters.

To start the fourth, Blanche was up and animated on the sidelines.  Perhaps Coach Trakh subbed for himself for a few minutes.  Chicago State seemed out of gas by this point and started turning it over.  Tamara was running the point for team for part of the quarter.  Gia Pack came back out and hit a three.  Brooke was cheering her on from the bench.  With the score getting out of hand, the starters started coming out and got a round of applause from the crowd. 

Tonishia Childress took over the point and made a great coast-to-coast layup.  I thought I had seen her in a neck brace coming out at halftime, so I was surprised to see her in the game.  The Roadrunner Review band was really cheering the team on from their corner.  Gia hit another three and then got two on a drive that took the Aggies to 100.  Gotta hand it to Adam Young.  At the beginning of the quarter, he thought they’d hit 100 in this game.  After that bucket, the cheerleaders tossed giveaway hats into the crowd and, El Paso native and walk-on, Sara Lopez entered the game.  With that, everyone suited for the Aggies played today.  The Aggies slowed it down for the last couple of minutes and played out the clock.  They’d scored enough today.  Our final, Aggies 100, Cougars 63.

On court, Brianna got her picture taken with boosters, who’d brought a 1,000 point sign for her.  Coach Trahk in the post-game interview offered sincere praise and sympathy for Chicago State.  Unfortunately, I missed-fiddled with the buttons on my radio and missed the final stats, which was problem, since I’d had issues scoring the game.  I guess the main stat is that the Aggies won by 37 points. 

Six Aggies were in double figures.  Tamara and Gia were devastating from the three-point line.  Tyler Ellis was unstoppable inside.  Add to that some fast break points and good foul shooting and there’s a 100.  For Chicago State (my numbers are off somewhere), Kaylee Allen and Cailin Nix lead all scorers, and Jessica Cerda was great from the outside.  These girls could shoot.  A couple of more fresh legs and gunners like them and this game would have been 100-95, like an NBA game.  It’s hard not to come away with a lot of respect for the Cougars.

It’s hard to get a real grip on how good this team is from what I’ve seen and heard.  They’ve lost close games to good teams and destroyed lesser teams.  At 10-6, it comes down to if they can beat the better teams in the WAC and that will probably mean winning close games.  That win against UMKC was a good one in that respect.  They’re going to need that defense that they showed in the Las Vegas tournament, but they have to make sure that they don’t go ice cold shooting at the same time.  In the paper, Coach Trakh said the starters really worked on shooting during the break after that.  He said something to the effect that playing in a huge, but nearly empty arena there may have depressed their shooting (I think).  I wonder if starting Gia Pack might help.  I think she’s earned it.     

And now, the moment of truth: autograph signing in the concourse.  I wavered for a moment at meeting the girls.  Behind me in line, there was a group of, well if this were the 80’s, I’d call them Valley Girls.  Really obnoxious Valley Girls.  I got annoyed to the point that I almost left, but I wanted those autographs.  Brooke Salas was first up.  Honestly, she was a bit cold.  Don’t know if it was her or me.  I didn’t ask her what she’d said to the bench earlier.  If I’m in this position again next year with her, I’ll make sure to be more charming.  Sara Lopez was next to her.  I made sure to call her by name.  She seemed to appreciate a little recognition. 

I got to tell Gia Pack she had a great game.  (I’m pretty sure she already knew that.)  I congratulated Brianna Freeman.  She was happy.  I noticed Jeneva Toilolo from Hawaii actually had some Islander tats on her arms.  I meant to tell Tyler Ellis that she’d had a great game, but I’m not sure I got it out.  Sorry.  I’m doing it now at least.  I got to Brandee Walton.  "Hi!" she said, "Thank you for coming to our game today!"  and she said it as sweetly and sincerely as you could possibly imagine.  “I heard on the radio that you’re the nicest person on the team.”  She giggled, blushed, and denied it, and thus all but confirmed it.  In 20 seconds of contact with her, she charmed the heck out of me.

Oh, Tamara William.  She’s seriously cute.  I congratulated her on a great game, and she just about dropped me with a killer smile.  I totally forgot to ask her about her red hair earlier in the season.  I asked Tonishia Childress about the neck brace.  She laughed and said that was just a neck warmer.  It was a really big neck warmer.  Lastly, I got to call Moriah Mack, “Mo,” like Adam and her teammates do.  I might have startled her, but she laughed.  Whew, I was emotionally exhausted after all this excitement, but I had my autographed poster.                                   
I gotta say, seeing your college Women’s basketball team drop 100 points on somebody really brightens your mood.  That was pretty cool.  Regardless of how this completely doesn’t affect my personal situation, I felt much better about life in general, at least for a little while.  Hopefully, I can make it back for some more later this season.  I’m curious how this team will turn out.   

Tuesday, January 3, 2017

New Mexico State Aggies vs Western NM Mustangs Women’s Basketball 12-31-16

I have to start this with a reconsideration of the previous game I attended.  After writing and posting my blog, I read the newspaper account of the game.  I was struck by Coach Trakh’s generous and effusive comments about the team after the loss.  Was this the same guy I saw screaming on the sidelines?  His quotes, though, did sound pretty genuine.  At that point, I had a thought about the game: maybe Brooke Salas didn’t have a bad game so much as perhaps Arizona might have keyed their defense on her.  It would have made sense for them to have done so.  “Make sure the high-scoring blonde doesn’t get an open look.  If the other girls beat us, so be it.”  I don’t know the game well enough to say if this theory is correct or not.  If I’d thought of this before posting, I would have put it in.  In any case, I feel like I might owe Brooke an apology.  Sorry. 

Okay, back to business.  This was my last Aggie game of the year.  If it wouldn’t be such a pain in the butt to do so, I’d count how many events I’ve been to this year to see if I qualify as a booster.  Let’s just say, I’ve frequented the university frequently over the last 12 months.  I only major team sport I’ve missed is the men’s basketball.  I’d meant to go to a game last week while I was on vacation.  My boss was too sick to go, and I didn’t feel comfortable going by myself at night.  I only missed Santa Claus, Pistol Pete reading Twas the Night Before Christmas to a bunch of kids at half time on court, and a thrilling overtime victory (part of an 11-game winning streak).  So, I didn’t miss much and didn’t feel really stupid afterward.  These things happen and hopefully we learn something from them.

Today was a different matter.  I was at work very late for yearend processing on Friday, during which time my future employment at the business was called into doubt by a pending outsourcing deal.  Saturday was cold and rainy and my boss had again backed out of going.  However, I’d been looking forward to going to this game.  While on vacation, I’d listened to the girls team get beat three times at a tournament in Las Vegas.  Two games were close and the last one was a blowout, and they were all hard to take, even though they lost to some good teams.  I wanted to see a win. 

Further, I wanted to wear my new “Back to Back WAC Champions” women’s basketball t-shirt from Aggie sponsor, Sports Accessories.  The ads worked and I patronized them.  They have nice store for NMSU and local high school gear.  The shirt was actually $1 on the clearance table, but still relevant, and I picked up an Aggie Empire shirt, which I look forward to wearing at another time.  I also wanted wear my new hat, even though this was an indoor event.  It’s a red hunting camo hat with NM State on the front from Beyond Custom (formerly Mr. Hats) at the mall.  I’m embarrassed to mention that this custom embroidered hat actually cost less than the two other Aggie hats I’ve purchased.  Given the cold, I wanted a hat on.  Given the rain, I ended up using an umbrella outside to protect my new hat. 

I picked up a hot chocolate and a churro at the concessions.  The cinnamon and sugar didn’t quite get all over everything, but almost.  I only spilled hot chocolate on my scorecard once and somehow managed to splash it on face too.  At the courtesy table, I picked up another poster, as seen above.  Still no Brooke poster though.  I also picked up a men’s program leftover from Friday night’s win over the UTEP Miners.  If I get to a men’s game, I may have a couple of things to discuss from looking that over.

I was almost terrified that I’d be the only fan there while I was driving over, but thankfully there were plenty of people there for a New Years Eve game, in spite of the weather, holiday, football bowl games, the girls being on a three-game losing streak, and playing a Division II opponent.  (Rats!  I thought maybe the team might come over to thank me personally if I was the only one there.)  Adam Young on the radio call described the crowd as “medium.”  I’ll put it at over 3,000.  The regular fans were likely all there (I’m not putting myself in that group at this point).  They were mostly senior citizens and likely other boosters.  There were maybe a handful of students as the school was on Christmas break.  Western NM (Silver City?) actually had a decent and enthusiastic cheering section for them behind their bench.     

During the warm up, I failed to notice that one of my favorites, Tamara William, wasn’t playing, but certainly noticed when the game started.  Her hair had also gone from red back to dark with highlights.  I missed the pre-game show and never got an explanation in-game as to why she wasn’t playing, other than the coach wanted to rest her.  Ironically during the game, they were using a nice picture of her on the video boards to promote the Aggies’ next game.  Well, at least the Aggie assistant coaches, Ashley Ford and Blanche Alverson, were there and lovely.  Blanche looked really nice, like she had somewhere to go after the game.  As the game went on, I got the impression, everyone involved had somewhere to go right afterward. 

Until I saw the starters on the court, I didn’t realize that Western NM only had 8 players.  Not only were they a Division II school, at 4-7, they weren’t even a good one.  In fact, this game was only an exhibition for their team.  It didn’t even count for their record.  During the Aggies’ starters’ intro, the Mustangs weren’t watching, but were huddled up with their coach on court for final instructions and encouragement.  For NMSU for New Years Eve, apparently there weren’t a lot of scheduling options.  After what was going to be a rough tournament, win or lose, the girls were going to need some light competition to keep warm before starting conference play. 

As I predicted before given the speed of the game, I could either keep a scorecard or keep notes, but not both.  I picked the scorecard, so the notes are going to be sparse, but then again, it wasn’t much of a contest.  The regular Pan-Am announcer was there for the game.  (I really need to get this guy’s name.)  He asked the crowd to remain standing after the tip off until the opposing team scored.  After four minutes off the clock, we were still standing.  Thankfully, that was when the game had its first timeout and everyone took a seat.  The Western NM Mustangs didn’t score their first points until six minutes into the game (that’s game clock time, not actual time, and those points may have been on free throws if I recall).  After ten minutes, the score was 27-6, Aggies.  My first quarter highlight was Pistol Pete coming by and giving by and giving me a high-five. 

The first break between quarters featured a fan on court trying to make a free throw for Harlem Globetrotters tickets.  But wait, he had to make it facing away from the basket!  The guy had the reverse granny shot working and actually made the first one, more or less defeating the drama.  He wasn’t close on any of the other superfluous shots, but that was still very impressive. 

In the second quarter, I actually saw Brooke laugh and smile on court (not during play, of course).  That should give you a good idea of how the game was going.  The Aggies were dominating on shooting, steals, blocks, and rebounds.  They had a full court press going for most of the game on defense, though the game was played up tempo for most of this quarter.  The Aggie subs played much of the quarter.  After a player got a second foul on court, Tonishia Childress jumped up to check in.  She was grabbed by hand by an assistant coach and directed to sit back down.  Help was not needed.  Gia Pack (still loving that name) scored 12 in the half, including two three-pointers.  Moriah Mack (“Mo” as Adam liked to call her) wasn’t far behind with 11.       

Several good shots for the Mustangs just didn’t fall in, making the score look even worse for them.  Not to be patronizing, I’m sure that Western NM practiced as hard as the Aggies, and they certainly played as hard.  This was just a difference in level of play and talent.  WNM has scheduled other Division I teams this season, so they wanted this competition, much like the Aggies at the tournament last week.  43-14 Aggies at the half. 

The one time I didn’t need to go to the bathroom for halftime and all that was going on on court was a disorganized free throw contest with the fans.  During the game, the usual Flex-Cam and Dance-Cam spots were done during breaks, but were very quickly shut down.  I think only reason they were doing them was because they were sponsored.  Overall, the game seemed to be being played at a quickened pace in terms of stoppages.  The refs were not slowing anything down either. 

First half stats went up on the video boards: 4-10 turnovers, 10-1 assists, 27-16 rebounds, all in favor of the Aggies.  While the teams were warming up, Ashley Ford went over to the press table and gave somebody there a knockout smile.  I shivered.  Oh, to be on the receiving end of that. 

For the 3rd quarter, the starters began the frame, but quickly gave way to the subs.  However, the starters were still totally into it, cheering on their teammates.  Sara Lopez seemed to get a lot of the love, as she scored five points, including a three-pointer.  Sara’s a walk-on player from El Paso, as Adam explained during the game, so she’s the closest thing to a hometown player for the Aggies.  Coach Trakh took her aside to talk to her on court for some instruction during stoppages, so he wanted her to do well.  The refs did miss shot clock reset that got the bench up in arms.  Jade Botelho on the Mustangs probably got the team’s only highlight, as she emphatically slapped a block on an Aggie layup.  64-20 Aggies after three quarters.  

For the all but perfunctory 4th quarter, the starters came out for another four minutes before coming out.  The coach was still out there coaching.  As one girl came out for a foul, you could hear Coach Trakh over the radio mic talking to her.  “That’s on you, not her.”  The Mustangs went on a bit of run at one point, which got a cheer out of their section, though it seemed like there were more people than that cheering for them.  (I almost felt like cheering for them a little.)  Other than that, the crowd had something of a low energy level for the whole game (probably me included).  Our final, Aggies 85, Mustangs 28.

After the game, Sara Lopez went into the stands and got hugs from what was presumably her family.  Brooke and Tamera were also talking with some people in the stands behind the bench.  There was a group of fans holding up poster signs of the girls during the game.  They may be some sort of boosters.  Tamera was there long after the rest of the team had left the court.  If I’d seen somebody else getting her autograph, I would have run down there myself.  The best fan moment came before the game ended.  A little girl and her parents were leaving.  Before going, she ran over and gave another little girl with her parents a hug, the way kids do.  It was precious.

Gia Pack for the Aggies had a career game with 22 points and four three-pointers.  Mo was next with 15.  Most of the starters had limited time.  All 11 girls who were eligible to play scored.  According to the radio, the Aggies were +15 in rebounds and turnovers, not to mention +57 in scoring.  This was the best outcome for the team in that they not only won a game they should have, they did so definitively.  We hope this means that, while not successful at the tournament, they really learned something there, just in time for conference play. 

For the Mustangs, their point guard Jordan Gutierrez lead the group with 11 points.  She also had a pair of eye-catching yellow shoes, only outdone by teammate Lucy Benning’s, purple shoes.  I’m thinking these girls may have learned something from the Aggies when they get back to their regular opponents too.  They certainly played hard.            

I’d like to say this game win improved my mood, but it didn’t.  (I was psyched later when my scorecard added up correctly.  I don’t know if I could have counted rebounds and turnovers even if there was space on the scorecard for them.)  I almost feel like they should have discounted the tickets for this game, given the level of the opponent.  Outside, the sun was finally out and the clouds cleared away.  I drove out of the parking lot behind a girl wearing a tiara.  I’m thinking it was a cheerleader.  For the moment, work questions have me wondering if I should be spending money on entertainment, but I have a feeling I’ll be back to watch some more.  

Monday, December 5, 2016

New Mexico State Aggies vs Arizona Wildcats Women’s Basketball 12-4-16

I went back and read my blog entry from January of this year when I first went to an Aggie Women’s basketball game.  Wow.  I struck by two things.  One, I used to write much better and more concisely.  The more I write about these NMSU games, the worse my literary diarrhea gets.  Two, in the time between these two posts, I’m not even going to try to count the number of women’s sports I’ve been to this year.  My opinion of these girl games has definitely improved.  Though I am still essentially girl-watching at times, I do appreciate the athletic competition and the athletes.  And it all started for me thanks to a free $2 special promotional ticket given out by my workplace.  Nice job NM State marketing.

I’ve been kind of following along with the girls since this season started.  I was kicking myself on Veterans’ Day last month when I missed the season-opening double-header with the guys.  I had that day off, and I could have gone.  Amazingly, the girls’ game was on local TV and I was able to watch it anyway.  That was a resounding win.  The next week I heard their terrible 29-point loss away to the Lobos over the radio.  Just last week, I missed their other double-header on November 30th. I had to be at work, and I missed the radio coverage (though I did get to hear the guys), but I was pleased that they’d gotten revenge on the Lobos at home.  (During the men’s game, Jack Nixon did take a moment to say some nice things about the volleyball team’s season, which I appreciated.  I noticed the tape for the volleyball lines was now gone from the court.)

Though today’s game was also on TV, I decided to go in-person.  I figured their opponent, the Arizona Wildcats, was probably tough and that the Aggie girls could use the support.  The ticket was $6.  I don’t know if that’s the regular price or if it’s gone up.  It’s more than the volleyball.  I picked up men’s and women’s basketball poster schedules.  I wanted the men’s poster when I noticed that, inexplicably, there was a picture of the volleyball team on it.  (Okay, yeah they’re my favorites.  I almost felt like I was cheating on them going to this women’s game in the same venue.)

The women’s poster was the same as the program cover above with Moriah Mack and Tamera William.  Though a recent picture, it’s now out of date, since Tamera’s hair color is currently bright red.  She was hard to miss watching on TV.  The red works for her, mostly because she’s very pretty.  I also picked up a Brooke Salas pocket card schedule.  I admit I was kind of hoping for a poster of her.  Maybe there isn’t one; maybe they just didn’t have any available.  When my aunt saw her program picture from last season, she thought Brooke was cute.  Me, too, but she’s very serious out on court.

The other woman I’d noticed from watching on TV was on actually on the bench, Assistant Coach Ashley Ford.  She’s downright glamorous in her dress and (highly impractical on a basketball court) high heels.  On the Bleed Crimson website, while looking at the game pictures, I noticed there’s a picture of just her on the court.  How many assistant coaches merit game pictures without any players in the frame?  My dad, who was watching today’s game on TV, asked me about the other assistant after the game, Blanche Alverson.  Specifically, he asked how tall she was.  She towered over everybody on court.  She was probably in heels, so it’s hard to say.  (She’s also nice looking.)

For gender equity purposes, I have to give a shout out to an Arizona Wildcats’ assistant coach (Salvo Coppa?).  The young man was in the sharpest suit I’ve ever seen on a court.  Seriously, he was the best dressed person I’ve seen at a game.  Either the guy just looks good in a suit, or he’s got way better income than a college assistant coach should have.

I picked up a Pete’s Special at the concession for $8.  The hot dog was good, along with the chips and lemonade.  I’m pleased to give a good report on the concessions for a change.  It was a little empty in the arena when I got there, but it filled in.  I’d guess, from looking at past attendance on the program, there were around 900 there.  I think a couple of the men’s team players were in the student section.  (No sign of the volleyball team.  I looked.)  A large troop of young girls came in.  Maybe they were a middle school basketball team.  The seats directly behind the Aggie bench were filled by presumed regulars, and that section was full.  (I guess they wanted to hear the coach Mark Trakh yelling better, though I could hear him from where I was too.)  I was right behind them.  I thought that Arizona would bring some fans with them, but the section behind their team was mostly unfilled.

OMG!  OMG!  It’s Chico!  The El Paso Chihuahuas’ mascot was in the house!  And, and can it be?  Yes!  Pistol Pete was here too.  My two favorite mascots together!  It’s a dream come true.  Oh, oh, will they?  Yes!  They meet on court and shake hands!  I’ve gotten my money’s worth and the game hasn’t even started!  [JDH grits his teeth, “Of course I didn’t have a camera to record this historic moment.”]  Chico jammed with the band briefly and mostly worked the crowd.  Pete handled the floor.

The cheerleaders, the Sundancers, and some of the Aggie Pride band were present playing behind the south goal.  Excuse me, they are the Roadrunner Review, as per the PA.  (Though I’m sure they’re part of the band.)  They played an excellent live Anthem.  For the player introductions, the lights went out and spotlights came on.  The promo video was a bit low-key compared to volleyball one, but more emphatic in the message: “Back-to-back WAC champions.  This . . . Is . . . Our . . . House!”  Some of the Wildcat players watched it play, perhaps comparing production values with their own.  

1st Qtr
Hey, I noticed there was a basketball scorecard with the program.  I’d never seen one of these before.  I sure wasn’t prepared to fill it out either, but I gave it a shot.  Given the speed of the game, I could probably keep the scorecard or take notes, but not both, not well.  I gave up on scoring the Wildcats and tried to keep up with the Aggies.  The PA asked everyone to stay standing after the tip off until the opponents scored.  Standing then and at other times, did make it hard to write or score anything.

Meanwhile, Wells Fargo was running their “mea culpa” commercials in the arena and on TV.  (I could see a TV monitor on the sidelines from where I was sitting).  They’re promising to fix unspecified problems.  These guys must be paying the university really well for NMSU to put up with this kind of embarrassing publicity during their sporting events.  My workplace bank, who used to be a big sponsor, has more or less committed marketing funds to the local high schools, but still likes to say they support the university with various ticket buys for employees and customers.  They sponsored the new club at the football stadium so they’d have good seats for the annual Cruces-Mayfield game.  Consider this a Local Business 101 lesson.

Let’s talk about the actual game finally.  Forgive me for playing favorites, but I kept my eye on #2 Brooke Salas and #21 Tamara William for most of the game.  They’re pretty much the stars of the team, and Brooke’s long blonde hair and Tamara’s bright red hair stood out on the court.  They were also crowd favorites during the introductions.  By the north goal, a little girl had a “I wanna be like Brooke” sign.  The cheerleaders threw some hats into the crowd during a break.  They handed the little girl one.    

Before the first TV timeout, I saw Tamara really hustling and Brooke had three steals (by my count).  However, the shots just wouldn’t fall in for the Aggies.  Several times, balls circled the iron before lipping out.  The girls weren’t putting those clean shots into the bottom of the net.  Maybe some jitters or the rim was being picky.  The most emblematic moment was near the end of the quarter.  The Aggies took three close shots, got two rebounds, and all they had to show for the trip for a foul on Brooke.  There was also strange play where Brooke made an inside pass into traffic in the lane.  It deflected off three players before another Aggie finally caught it.  Even with frustrating offense, the Aggies’ defense had held.  10-16 Arizona by the end of the quarter.

2nd Qtr
The Aggies were still stone cold shooting.  Tamara had a great steal and made a break for the basket and picked up a couple of foul shots.  The Wildcats were also getting fouled, but not converting on most of their shots.  #50 Tyesha Taylor entered the game as many of the starters cycled out.  She got the first Aggie field goal six minutes into the quarter and got a great block defensively.  That was a definite spark as the team had gone down by 8.  They finished the half at 24-26 Arizona.  The little girl that me and my boss keep seeing at various Aggie sporting events was on “Flex Cam” (“Show us your guns!”) during a break.  She must be at about every home sporting event.  I wonder if she’ll be on an Aggie team someday.      

I returned from the bathroom to see kids in banana suits riding trikes around an obstacle course on court and then trying to dunk into miniature basketball goal.  Did I drop some LSD in the bathroom or was I witnessing some sort of avant garde performance art?  This is what I get for walking out at the buzzer.  Chico and Pete, egged on by the PA, decided to start trying to take half-court shots in a battle of the mascots.  This went about as well as you’d imagine.  All this event needed was “Sweet Georgia Brown” playing in the background to complete gag.  Eventually, they started moving closer and closer to the goal.  The band leader also coaxed into taking a free throw shot.  In the end, it was Chico 2, Pete 0.  Pistol Pete went back to doing what he does best, dancing Gangnam style.  Chico disappeared.

I should mention the PA wasn’t the usual older baritone fellow, who did most of the volleyball games.  I think it was the young man who called the soccer matches.  He did a really good job, though he may have missed making a few play and foul calls on court, which made it really hard to even try to keep the scorecard.  Since the game was on TV, there was no radio call to fall back on.  Elsewhere, the cheerleaders took a break sitting in the stands, but a little six year old girl in an Aggie cheerleading outfit danced on the stairs beside them to keep the cheer going.    

3rd Qtr
Brooke was not smiling.  I don’t know if it was how her game going today or if she never smiles during a game.  She looks like someone who should be smiling.  The halftime stats that I just barely caught on the video board had the Aggies shooting 32% to Arizona’s 40%.  That is nothing to smile about.  Free throws had the Aggies at 50% and the Wildcats at about 30%.  This might be why the score was still close.

It was not going well.  With the Aggies not playing up tempo or making outside shots, the Wildcat’s zone was nearly impenetrable.  They moved in unison, like a single organism, wherever the Aggies passed the ball.  By the first media timeout early in the quarter, Coach Trakh was screaming.  The crowd, however, had gone quiet with the score at 27-35 Arizona.  Tamara stepped up and got a steal for a layup that got the team going again.  Brooke hit a three and got a steal on defense.  Tamara just missed another three right before the buzzer.  36-41 Arizona after three quarters.

4th Qtr
The Aggies closed to 41-43.  Tamara and Brooke got a fast break layup.  Ah, that’s what I’ve been wanting to see.  The Aggies got a stop on defense, but lost it on their end, which led to a layup and a foul on the other end.  The coach called Brooke over afterward and chewed her out by herself on the court.  Whew.  There was an unexplained extended timeout.  People were looking over at the Wildcats’ bench.  Was there a player down?  No, apparently it was fan.  The person was in bad enough shape that the University fire department was there tending to them.  The person was taken off on a stretcher and a gave a thumbs up to the politely applauding fans.  I don’t know what happened.  Dad said the TV didn’t offer much of an explanation either.

During the lengthy break, I saw Athletic Director Mario Moccia pacing along the sidelines.  I saw Brooke finally smile in the huddle with the other girls.  The coach came running back on to the court from the stands.  He’d probably gone to the bathroom.  Back to the game, Arizona started a running game with four minutes left and the score close.  Tamara stopped one fast break, slapping a ball out of bounds, but the Wildcats scored several quick baskets.  Tamara ended the run on a steal and a layup.  #12 Zaire Williams put up a three-pointer.  Tamara was fouled and the Aggies finally take the lead on free throws, 54-53 with 2:45 left in the game.  The band plays the 80’s classic “Word up,” and the crowd is on their feet.  Arizona made a free throw to tie it at 56-56.  With 34 seconds left, the Aggies held for one shot, but it didn’t go.  The Wildcats got the ball back with a bit more than a second, but weren’t able to get a good shot off.  Let’s keep playing.        

It’s too bad Chico left.  He missed a good game.  Unfortunately, the Aggies came out cold again.  Arizona scored the first 6 points, until #30 Gia Pack (what a great name) hit a three to make it 61-64.  That was as close as they got.  The Aggies turned it over three more times.  The fouling started and there was a technical or a flagrant foul mixed in.  Tamara fouled out and got a nice round of applause as she came off.  Our final was 63-74 Wildcats.

From the scoreboard (certainly not my borderline useless scorekeeping), Tamara William was the Aggie high scorer in the game at 17.  Her foul-shooting may have kept the Aggies in the game.  I don’t think anyone else on the team had double figures.  (I could certainly be wrong).  She really showed some leadership out there.  I have to recognize Tyesha Taylor too.  Honestly, she’s not built like a baller (more like a linebacker), but she came up big when the team needed it.  Arizona was led by #14 Malena Washington at 26.  Not to diminish that, but she got a lot of free throw points at the end as the Wildcats pulled away.  If they’d been hitting their free throws earlier, this game wouldn’t have gone to overtime.

I’m no basketball analyst, so my opinions aren’t worth anything here probably.  These teams were pretty evenly matched today.  On a day with Brooke Salas playing better, it might have been a different story.  She didn’t appear to be injured or sick, just not shooting well.  (I have her at 5 points and three fouls, though she did contribute a lot on defense.)  According to the program, she’s leading the team in scoring this season.  I wonder if this is what happened last month in Albuquerque when the team laid an egg.  Brooke is a sophomore, so these occasional cold streaks may happen.

Without the offense, the Aggies still did a pretty good job on defense, at least until the overtime, and that kept them in the game.  Arizona’s zone defense appeared to be stifling the Aggies’ predominately half-court offense.    I’m sure there was a way to take advantage of Arizona playing mostly zone, but I guess without your leading scorer, there wasn’t much strategy the coach could work.  Whenever it became a running, full-court game, Arizona appeared to have the advantage, so that might not have been a good option either.

A bunch of little kids charged the court after the game for autographs.  I saw Brooke signing hats and shirts, along with the other girls.  The kids seemed to be gravitating towards Brooke first.  The little girl with the sign got her new hat signed.  I hope they’ll do a formal autograph session sometime after a game like the volleyball team did (because it’s too embarrassing for adults to go out on court and ask for them when kids are out on the court doing it, at least that’s my excuse).

When I got home, there was a message waiting from my dad.  The TV station had cut off the game with three minutes left in regulation, and he wanted to know what happened!  Sunday afternoon programming that didn’t involve football and you couldn’t let the game run over, sheesh.  Shame on you local CW.  This was the only game on the schedule I’d really planned on going to, but now I’d like to go back, if for no other reason than to see a win and to see Brooke a couple of dimes (20 points) on somebody.  The next home game isn’t until New Years Eve, which is right after what’s going to be a long night at work, and I don’t know if I can get anyone to go with me, but hopefully I can make it.      


Monday, November 28, 2016

NMSU Aggies vs Appalachian State Mountaineers Football 11-26-16

It didn’t seem like a good sign that the pre-game show on the radio was urging fans to come out and see a really great Appalachian State team (hereafter abbreviated AS to save my fingers).  Yes, this was one of the better teams in the conference.  Compounding matters, Aggie quarterback, Tyler Rogers, after his stellar performance last week, had been injured during practice and was a late scratch from starting this game.  So, we weren’t looking for a “W” this week.  

It was a lot nicer Saturday than last weekend.  Though overcast, it was warmer with just a light breeze.  The Aggies were coming off a good win, and there was no competition from any high school games.  This all might have helped attendance, but unfortunately the calendar may have kept fans away.  This was the weekend following Thanksgiving and the students and many families were likely out of town.  That this week’s opponent was expected to win easily, even without knowing that the starting quarterback was out, might have also dampened some enthusiasm for the game.

Ron wasn’t expecting a win, but we were going anyway.  This time we were prepared with jackets for the cold.  The Softball team was again handing out programs at the entrance, but it was a different group of girls.  I didn’t recognize any of them and didn’t attempt any conversation this time.  We’ll just hope they’re doing an autograph session during their season.  It was Senior Day, being the last home game of the season.  As we arrived, the senior players were being introduced on field with their families and friends.  I just saw the last player, who was brought out by the coaches’ wife, Vicki (as stated in the program).  That was sweet of her.

There was a somewhat sparse crowd inside.  There weren’t even any ushers at the different sections, which pretty much meant you could have sat wherever there was an unsold seat.  We ended up sitting about where we did last time in the upper bowl.  Though were plenty seats available, we ended up crammed together with several senior citizens, who were apparently long-time regulars at these football games.  Another thing that wasn’t there was the girl with the cinnamon roasted nuts.  This was bad.  Not only was I looking forward to another little sack full of sweet tasty almonds, I was planning on getting a couple for out-of-state relatives for Christmas.  Crap.  It was going to be such a pleasant, unique local gift.

I left my radio earplugs out and listened to the Pride band give a great performance before the game.  There were some kids on the sidelines, dancing along with the Sundancers on the field.  The Appalachian State Mountaineers were introduced first.  There was a small, but vocal contingent of their fans seated in what was usually the student section.  They were the only ones there.  Before the Aggies came out, Pistol Pete’s horse became antsy.  He knew it was time to perform.  After a short countdown, Pete, his horse, and the team charged out on to the field.

1st Qtr
The Mountaineers received the opening kickoff.  On their second play, they broke off about a 50 yard rush to the Aggie 2.  The crowd collectively gulped.  However, the Aggie defense held and limited AS to a field goal.  Whew.  3-0 AS.  Nick Jeanty was in as the Aggie quarterback.  He’d started many of the games last season when Tyler Rogers was injured then too.  It was a three and out with no progress.  Payton Theisler made another great rugby-style punt to put AS deep in their own territory.

I could see Pistol Pete working the crowd in the lower bowl.  The roving concessions were selling hot chocolate and lemonade this time.  The Mountaineers first play was a 30 yard rush.  A pass following that put them on the Aggie 9.  Again, the Aggies kept them back for three downs, but they went for it on 4th down on the goal line and made it.  10-0 AS.  The Aggies go three and out.  There’s a bad snap on the punt which only makes it out to the Aggie 40.  The Mountaineers score on the next play.  17-0 AS.

Ron turned to me, “You think they’ll make it to 100?”  “We may be part of history,” I replied.  Jack Nixon and Preston Williams were rather subdued on the radio for the game.  They spent a good deal of time discussing their Thanksgiving meals at one point.  With the on-field action waning, I noticed Coach Doug Martin’s wife was out roving on the sidelines.  Well, she seems to be rather attractive, if not outright hot.  Perhaps I’m not angling for the coach to get booted at the end of the season.

The Aggies go three and out.  In three series in the first quarter, the team will end up with 0 yards of offense.  They didn’t advance the ball a single yard on their possessions.  All their plays lost yardage or only made it back to the line of scrimmage.  Wait, what’s this?  An attractive blonde producer for Aggievision showed up in our section and handed everybody coupons for free What-A-Burgers.  Hey, showing up here suddenly just paid off.  She asks everyone to make a “Guns Up” sign for the camera later.  No problem.  On field (and less interesting and less attractive), AS got the ball back.  They drove into Aggie territory and made a 4th and 2 to end the quarter.

2nd Qtr
The stadium lights come on.  Though early, it’s getting dark with the cloud cover.  A fan misses a 15 yard kick for money in between quarters.  The pretty blonde producer walked him out to the field.  She’s hustling out there.  The Aggies keep the Mountaineers out of the endzone, and the field goal attempt is missed.  The Aggies take over with a new quarterback, Conner Cramer.  Unfortunately, it’s still a three and out.  I find myself watching the pretty blonde Aggie trainer on the sidelines.  I’d seen her last game running out on field to tend to injured players.  She’s watching the game closely obviously.

The blonde producer on the sidelines points up to us, telling us to be ready during the challenged call on the field.  She’s watching the game too and rooting for the team.  The Aggies hold off another AS series, stopping them on another 4th down attempt.  It’s our moment!  Our section goes “Guns Up” as we end up on the video board for a What-A-Burger promo.  Back to the game, Cramer takes a late hit on a QB keeper.  It’s a penalty and the first Aggie first down of the game.  The Mountaineer player was also ejected for targeting.  Xavier Hall then rushed for a first, and Cramer rushed for another first.  The Aggies were in the red zone.  Unfortunately, there’s a twice-tipped ball in the endzone that results in a Mountaineer interception.

I noticed an injured player was hobbling around on the sidelines.  The pretty trainer followed him around for a while, before he finally gave in and got on the table to get his ankle tapped up.  The cheerleaders now have jackets on, as it’s a bit cooler.  AS had the ball, but the Aggies forced a fumble at midfield.  On the next play, Cramer, after a great scramble, connected with Tyrian Taylor for a 50 yard touchdown strike.  17-7 AS, and at least the Aggies won’t be shutout.  The cheerleaders come over to the crowd around midfield and started throwing little footballs to them.  One of the girls, perhaps unsure of her arm, handed her ball to a player to throw.

AS got the ball back and marched down field.  In the red zone, there’s a sack, which forced the Mountaineers to try a field goal, which was successful.  20-7 AS.  Aggies got the ball back with little time on the clock.  The drive didn’t go anywhere before the half ended, but Cramer did layout a good block for Larry Rose III rushing.  During this quarter, I noticed my old boss going down the stairwell.  I caught him when he came back up to say, “Hello.”  I was also able on congratulate him as I’d noticed looking at the roster last week, that his son, Brett Kowalski, is playing on the team.  I remember sitting for him once and playing cars on the floor with him when he was a little kid.  They grow up so fast.  
The senior band members were introduced on field with their friends and family.  Two French horn players were graduating.  The whole French horn section was with them and marched in formation behind them.  A tuba player was introduced.  Behind him on the other side of the field, the other tuba players charged out on to the field and started dancing.  The band started their performance a little late.  I could see a Sun Belt official in a vest below us enjoying the show, so I’ll guess it met with conference approval.  As halftime started winding down, the players started to take the field.  The marching band refused to yield.  The band actually won that contest and finished their set.  The players had to wait to start practicing and warming up.

3rd Qtr
The Aggies received the kickoff.  It was another three and out.  This one could have been much worse as there was a bad snap and a bad throw on one of the downs.  AS didn’t get a first down, for a seeming three and out of their own, until the punter ended up running for it on a fake.  The crowd collectively groaned.  Even I kind of saw that coming.  The Aggie defense held them to a field goal.  23-7 AS.

The Aggies got the ball back.  They go for it on 4th down on the AS 40, but turn it over on downs.  I rushed to the bathroom finally, and picked up a hot chocolate at the concessions.  It was $3, a relative bargain for stadium food and tasted good too.  The Mountaineers punted on their possession.  Pinned deep in their own territory, Cramer went for a bomb on third down from his own endzone, and it was intercepted at midfield.   AS got a big rush on a third and long to take them inside the Aggie 10.  Their quarterback took it in himself for the touchdown.

[Edit: So I'm watching a Mexico sports show Sunday night after writing this to find out who won the F1 championship.  They're doing a top 10 list of plays of the weekend.  That interception was like #4 on the list.  I did a double take as it came up on screen.  I didn't think it was that great a play, much less internationally awesome.  Last year, when the Aggies got an interception that was caught between the guy's ankles, now that was awesome.]

The crowd began to desert.  I found myself looking more at the women on the sidelines than the guys on the field, trying to get some value out of the game.  Pistol Pete, who’d been leading the cheering on the sidelines during the last series, seemed a bit apologetic.  He came up into the crowd again.  Maybe he was actually apologizing.  Several of the senior citizens around us started to leave, saying “See you next year,” to each other.  “Where else am I going to go to?” answered one of them.  Ah, the doomed resignation of committed New Mexico State Aggie football fans.      

4th Qtr
The Aggies went three and out on their next possession.  In other news, the sun set in the west.  At least things were moving along quickly, like the Mountaineer quarterback going for 40 yards and a TD on a keeper on the next series.  37-7 AP.  There was some heavy promotion at the stadium of the basketball double header next week at the stadium.  The women and the men’s teams will be playing.  I’ll be at work.  I felt like a dope not going to their first DH a couple of weeks ago on Veteran’s Day when I could have gone.

Me and Ron meet another co-worker who had been sitting in a nearby section the whole time.  Her and her husband had season tickets in the lower bowl, but moved up to the upper bowl, since it seemed kind of deserted.  At the south endzone, Striking the Wonder and his human were resting on the promotional couch.  He hadn’t had much to do during the game retrieving kicking tees.  Oh, it would have been nice to have had a warm pet in my lap last week.  Actually, it’d be nice anytime.

Oh, yeah.  The game.  Aggies got the ball and end up punting.  At least they’ve gotten better about false starts since last week.  AP ball.  On one play, their quarterback turned around and handed off to the wrong side and missed the running back.  There’s a turnover on downs.  The Aggies moved downfield, mostly on Cramer’s legs.  Turnover on downs inside the AP 10.  The Mountaineers assume the victory formation to end the game.  Thank you Appalachian State for not running up the score and not dragging out the game.  The Aggies didn’t play badly against a good opponent and didn’t beat themselves at least.  They were missing Tyler Rogers and some other players were lost during the game.  Connor Cramer certainly showed some promise.

The Mountaineers celebrated on field.  They’d won a share of the conference championship, I think.  It was complicated as described over the radio and I didn’t care.  Their fans celebrated in the stands.  The Pride band was still playing as we left.  I don’t think they wanted to leave.  The fans around us pledged to return next year, though it was contingent on ticket prices not getting raised next year.  The pre-game show had an interview with Athletic Director Mario Moccia.  He made the case that they’d made sure that there were always value seats available for any casual fan who wanted to come to an Aggie sporting event.  This is good, but don’t do that on the backs of regular fans who want decent seats.  He wished for a budget that allowed them to do more promotions to draw in more people who aren’t necessarily sports fans.  Good point, but a winning program is always the best sports promotion.

Outside the stadium, flocks of birds were chirping away.  They must have been Appalachian State fans.  Traitor birds!  The free What-A-Burgers after the game were delicious.  The back of a previous football ticket had a two-for-one coupon for Caliches frozen custard, which was also delicious.  Thank you NMSU sponsors for those two promotions.  The Aggie football team was 2 and 2 in games me and Ron attended this year.  (We actually only missed one home game, which was a dramatic double OT win.)  Unfortunately, they lost all their games on the road (one game still pending).  Amazingly, Ron, who mopes and complains about the team, seems to be committed to going back next year.  This might be a sign he and the rest of the hardcore fans need to be committed.  It’s very strange, but I’m still willing to go myself.  See you next year.


Wednesday, November 23, 2016

NMSU Aggies vs Texas State Bobcats Football 11-19-16

At 3:30 am Saturday morning, it seemed unlikely that I’d be going to a football game in 10 ½ hours.  My boss, Ron, and I had just finished a computer upgrade at work.  He’d wanted to go to the game.  Ron was even interested in going to the WAC Volleyball championship game afterward.  Unfortunately, while we were at work, I watched our beloved Aggie girls lose their semi-final game over the Internet.  So, if they weren’t going to be at the championship, neither were we.  Somehow the both of us managed to get some sleep and be up and ready in time for the football game.    

While getting ready, I hopped outside for a minute in sweats before getting dressed to check the temperature.  It didn’t seem too bad.  The wind was nippy so I ended up putting on three layers (undershirt, long sleeve shirt, and a hoodie sweatshirt).  With the game starting in the afternoon, hopefully it would finish before it got too cold in the evening.  Ron showed up to pick me up wearing just his Aggie t-shirt.  I gave him my new Aggie hat, since I gave up on it fitting my head.  At least he now had some head protection.  Ron, let us say, has more natural insulation than I do.  I’d never seen him get cold anyway.  I mention all this as a precursor as to what was going to occur and that we weren’t totally unprepared for some cool weather.
We parked in front of the Pan-Am Center, thus reminding me again of the volleyball team’s loss.  The New Mexico State Pride band rhythm section was out in front of the building, which seemed like an odd place for them to be right before a game.  Walking to the stadium, we got an answer from a couple of passing fans going in the other direction.  Our opponents today, Texas State, had been in a bus wreck and the game had been delayed for an hour and a half.  I’ve heard varying accounts of the damage, but the bottom line seemed to be six injuries, thankfully none of them serious.  I’d heard a cheerleader was hurt, but I didn’t see any cheerleaders on their sidelines later.

Not really having anywhere else to go, we went ahead and got tickets.  Ron preferred the upper bowl seats to get a commanding view of the field, though not the cheerleaders.  The fellow in line in front of us was wearing an El Paso Chihuahuas hat.  Inside the gate, some pleasant young women were handing out programs.  Somehow they seemed familiar.  Looking twice, I saw that they were wearing NM State Softball sweatshirts.  I abandoned Ron to go talk to the girls for a second.  I just told them I’d been to some games and enjoyed watching them play.  Most of the players were brand new freshmen.  I asked if they were being punished or hazed having to be out here.  I’d like to name names of the players, but they looked different out of uniform and with their hair down, so I’m not sure who was who.  Maybe they’ll have an autograph session next year and I can ask.  Seeing these ladies was a bright spot for the afternoon.

Inside, I finally broke down and paid $4 for a slice of pizza at the Papa John’s tent.  I was hungry.  The pizza proved to be room temperature as was the soft drink I purchased with it.  Even then, it was still pretty good, so I can’t complain too much.  Out on the field, I thought the Aggies were practicing in warm up jerseys, but actually it was Texas State.  They had finally arrived and confusingly, they wear the same colors as the Aggies.

Having plenty of time to kill, I ended up back at the Concessions, looking for a hot drink.  There wasn’t anything advertised on the board, but the vendors were yelling out, “Hot drinks!”  Fearing a trick or being screwed (or only being offered coffee, which I don’t drink), I didn’t enter.  Hey, I just spent $4 on lukewarm pizza.  I had a right to be suspicious.  I did meet two co-workers there though.  Over the course of a long conversation, I found out that in return for our business’ sponsorship of the new skybox, we had the use it for the Cruces-Mayfield game for 10 years.  On the way back, I bought a small sack of cinnamon almonds from a vendor girl who looked like she was already freezing.  That act of pity was my best move of the day; those things were absolutely delicious.      

Back at the seats, I’ll make the suggestion to not sit in the front row of the upper bowl.  My view was blocked by the stair railing.  Thankfully, we got moved before the game started.  There was plenty of room.  Attendance was listed at 6,200+.  The lower bowl on the fan side eventually filled in pretty well.  The upper bowl didn’t.  The student section was sparse.  (If the administration could sell those seats, they’d do it.   Except for games against the Lobos, I doubt the students would care.  I think they only care about the tailgating outside.)  There was a high school football playoff game going on across town at the Field of Dreams complex, which was likely hurting attendance at both events.  

(This is from  Isn’t it a great pic?)

It was deceptively sunny out, but the cold breeze was making things miserable.  The PA was playing some highly inappropriate hard core rap music before the game.  Yeah, when I decided to sing along with it, it was amazing how wrong certain words suddenly sounded.  Thankfully, the Aggie Pride band came out to play before the game.  (Actually, I was listening to the end the high school game on the radio.)  A squad of soldiers came out to unfurl a big flag for Military Appreciation Day at the stadium.  OMG!  The cheerleaders ran out in their usual mini-skirts and tank tops.  They had to be freezing to death.  The Texas State Bobcats were politely introduced as they slowly shambled on to the field.  They got a round of applause.  I didn’t want to feel sorry for these guys, but you kind of had to.  Then the Aggies charged out on field, waving an American flag, a New Mexico flag, and the various Armed Services flags.

1st Qtr
The radio call came in inexplicably late in covering the first series of the game.  I don't know what they were doing.  This is going to be a busy quarter here.  Buckle up.  The Aggies received the ball and got a first down, but had to punt.  The first attempt was stopped by an overly brave Ref running into the middle of the play to blow it dead.  Strange officiating.  The subsequent punt was muffed by Texas State.  Two Aggies just missed falling on the ball in the endzone.  The Bobcats worked the ball out from their own 3 yard line.

Pistol Pete is spotted.  He's wearing camo under his western vest.  Suddenly, there's a possible fumble on the field.  Sunlight on the video board makes it impossible to see the replay, but the Ref's called it for the Aggies.  There's older gentleman in front of me who's really into the game.  He's fun to listen to.  The Aggies got near the Texas State goal line.  Quarterback Tyler Rogers walked to one of the ends, maybe to call a timeout or to change the play.  No!  It's a direct snap to running back Larry Rose III.  He tosses the ball to wide receiver Johnathan Boone, who passes it to Tyler Rogers in the endzone.  Touchdown!  What a great gadget play.  7-0 Aggies.

Texas State receives the ball and then fumbles on their own 23.  Two plays later, Rogers hits Royce Clayton for another touchdown.  Royce just came back from an injury.  This is very encouraging.  14-0 Aggies.  Even more shocking, two PAT's are made with no drama by Parker Davidson.

The cheerleaders are now wisely, but belatedly wearing jackets.  On Texas State's first play, it's an interception by Shamad Lomax.  Rogers scrambles this one in himself from the 8 yard line.  Let me sum this up for you.  Tyler Rogers has passed, rushed, and caught touchdowns this quarter.  The PAT has a bad snap, the ball is dropped, but somehow the kick is good.  21-0 Aggies.

The Bobcats get a first down, but Terrill Hanks picks off a screen pass at midfield.  Rogers nearly runs it in on keeper, but gets caught from behind.  Preston Williams, doing color commentary on the radio, tells him he needs to run faster.  Rogers hits Tyrian Taylor for another TD.  28-0 Aggies.

2nd Qtr
Even the fans get in on the scoring action.  Between quarters, a guy boots a 10 yard field goal and wins a $100.  Ron, who had wandered off, returned with two piping hot cups of hot chocolate.  God bless him.  There was vendor wandering around selling them.  Not only were they life-savingly warm, but also delicious.  I wish I could make hot chocolate taste this good at home.  However, Ron is cold in his t-shirt.  I've never seen him cold before.  The sun is going down and it’s getting colder.

Texas State got the ball, but went out on downs quickly.  For some reason, their punter apparently wasn't used to kick the ball away.  Bad choice.  It was a six-yard punt.  The Aggies have to punt too, after a missed deep ball that got an "Ooooh" out of the crowd.  The Bobcats next play was another interception by Lomax.  Are you kidding me?  The Aggies end up with the ball right back where they punted from.  The Aggies first play is a swing pass that is fumbled.  However, Texas State can't move it and they turn it over on downs.

The next series, the Aggies got a 20 yard pass downfield off an early snap that everyone on field and in stands thought was yet another false start, except for Rogers and his receiver.  (The Aggies had about five of them to this point.  Obviously, it wasn't hurting their offense.)  There was an apparent touchdown pass to Rose, but it was called off upon review.  He'd stepped out of bounds on the way to the endzone before making the catch.  The Aggies settle for a field goal.  31-0 Aggies.

Jack Nixon on the radio gave a half-hearted promo for the WAC Volleyball championship this evening.  I am momentarily panged with regret and hurt.  The Bobcats again turn it over on downs in Aggie territory.  Rose rips off a 30 yard run.  There's a chop block penalty on the goal line against the Aggies, though it was an Aggie player that came off the field hurt.  No problem.  Rogers finds Anthony Muse from 18 yards out for another touchdown.  38-0 Aggies. Inexplicably, the Aggies called a timeout right before the PAT to ice their own kicker, but Davidson kicks it through again.

Texas State goes three and out.  Gregory Hogan makes a tremendous one-handed catch to try and keep an Aggie drive going, but he's ruled out of bounds.  Too bad.  That was highlight reel stuff.  The punt by Payton Theisler pins the Bobcats inside their own 10.  Not bad, given that he kicked it from deep in Aggie territory.  I can see the poor Sundancers in their skimpy outfits jumping up and down on the sidelines.  They're trying not to freeze to death before their halftime performance.  And at halftime, it was 38-0 Aggies.

Ron jumps up for the bathroom before I can.  Nuts.  At least I get to watch the halftime show.  Sweet Caroline plays while the band sets up.  The Sundancers were dancing like crazy on the sidelines before the show started.  They were troopers out there performing along with the band.  It's a great show of course.  At the end, the band comes up to the sidelines and performs the Aggie fight song in front of the stands.  Great showmanship.    Ron doesn't return, and I still need to go.  The hot chocolate vendors would come by, but as much as I wanted another, I didn't think I could hold any more fluid.  I had to settle for shaking for the rest of the game, thus making my notes even more illegible.

Quite a bit of the crowd left at this point.  Who could blame them?  The Sundancers went back to the student side of the stadium, where they huddled up next to the wall under blankets.  The cheerleaders came back out in long pants.

3rd Qtr
On the Aggies' second possession, Muse made an incredible circus catch in the endzone after a tremendous scramble by Rogers.  Again, it is called off as Muse had stepped out of bounds before he was thrown to.  How often could this penalty happen in a normal game?  It turns into a field goal.  41-0 Aggies.

I finally run for the bathroom during the Bobcat's possession.  They manage to drive it downfield.  On a play near the endzone, there are four flags on the field for two different penalties, both against the Aggies.  One of the Aggies is ejected for targeting the Texas State quarterback.  It's considered a questionable call by the fans, who boo the call and applaud the player as he comes off.  After all that, it only results in a field goal.  41-3 Aggies.

4th Qtr
Things are going quickly at this point.  The Sundancers, in jackets and long pants, perform in the north endzone.  The old guy in front of me uses his binoculars to watch.   I don't blame him.  At the other end of the stadium, the troops manning the cannon, which goes off on Aggie scores (hope they brought plenty of ammo today), are doing jumping jacks to keep warm.

The championship winning Aggie Equestrian team was honored on the field between possessions.  That was nice of the university, given that they've disbanded the program after this year.  This is only an “Aggie” college after all, and this was the only team that worked with animals.  The girls there were mostly in elegant, but highly impractical, evening wear for the ceremony and were freezing.  Ron came back and reported that the girls had walked past him on the way to the field.  It was like a troop of models going by.

On a Bobcats’ possession, a receiver nearly jumped into the stands going after a ball.  With the play over, he stopped to chat with a couple of fans in the front row.  I'd love to have heard that conversation.  The Aggies got another field goal to make the score 44-3.  Both teams finally put in their backup quarterbacks.  Pete was working the crowd below us, twirling his guns, taking pictures with the fans, and sitting down and chatting with them.

Again, Theisler got off another great, rugby-style punt.  It went from the Aggie 20, hit the sideline, and rolled to the Texas State 2.  The Bobcats end up having to punt from their own endzone, giving the Aggies great field position.  Nick Jeanty, now the Aggie QB, threw a screen pass to Jaleel Scott.  Scott fought through several defenders for 20 straight yards for a TD.  The PAT was missed.  Davidson's leg must have gotten tired.  50-3 Aggies.

Texas State did finally get off a good drive on their final possession.  There was a great 30 yard pass into double coverage to get them on to the Aggie end of the field.  Finally, a rushing play gave the Bobcats a touchdown.  50-10 Aggies would be our final.  Ron and I were already walking out of the stadium as the Aggies went into in the victory formation.  We were trying to beat the crowd (what was left) and the opposing team’s exit, as they have to cross the main entrance to leave the stadium (a definite design flaw).  Unfortunately, we didn’t make it.  The Texas State guys all had a “thousand yard stare” going for them as they quickly strode across the concourse.  I would have liked to have said something encouraging to them or given them a round of applause, but they wouldn’t have noticed and it might have come across as sarcastic.

We walked past the Pan-Am Center, which was lit up for the volleyball championship.  I was sorely tempted to suggest going in, but the match was moments away from starting, and we were both cold and hungry.  If only the football game had started on time.  At least dinner at Schlotzski’s was great.  I did have a cup of Carvel ice cream there.  Even at the risk of re-freezing myself, I just couldn’t resist it.        

Well, it was a victory against a team that was 0-6 in conference, 2-8 overall, and had been in a bus wreck that morning, and I didn’t feel any better about the Aggie volleyball team losing.  Even without the wreck, the Aggies were favored in the game.  However, they not only took care of business, they did so decisively on both sides of the ball.  That was encouraging.  The defense just dominated in this game.  On the offense, Tyler Rogers threw three touchdowns, ran for one, and caught another.  Perhaps just as impressive, he threw no interceptions (indeed making many good decisions in passing) and was not sacked.  It wasn’t like they weren’t trying to get him either.  On several occasions, he eluded pursuit in a Houdini-like fashion.  The offense just needs to work on those false starts.  The team has one more home game next weekend against a good team.  We hope all this success carries over.

Monday, November 21, 2016

NMSU Aggies vs UTRGV Vaqueros Women’s Volleyball WAC Tournament 11-18-16

I wasn’t actually at the game.  Does it count that I meant to be at the game?  I had to be at work for a very long night (3:30 am) to do a scheduled upgrade to the computer, but I was able to watch the match thanks to the WAC digital network.  Actually, I’d been watching the other tournament games too.  I even saw the Aggie girls there watching the games on Thursday, which only pissed me off even more about not being able to take the week off to go to the tournament.  I could have been sitting there with them, showering them with praise, basking in their presence, and fawning over them with admiration.  [Honest Edit: This likely would not have occurred, but I would have told them “Good luck,” if I’d seen them.]

In the game preceding the Aggie match, the CSU-Bakersfield Roadrunners were beaten by the Utah Valley Wolverines.  At the time I had severely mixed feelings about that result.  Not that I’ve seen a huge number of games at the university, but Bakersfield had the distinction of the being the only opposing team that I’ve ever hated.  When they beat the Aggies last month, I had to cool off for a couple of days before I wrote my recap.  For the tournament, I was definitely looking ahead to seeing a re-match.  I wonder if the Aggie girls were thinking the same way.  (Of course they were.)  However, in a terrible personal admission, I would have wanted to have seen Bakersfield if they’d in the championship game, even without the Aggies there.  What can I say?  Like the Aggies, the Roadrunners have that almost indefinable quality of charisma, which is what makes both teams so compelling to watch.

The broadcast was well done with the familiar professional call of Adam Young.  He was joined by a retired coach for color commentary and even a sideline reporter.  There were some cut-away segments, including scenes from the conference awards dinner.  Ariadnne Sierra (“Ari”) won libero of the year and looked very nice in an evening gown.  Carol Grasso of Bakersfield won player of the year.  I’d kind of wondered whether the players fraternized or not between the teams.  I still don’t know.  For some reason, watching the video, I could almost sense some sort of tension between the tables.  Probably, my imagination.

Being at work, I wasn’t taking notes during the match, so I can’t give a play-by-play recap.  I’d seen the Aggies beat UTRGV in straight sets early in October.  I’d noted that the Vaqueros had a good record on the game program, though the Aggies were actually undefeated against them lifetime.  (I got that stat from the paper and I kind of question it, since I haven’t heard it mentioned anywhere else.)

This night, the Aggies dropped the first two sets to the Vaqueros.  The first was close, the second wasn’t that close.  Coming out of halftime, the Aggies rolled on them in the third set.  The fourth set was again close and tight.  At one point late, four of five serves went into the net, as both teams seemed nervous.  The Vaqueros got to a match/set point first, and I mentally cringed having foreseen this as a bad scenario for the Aggies to be in.  Sure enough, the next point ended it.  The Aggies would not be playing in the championship tomorrow.  UTRGV celebrated on court.  A few of the girls fell to the court, perhaps in relief.  (This was okay.  I just got mad about Bakersfield’s win because they were celebrating during the match.)  [Honest Edit: Hey, this was a lot easier than writing out pages of play-by-play.]

The newspaper listed Alisha Watson of the Vaqueros being instrumental in their victory.  UTRGV would also win the tournament the next day over Utah Valley, with Alisha named the MVP.  They will go on to the NCAA tournament, some games of which will be held here in Las Cruces.  [Edit: This is what's on the Aggies' schedule poster.  I find no evidence elsewhere that such games will be occurring here.  Did the poster-makers jinx the Aggies this year by putting that on the schedule?]  The Aggies do have one more game versus UTEP, but it’s in El Paso on a weeknight and I won’t be able to go.    

My Saturday night schedule just opened up in a most unwanted sort of way with this loss.  My boss, who was with me during the upgrade, was all on board with seeing the Aggie girls play in the championship after going to the Aggie football game in the afternoon.  How we were going to stay up all night and go to two games the next day seemed a little questionable.

After an hour and half delay on the football game, we got out of the stadium just as the volleyball championship was starting.  I was tempted, but after freezing for the last couple of hours, I couldn’t ask Ron (or myself) to do anything else for the evening except eat dinner.  No offense to the Vaqueros or the Wolverines, but they weren’t enough of a draw.  (They played three sets, but they were all close.)  I did briefly entertain the thought that the Aggie girls might have been there watching and that I still had a chance to sit with them.  Thank goodness that didn’t happen.  I didn’t even recognize myself in a mirror when we went over to Schlotzski’s.  After a couple of hours of exposure, I looked like a German POW surrendering at Stalingrad.

I wonder what the crowd was for the game.  The Thursday games were not well attended.  The Aggie game got about 1000 by Adam’s estimate, which was larger than usual.  It might have looked a bit sparse on the broadcast in the 13,000 seat Pan-Am center, but in-person, it would have felt like a good crowd.  They seemed really loud in the broadcast for pretty much the whole match.

I suppose I need to tie a proper bow on this.  Over at Bleed Crimson, which I finally recently stumbled over (and an excellent blog, I might add), they interviewed Coach Mike Jordan before the tournament.  Three weeks later, he finally admitted that three of the girls were sick during the Bakersfield game.  Tellingly, he also said that a couple girls had injuries that were going to have to be corrected in the off season with surgery.  While Coach Jordan criticized the team for mental lapses and getting by on talent, rather than smarts, during the season (which was likely correct), late in the season, it looked like physical problems took over.  Simply, this wasn’t the same team I saw in September.

Sasha-Lee Thomas’ absence from regular play has been keenly felt.  I’ve seen her (on TV) absolutely takeover in a match against UMKC.  Regrettably, that was likely also the game that finished her off for the rest of the season.  Her ankle was already bothering her before playing.  She could barely walk afterward.  Thereafter, Sasha was only ever used in a limited fashion.  Losing her full-time really hurt.  In this match against UTRGV, they seemed to be keying their defense on Jordan Abalos.  They wouldn’t have been able to have done that if Sasha had been out there more.    

Team captain Abalos had been dominating earlier in the season, but I suspect she’s been hurting for a while too UTRGV game, more than she’s let on.  I’ve seen Jordan before fearlessly taking shots, even after missing several, and coming up big.  She seems to get better with more swings.  Since Jordan plays every point, I think she has had to pace herself since (or been used more sparingly in attacking), rather than taking the lead.    As Adam noted after the match, the Aggies had the Vaqueros beat on kills, which usually produces a win, but the Aggies’ attack errors did them in.  Without Jordan relentlessly attacking and Sasha backing her up, the team just wasn’t aggressive enough to cover the errors.

Without their two prime offensive weapons playing up to their full potential, the Aggies suddenly became very beatable.  Tatyana Battle has been carrying the team for the last few matches.  Being the primary attack option was a lot of pressure to put on a sophomore and she stepped up.  Tatyana just needed more help.  Kassandra “KC” Tohm was really good in this match.  She has star potential, but unfortunately KC has been the fourth attack option for most of the season.  It was a little late to change things up in the tournament.  Most of the points were pretty quick and decisive.  It’s strange to talk about an Aggie match, without mentioning Ari making a bunch of great saves, but there weren’t many long points for her to shine on.

Hannah Combs has shown some potential in limited play.  Bridgette Lowe has as well in other games, though I think she was only used in this match on the last point.  I’m convinced Megan Hart will be a force on this team in the future.  Her height makes for a downward angle on spikes that can’t be stopped.  I’ve been really disappointed that I haven’t seen Lexi May used with her, like in the UMKC game.  Though they play the same position, with their 6’5” height, I’d pick my spots to play the both of them on court at the same time.  The intimidation factor alone would be worth it.

Regardless of any match outcome, I deeply and passionately lov . . . err .  . .  think very highly of these wonderful young women.  I’m just sorry I didn’t get to see them playing in-person one more time this season.  I’m looking forward to next season as no one will be graduating and hopefully any injury issues will have been dealt with.  In the meantime, I’m going to miss these girls.  I’ll miss Brianna Ainsworth’s ever present smiles and sets, Ari’s acrobatics, Alexsa “Crash” Parker serving curveballs over the net, Sasha-Lee’s passion, and just watching Jordan play period.  While this has been a brief affair, it’s been a memorable one.        

I still haven’t figured out what an “out of system attack” is.  Maybe next year.