Wednesday, January 17, 2018

NM State Men’s Basketball 1-13-18

I got back from watching the Women play and having a swell dinner, but I suddenly got very tired when I got home.  I think I was fighting off something and ended up taking a nap.  I went completely out for an hour and a half and missed the start of the pregame.  Still exhausted, I managed to sit up to listen to the game.  I was glad I did.  Once again, the Aggie Men put on a pretty good show. 

This game versus the CSU-Bakersfield Roadrunners was the Aggies’ eighth road game in a row.  Granted some of those were in Hawaii, but still that’s a long time to not have your home fans cheering for you.  For much of the first half, the guys played out-of-focus on offense.  After 10 minutes, it was 12-6 Roadrunners.  At least the Aggie defense was holding.  After nearly 20 minutes of futility, the Aggies were finally able to connect on a couple of three’s late.  At the half, Zach Lofton put in a layup to give the Aggies a slim 26-25 lead.  He had 13 of those 26 points.  On the radio, Jack Nixon got a bit chippie with the Bakersfield staff for giving him incorrect stats for the half.    

To start the second half, Moataz Aly on the Roadrunners got his third goaltending call of the game, one offensive, two defensive.  You really have to be trying to get one during a game, much less three.  The Aggies’ long-range shooting finally zeroed in, which kicked off a run.  An AJ Harris layup and free throw capped an 11-point drive that the Roadrunners never recovered from.  It was 46-35 Aggies with seven minutes left.

As the frustration for Bakersfield mounted, the game got more physical, but the Aggies gave it right back.  There were double technicals issued to Johnny McCants and a Roadrunner player, along with another double technical to Zach and Moatz Ali later.  With three minutes left, the Roadrunners went on a short four-point run to make it 55-44.  From here, the Aggies went to a “control” offensive and bled the clock, while pressing hard on defense.  The Roadrunners began intentional fouling, which may have kept the crowd around.  They have the same Chik-fil-a promotion we have where if an opposing player misses two free throws, everyone gets a free sandwich.  In spite of the screaming crowd, the fouled Aggies did disappoint them.  No free sandwiches tonight, Bakersfield.

Our final was Aggies 66, Roadrunners 53.  The Aggies went 7-1 on their road trip.  That’s impressive.  Watching the local sports news later, I saw that the section behind the Aggie bench looked full of Aggie fans.  That’s impressive too.  Zach Lofton had 28 to lead the team.  Eli Chuha had 16, 14 in the second half, which really made a difference.  I’ve got tickets to the guys’ next Saturday home game, so I’m excited.      

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

NM State Aggies vs CSU-Bakersfield Roadrunners Women’s Basketball 1-13-18

I checked out the team Twitter feed before this game versus the CSU-Bakersfield RoadrunnersCoach Atkinson tweeted a “Welcome back” to the Roadrunner Review band after the Thursday game.  It was good to have them performing.  It meant that the arena staff wasn’t playing that crappy rap music.  The Sundancers, the Cheerleaders, and the regular PA were also back.  The Old Man wasn’t there again.  I wonder if he’s okay. 

Ron was with me for the game.  A nice lady at the courtesy table was making paper airplanes for people for the halftime competition.  Ron got one and tried it out in the concourse.  It was a TV game, so no radio again.  Ron was threatening to go talk to Adam Young about simulcasting these games.  I’d already missed listening to a UTEP Women’s game on the radio this morning.  I don’t have their schedule, but I’d kept tuning in, figuring they’d be playing.  I’d missed them while watching Bring It On on a Mexican station.  Eliza Dushku seems like the unlikeliest cheerleader, but she really works it.  I was also hungry and puzzling over the concession prices at the closed Pan-Am grill.  $4 for a hamburger is pretty reasonable, but the drinks start at $5.  What? 

I chatted with fellow Aggie fan, Danny, in another section.  I told him that the university had hired a new soccer coach.  I’d surprised him, since he hadn’t known Coach Delgado had been fired.  When you beat UTEP and UNM in the same season that should be a job-saver.  Danny mentioned that he’d heard in the morning that a Grambling Women’s player had gotten a quadruple-double.  That’s points, rebounds, assists, and steals.  Very impressive.  He’d seen the Aggies practicing earlier and thought they looked good.  The Roadrunners were out on court practicing in very cool-looking blue and yellow camo tops.  Ron’s analysis from watching them was that they were going to give the Aggies trouble.  Their coach looked like he was about 7’ tall.  If only you could teach size. 

Pistol Pete was out shooting baskets before the Aggies warmed up.  It looked like a pretty good crowd forming.  I saw one guy with a Ramen Noodle package print sweater around his shoulders.  Weird.  There were a bunch of kids there for a halftime show.  The Cheerleaders and the Sundancers went out on court to perform together.  A couple of the girls from the different squads were fraternizing.  (I’m still sure they all hate each other.  Different groups of the spirit squads never get along, as I learned from Bring It On.) 

You could hear the Aggies roaring the tunnel right before the lights went out and they ran out on court.  Bakersfield came back out.  Some regular Aggie fans waved at them.  A couple of the girls waved back.  No idea what that was about.  They did some synchronized drills without the ball and practiced free throws.  Right before the Anthem, Brooke Salas was presented with a game ball for making her 1,000th point last Saturday.             

First Quarter
Seconds after the tipoff, the game was blown dead for a problem with shot clock.  Oops.  When play resumed, it was a tight defensive affair.  The Aggies were in a full-court press.  Still, their shooting was cold and the Aggies seemed to be being out-rebounded, as it was 13-5 Bakersfield with under five minutes left. 

The crowd was into it from the beginning.  By that I mean, they were getting all over the refs for non-calls against the Aggies.  Jasmine Cooper had the play of the game.  She grabbed a rebound in the lane and made a no-look, over her shoulder pass to Tonishia Childress behind the arc, who dropped in a three.  They should have played Sweet Georgia Brown over PA after that one.  Gia Pack wasn’t having a good afternoon shooting and came out early.  Monique Mills came in and was playing with Tonishia.  The pair seemed to work pretty well together on court.  (But frankly, I’d rather have Gia shooting the lights out.)  It was 15-13 Roadrunners after ten minutes. 

Second Quarter
Dance Cam!  A camera caught a senior lady grooving it to Michael Jackson’s Don’t Stop Till You Get Enough.  The crowd loved it.  Even the referees were smiling.  Unfortunately, the music kept playing when play restarted.  Bakersfield got a quick, cheap three while everyone else was a bit distracted.  The Aggies were subbing players fairly constantly.  Pam Wilmore came in for a stretch about five minutes in.  She out-rebounded two taller players in the lane and then got her own rebound after a miss.  The Aggies still weren’t hitting and went down by as much as 11.  The Aggies’ high-pressure defense was at least keeping it close, but they seemed to be giving up a lot of rebounds.  It was 32-25 Roadrunners at the half.       

I keep saying the Aggies “seemed” to be being out-rebounded.  The halftime stats actually showed them about equal.  Where the Aggies were deficient was in turnovers.  Meanwhile, the little kids, the Pistoleros, came out on court dribbling.  Balls, that is, not spittle.  I didn’t count, but there were a whole bunch of them. 

After their performance, it was time for the paper airplane contest.  Prizes were put out on the hardwood and bedlam ensued as the fans were directed to bomb the court.  Yeah, it was a big mess.  The guy cheerleaders were pressed into helping with the cleanup, while the girls reapplied their makeup.  (No offense, just teasing a little, though I’m pretty sure that’s what happened.)  A little kid won the grand prize of a portable grill.  He could just barely carry it off.  Ron said his plane flew too well and ended up on the other side of the court.
Third Quarter
To start off, usually sure-handed Zaire Williams got her pocket picked on back-to-back possessions bringing the ball down court.  I think it was Dalis Jones doing the steals.  She had Zee’s number and other Aggies had to go on point.  The Aggies did pick up their defense.  Tonishia got a steal and went coast-to-coast.  She missed the layup in traffic, but Gia was right behind her to pick up the trash and basket it. 

Whatever the stats said, the Aggies still seemed to be getting out-rebounded.  About five minutes in, the Roadrunners got two rebounds on one possession.  Coop, on the bench, was standing and screaming at her teammates after that one.  But Bakersfield came up with no points.  Brooke got a block in the paint to end it.  The crowd really got into it as Brooke got another block on the next possession.  Both defenses were tight enough that nobody was scoring for a few minutes.

I didn’t see it happen, but Jeneva Toilolo went down hard by a goal.  I was following the action back up court, when the refs blew everything dead, then I saw her lying on the floor.  Ron, who wasn’t even in his seat at the time, saw her dive head-first into the post.  She was down for several minutes, in clear pain, as doctors and staff were attending to her.  The crowd alternated between being quieted and angry that there wasn’t even a foul called.  They were asking for the refs to take another look on video.  Finally Jen got up and was led off court behind the bench with her face covered.  She was eventually sitting up on the table, watching the game with a towel over her head the whole time. 

This certainly amped up the intensity with the crowd and probably the team.  It was 36-34 Roadrunners with four minutes left.  Mo tied it with a pair of free throws.  With a minute left, Tonishia put in another three to send the Aggies into fourth with the lead, 41-38.  The crowd was going nuts.   

Fourth Quarter
Ron made the observation that everyone except Brooke had come off at some point.  She did play the whole game.  Ron thought she played the whole game last Saturday too.  Six minutes left, it was 47-40 Aggies.  Brooke was scoring again.  The Aggies’ interior defense was fierce with her and Coop.

At five minutes left came one of the strangest exchanges I’ve seen in a basketball game.  The Aggies got called for five fouls on one possession by the Roadrunners.  You read that right.  Needless to say, the Aggies went over the foul limit for the quarter.  None of the fouls were hard, though they were all under the basket.  By the fifth foul, the crowd was getting all over the officials.  Here’s the punchline: the Roadrunners only came away with four points.

Unfortunately right after that, Bakersfield got a steal and a layup to close the score to 47-46 Aggies.  Brooke had a chance to break the play up, but her and Coop were already in deep foul trouble.  With three minutes left, Bakersfield got another layup for a 48-47 lead.  Two minutes left, Brooke hit a three, 50-48 Aggies.

Give up for everybody in the arena.  Both teams and the crowd were all into it.  One minute, Mo accidently threw the ball away at mid-court.  Moments later, she came up with a steal, a layup, and a free throw, 53-48.  30 seconds left and Bakersfield started intentionally fouling.  Aja Williams, one of the Roadrunners’ high-scorers, fouled out.  Amazingly, the Aggies didn’t commit another foul after those five straight fouls.  The Roadrunners were then called for a technical that sent Coop to the line.  The .500 free throw shooter, dropped both in to ice the game.  Our final: Aggies 56, Roadrunners 48.

Whew!  That was a game!  Ron and I were really happy with the show and the outcome.  The stats put up before the end of the game were not in the Aggies’ favor.  They were 21 to 15 in turnovers and 36 to 41 in rebounds.  The Aggies weren’t lucky to win, but were certainly fortunate that their defense kept those mistakes from turning into opposition points.  This win was also costly as Jeneva walked off the court with her head still covered and her arm in a sling. 

I’ll give the game ball to the team, as there were several big contributors.  Brooke Salas led with 18 points.  Tonishia Childress was next with 11.  Jasmine Cooper and Monique Mills had 9 and 8 respectively.  The defensive effort was what really stood out for the team.  If Gia Pack can get back on track shooting, I like the Aggies’ chances from here on out.

The sound of a multitude of bouncing balls by little kids in the concourse followed us out.  On tap for dinner was an excellent meal at Arby’s, though even with a free sandwich coupon, it was pricey.  Admittedly the best part was their salted caramel chocolate chip cookie.  Those are worth the trip.  I was yawning all the way through dessert from exhaustion.  I may have nearly caught something that afternoon, but thankfully got over it later.  I hope we get another good crowd for the next home game.  I think it helped the girls in some small fashion pull this one out.                       

Friday, January 12, 2018

NM State Men’s and Women’s Basketball and UTEP Women’s Basketball


UTEP Women’s Basketball
Okay, I’ve written about enough UTEP Miner Women’s games that I’m going to have to start tagging them.  I keep running into their games on the radio on KROD.  I don’t have a schedule for them.  I don’t even know what station the Miner Men play on.  Today, I caught the girls playing a matinee in El Paso.  It was another Basket and Education Day, like the one the Aggies played against Arizona (12-14-17).  Ouch!  I didn’t want to remember that game again.  When I tuned in, it was halftime.  I could tell there was a big crowd of kids there without even being told.  A basketball/acrobatic troop was performing and the kids were going crazy.  I’m kind of sorry I wasn’t watching.

The Miners were playing the Charlotte 49’ers.  That doesn’t sound right.  I don’t think I’ve heard of them before.  Why would an east coast basketball team be called the “49’ers?”  The Miners went down by 15 early, but made a comeback in the second.  They took the lead in the third.  It got close in the fourth, but the Miners pulled away 67-58 in the end.  Tamara Seda had a good game in the process.

Interviewing the coach afterward, he thanked the kids, who had to leave before the end, for helping them in their comeback.  Steve Kaplowitz did the game and Sportstalk an hour later on remote, so he was a busy fellow.  His co-host, Tracy Miller, had an interesting comment that she’d done some officiating.  The experience had given her a respect for them that she didn’t have as a player (especially ref’ing men’s games). 

NM State Women’s Basketball
Later at work, the good news was that the Aggie Women were playing on TV on Aggievision.  The bad news was that I was busy and could barely watch.  Also, the Aggie Men were playing an hour after the Women started.  Both teams were playing Grand Canyon University.  This was a tight game.  It was 31-30 Aggies at the half.  Brooke Salas had 10 at that point.  Jasmine Cooper had 8.  Gia Pack had gotten a technical foul, but I didn’t see the incident.  The first year coach of GCU was a really good-looking woman.  The camera kept focusing on her, so the director agreed with me.  She was a former WNBA player. 

Honestly, I only got to really sit down and watch the end.  With under a minute, Brooke sank a bucket to give the Aggies a three-point lead, 61-58.  As Zaire Williams was reported to have said later before the possession, “Get Brooke the ball.”  On the defensive end, the Aggies had fouls to give and disrupted the Lopes (smart play), who ended up losing the ball out-of-bounds.  Brooke was fouled and got a free throw.  GCU got a quick basket on their end.  On the inbound, Zaire took a poke in the eye, but made two free throws to ice the game.  64-60 Aggies final.

Brooke finished with 16 points.  She high-fived that kid that’s always around Aggie sports as she left the court.  Coop finished with 11, which is super-encouraging.  Tonishia Childress had a pair of three’s.  Monique Mills had 0 points.  That’s not a good thing.  I’m really concerned about her psyche now.  And Tamara William was there supporting the team.    

NM State Men’s Basketball
I picked up the Aggie Men playing at GCU at the half.  It was 37-37.  The Lopes are considered to be the Aggies main competition for the WAC this season.  Again, I was busy and not able to pay close attention.  With under 10 minutes, the Aggies went on a 9-point run.  Later, the Aggies’ had a possession where they had six seconds on the shot clock, but had to go the entire length of the court.  I’m not sure how that happened, but the result was AJ Harris going coast-to-coast for a layup.  Johnny McCants snagged an offensive rebound and a jam to put the Aggies up by 11 with under two minutes. 

With under a minute left, I finally remembered that GCU puts all of their sports games up live on Youtube.  So, I did watch the very end as the Aggies won 70-59.  The Aggies had 18 costly turnovers, but were +25 in rebounds.  This was a big win in a hostile environment.  The Lopes really stuff the place for their home games.  

Monday, January 8, 2018

NM State Aggies vs Chicago State Cougars Women’s Basketball 1-6-18

(You have get a Men's program to get this roster picture.)
Welcome to early Groundhog Day.  A lot of this post is going to mirror last years’ matchup between the Aggies and the Chicago State Cougars (1-7-17).  Starting off, the crowd was about the same.  Ron was with me, and I showed him the program that had official attendance for last week’s game (12-31-17) at over 700.  He found that very unlikely.  I also questioned the similar number for the previous Friday game (12-29-17).  Whatever.  I’d guess this crowd was about 800 then, which was the same as last year.  The students are still gone and the NFL playoffs were on.

I picked up a very cool Arizona Bowl poster in the concourse, so I was glad I came.  We got there way too early.  Nobody was even warming up on court.  Adam Young looked rather forlorn over at the broadcaster’s table.  I was rather forlorn after he announced that there wouldn’t be any more Women’s Basketball radio broadcasts until March.  The Band wasn’t there.  There wasn’t even the usual complement of ball girls.  The Old Man wasn’t in attendance.  I hope he’s okay.  However, there was a full group of Cheerleaders and Pistol Pete.  Old Pete was chatting up one of the lady refs before the game.  Oh, Pete.  You charmer.  

Last year’s game had the Aggies scoring 100 and winning by 37.  Chicago State had only brought six players and one of them got hurt in the first quarter.  This time at least, there were 10 listed on the program, but Ron only counted eight warming up.  During the game, Adam mentioned one of the Cougars also played on their volleyball team.  I missed the name then, but at home I was able to check my volleyball programs and saw it was Alexandria Cliff.  Hmm.  Funny thing, I didn’t go to that game, so I don’t know how I got a program.  I wonder if she’s always played both sports, or was pressed into duty from one sport to the other. 

I once again noticed the very tall and beautiful assistant coach with the team.  Last year, I’d hoped her and likewise gorgeous Aggie assistant coach, Blanche Alverson (whom Coach Trakh took with him to USC), might suit up and come into the game.  (The game was out-of-hand anyway.  Why not?)  Also like last year, the Aggie Men were playing Chicago State in Chicago at the same time.  It was 42-34 Aggies at halftime.  Jack Nixon interviewed former Aggie, Shawn Herrington.  He’s gone back to work after getting shot and paralyzed last year.   

Adam made no effort to build up the opposition.  The Cougars’ were winless this season and had a 51-game losing streak.  I didn’t hear anything in the Women’s pre-game show about Chicago State’s financial problems, but I’m assuming it’s still an issue.  Coach Atkinson said they were going to being sensitive and respectful to Chicago State in her interview.  Coach Trakh was similarly gracious in his comments about them.  I’m not sure how that actually influenced any decision-making in the game though.  Their players and coaches have to hate opponents saying things like that and even more hate not being able to really compete. 


First Quarter
Tonishia Childress was again starting instead of Monique Mills.  Actually after introductions, the house lights didn’t come until right before the tipoff.  Adam was having flashbacks to that volleyball game last year (9-8-17) where they were out for 20 minutes.  I wasn’t there, but was listening over the radio and I almost felt like I was.  (Nice job broadcasting, Adam.)  If that had happened again, I doubt both teams would have been out on the floor doing the Electric Slide like the volleyball girls did. 

The Aggie Men were pouring it on in Chicago.  In Las Cruces, Chicago State was more than holding its own.  Freshman Tyeshia Bowers, the Cougars’ best scorer went down early with an apparent twisted ankle, just like last year when one of their players was injured early.  The Aggies looked disorganized at times.  The worst example came when Monique came in and a set pass flew right behind her as she was running to another spot.  Later back at the bench, Mo looked like a player that had lost her confidence.  This seems like a coaching issue.

Early on, the Aggies seemed to be making an effort to feed Brooke Salas the ball.  She was 22 points away from 1,000.  She scored six in the first.  Gia Pack gave her a great pass on a fast break for one of those baskets.  The biggest cheer from crowd came from Zaire Williams making a flying block.  Adam pointed out she was the shortest player on the court at the time.  It was a tight affair after 10 minutes, 17-15 Aggies.

Second Quarter
The Men were up by 25 in their game.  Bowers was back out for the Cougars.  She was running hard down court on her first play, so she was okay or had a very high tolerance for pain.  Baylee Robinson came in for the Aggies.  I get the impression that the coach really wants to get her more playing time.  She’s a big presence in the lane and is already a junior, being a transfer player. 

The Cougars were making shots and the Aggies were again not getting theirs to fall in, much like the UC- Santa Barbara game.  At 25-18 Cougars, their bench went crazy.  Timeout Aggies.  The Cougars managed to increase their lead to 10.  Monique came back in and hit a three.  That was good to see.  The Aggie defense stayed tough and forced a shot clock violation on one possession.  Brooke got a steal, but tripped and hit the floor hard.  We all got worried.  She was okay, but that probably left a mark.  She came out before the end of the quarter and looked gassed.  It was 32-17 Chicago State at the half.  It was good the Aggies had closed the gap, but the Cougars had to be feeling this could be the day their losing streak might end.

Just after this game reached halftime, PA Kevin (the new guy that was a former co-worker of mine) announced that the Men had won in Chicago, 97-60.  I really hadn’t been following the game, but the outcome didn’t surprise me as I’d gotten updates.  I only caught that Joe Garza had scored six in the postgame.  Coach Jans sounded a lot more relaxed in the interview than I’d heard him in previous interviews. 

The halftime entertainment was a game of “bungie-basketball.”  They’d picked a couple for the event.  The guy basically dragged his girl down the court to score.  She had remarkably good humor about it, since she was likely getting the prize cooler either way.
Third Quarter
Oddly given what happened next, it was almost two minutes before either team scored.  Brooke put up an airball from ten feet.  Adam was quite shocked and sure that the ball was actually partly blocked, but unacknowledged by the ref.  Then the flood gates opened. 

It started with Zaire getting a great assist to Brooke in transition.  Timeout.  The Cheerleaders got abused again on back-to-back timeouts, as a media timeout came up right after.  Then Brooke popped a three.  Monique got a block and a three.  She was looking more energetic later on the sidelines.  Brooke dropped another three.  She was all smiles with her teammates.  It was great to see her happy.  The crowd was loving it as the Aggies had erased the deficit. 

After back-to-back changes of possession at midcourt, Brooke put up another bucket.  She was up to 20.  At the last second of the quarter, she dropped another.  That was #1,000 for her.  They made an announcement going into the break, which got the crowd into it.  Oddly last year, Brianna Freeman also scored her one-thousandth point for the program in this matchup.  That was in her senior year.  Brooke is a junior.  Her two points also gave the Aggies a one-point lead, 50-49. 

Fourth Quarter
There was no stopping her now.  Brooke opened up with a steal and two more points.  Then a rebound and a foul and two more points.  Gia made a no-look pass to a wide-open Brooke under the basket.  There were two more.  The crowd roared.  Ron was smiling in satisfaction.  The Aggies started pulling away. 

The Cougars were making little mistakes on court.  I’m going to say it was likely because they were tired, since they couldn’t properly substitute.  I can’t fault their effort or skill or even their mindset.  Like I wrote last year, this is a good team, but in bad circumstances.  With the lead, the Aggies turned up the defense.  They went to a full-court press, which confused the Cougars.  They called a time out to escape it once.  They couldn’t make it across the timeline the next time for a turnover.  Finally, they broke the trap next time and managed to get it to Bowers for an uncontested layup. 

Meanwhile, Brooke got another rebound and two more points.  She followed that with a steal and an assist to Tonishia.  Bowers fouled out after an heroic effort today.  I think I heard her getting a round of applause from the crowd.  (I was applauding her.)  Ines Mata Boix for the Cougars also came out before the end.  She may have been injured on the arm, rather than fouling out.  She was definitely looked in pain on the bench.  She put in a good effort too.  The last minute got sloppy and up tempo, but it didn’t affect the outcome.  74-59 Aggies was our final.  Unlike last year, this was a much tighter game.  The Aggies subs weren’t in playing out the fourth quarter this time.

I realize this post sounded like a homily praising the greatness of Brooke Salas.  Well today, she was the team, doing it all over the court.  She scored more than twice as many points as anyone else (33 points).  She was getting rebounds, steals, and assists.  Brooke, you played well and had fun out there.  You can do both.  I was encouraged to see her passing the ball.  If we look back on this game after the season, perhaps we’ll say this is when Brooke became the leader for the team and made her teammates better in the process.  Maybe.  Not that Brooke was going to sneak up on anybody in the conference, but after this game, she’ll have a bull’s-eye on her.  If I was in charge of any of those opponents, I’d double-team the blonde for the whole game and dare the other girls to beat me.  This is why Brooke needs to look for every opportunity to help them score. 

I felt genuinely bad for Chicago State.  Their 52-game losing streak is undeserved based on the players they have.  If I’d seen them win, I would have felt good for them.  (And really worried about the rest of the Aggies’ season.  Coach Atkinson should be mentally thanking Brooke for pulling their rears and her job out of the fire today.)  I have to praise Tyeshia Bowers’ 27-point effort today.  I thought she was done in the first quarter, but you could feel her determination out on court for the rest of the game.  The key stat for the day seemed to 25 turnovers for Chicago State.  They can work on that, but I don’t know what they can do about their lack of players.  

Athletic Director Mario Moccia and his famous little daughter, Twitterless Gemma, came in late and sat behind the Chicago State bench (?).  That Twitterless Gemma nickname gets a chuckle out of me every time.  Ah, daddy-daughter time at the ball game.  I’m guessing he wanted to talk to the Cougars’ long-time coach, Angela Jackson, after the game.  I’m sure he congratulated Brooke too.   

After the game, Ron and I went to Subway to use a gift card I’d gotten for Christmas.  I bit into my meatball and was shocked.  The bread was fresh!  I hadn’t had fresh bread at Subway since the 90’s.  This is a potential game-changer for my fast-food consumption.  Was this a fluke or a franchise mandate?  Well, good game, Aggie victory, and a good meal.  It was a good Saturday. 


Friday, January 5, 2018

Hot Stove Baseball

It’s been a disastrous off-season so far.  Shohei Ohtani went to the AngelsDerek Jeter, still working for the Yankees, traded Giancarlo Stanton to them (or alternately, sabotaged them with a high-priced/injury prone player).  At least the Giants picked up Evan Longoria from the Rays for some spare parts.  This was a great deal . . . two years ago.  At this point in Evan’s career with five years left on his contract, I’m not entirely sure.  The change of scenery should boost his numbers for at least next season.  We’re still waiting to see where the free agent Royals will end up.  The Pirates may be about to disband.  Thank goodness.  After all, the Yankees still have some positions they need all-stars at.  I’ve had a great run with World Series winners for the last decade.  I’m afraid that may be coming to an end for the next.   

So, I’m listening to ESPN Radio in the morning during my vacation.  (I know what you’re thinking, “Why?”  Because I needed something to listen to while I’m exercising.)  There are these two idiots on in the morning.  (Who cares what their names are.  Everyone on ESPN Radio is basically just a mouthpiece for the people running the network.)  Monday, one of them started crying on the air as he read the resignation letter of the head of ESPN because of declining revenue . . . err . . . pill popping.  I’m sure this guy hasn’t been doing drugs all along, but as long as the network was making money, it was okay.  The crying host made sure to mention that this guy did so much for minorities.  Actually that was the only accomplishment he mentioned.  I’m sure minorities are ever so grateful for his support, which wasn’t detailed in any way.   It’s almost like it was just words, and I’m sure this wasn’t just virtue signaling to promote the Crier’s career.     

Two days later, MLB Commissioner Rob Manfred was announced as the guest later in the show.  “Oh, good,” I thought, “Some offseason baseball talk.”  Ominously, the Crier said he was going to go after Manfred because of what’s been going on with the Marlins this winter (and to somehow bolster his flagging manhood).  Sure enough, the Crier started off the interview by calling Manfred a liar.  It just got more contentious from there.  The main problem with the questions was that he was asking the wrong person.  If you dummies had Derek Jeter on, he would have deserved the hard questions about blowing up the current franchise.  (Which has happened for the fourth time in the Marlins’ fairly short existence.)  Manfred doesn’t run the Marlins.  Yelling at him doesn’t do any good. 

The MLB is somehow complicit for allowing this ownership group to buy the team and thus allowing this to happen?  Given that the franchise is apparently pretty deep in debt, dumping salary is the smart move to right the ship economically.  Yes, the guys who own the team are rich, but they didn’t get rich pouring money into money-losing businesses.  Not every new ownership group is going to waste millions upon millions of dollars in bad player deals like the Dodgers’ owners did right after they bought the team.  Getting rid of the star players will probably decrease attendance, but the stars weren’t exactly packing them anyway.  Cutting expenses may help the bottom line more than worrying about revenue. 

Why should anybody in Miami support the team under these conditions, namely a betraying loser in a new taxpayer funded stadium?  They probably shouldn’t.  Actually, except for playoff runs, they haven’t been doing that for franchise’s entire existence.  It’s a bit of a vicious cycle in South Florida: put together a winner or the fans don’t show up, but then the team can’t afford to keep them together, because the fan support isn’t there for the rest of the season regardless.  Finally, Manfred had to take control of the conversation and basically say that this is what teams in small baseball markets have to do to compete, teardown and build up with prospects.  It’s worked for the Royals and the Astros recently; it’s a legitimate, winning strategy.     

The ESPN hosts were proud of themselves after the interview and were pretty sure that the MLB Commissioner wouldn’t be appearing on their show again.  Would these guys treat the NFL or NBA commissioners like this in an interview?  (Only if they wanted to get fired immediately.)  What hard-hitting question would they ask the NFL commissioner anyway?  “Why aren’t you forcing every player to take a knee!”  If Jeter had condescended to go on your little show, you wouldn’t have acted like this.  You couldn’t have asked the hard questions while kissing his ass at the same time.  Apparently the Marlins Man, who is a Marlins fan in spite of all the other teams’ games he goes to, did actually go after Jeter at a press conference.  The ESPN dimwits went after the Marlins Man for wasting Jeter’s precious time.  I don’t object to the misdirected questions (they were legit, but at the wrong person), but the confrontational manner of questioning was unacceptable, because you wouldn’t have done it this way to anyone else in sports.  It’s just the usual agenda of hating baseball taken to its logical conclusion at the four-letter network. 

These jokers didn’t even discuss possible rules changes with Manfred.  They mentioned that horrid “bonus batter” concept before the interview.  (Don’t do it.  Just don’t.)  Then the next ESPN Radio host came on and announced he was quitting.  What a network!  I did have one little, honest question that came up during the interview.  The Crier said that ESPN had bought Fox, and he said it twice, so I don’t think he was misspeaking.  I thought Fox didn’t sell their news and sports divisions to Disney.  Did the regional Fox Sports networks get sold to ESPN?  I don’t know.  This could be a poor development.  ESPN will run them right into the ground.  

Thursday, January 4, 2018

NM State Aggies vs Western NM Mustangs Women’s Basketball 12-31-17

“We’re the fourteenth car in the parking lot, dude!”  Ron and I arrived at the Pan-Am Center early and the place looked kind of deserted.  I remember going to this game with this matchup with the Western New Mexico Mustangs on New Year’s Eve last year with a fear of being the only person there.  Certainly Friday’sgame had me legitimately worried.  There was an electronic sign at the entrance welcoming the Football team Saturday morning and saying “We’re proud of you.”  Given their very late arrival in Las Cruces from Tucson, this was the best the university could do.  Hopefully, there will be a proper ceremony at some point with the fans involved.  Once inside, Ron started counting individual fans.  Thankfully, at least enough eventually showed up for it to be a kind of lousy crowd, instead of embarrassing.  I might have thought they’d invite the Football team to the game to be honored, but this wasn’t the day for that. 

One of the fans there was Danny, who I’d met at the soccer matches this year.  I chatted with him for a minute.  He also follows Western NM sports.  “At least they’re consistent: they never win.”  Yeah, they were 0-12 for the season, 1-34 going back to last year.  This was just an exhibition game for them.  It didn’t count for their record.  They were seriously not expecting to win.  Ron was scouting their team while they were practicing.  One of their girls was shooting the lights out behind the arc.  She didn’t start and just made a couple of appearances in the game though.  He liked their energy, while the Aggie girls looked listless and lethargic.  The Mustangs were fairly short.  Their tallest player, who reminded me of Megan Hart on our Volleyball team, was injured and not suited up. 

Adam Young was there doing the radio.  He provided some more stats from the Friday game, namely that the team went 1 of 15 in shooting three’s.  Jasmine Cooper did have a career high in scoring though.  His talk with Coach Atkinson focused on praise for Tonishia Childress.  (I’d think Coop would have merited a little love after her performance.)  The Coach liked Tonishia’s enthusiasm during the game and in practice and would be starting her over, usual starter, Monique Mills.  Okay, no offense to Tonishia, but this seemed more like a shot at Mo than someone else earning the spot.  I’m sure I’ll never know what the problem is, but I do know that Mo can play well and I want her starting.  Unfortunately, there was no explanation for the poor team shooting by Adam or the coach.    

Pistol Pete and a full complement of Cheerleaders arrived on time for this game.  One of the girls was in a cast with a broken leg.  The guy I’ve called the “Aggie commercial voice” was doing the PA.  And we were all set for basketball.         

First Quarter
Brooke Salas looked good today.  She got a steal and an assist to Gia Pack.  She made a mid-court steal and a no-look, behind the back pass down court.  When the resulting layup missed, she got the rebound and the basket.  She got a block late in the quarter.  I also have a have a cryptic, scribbled note about an assist to Jeneva Toilolo.  It must have been good, because there’s a star by it.  This is the kind of leadership quality I’ve been looking for in Brooke.  Not just playing well, but making her teammates better as well.  Unfortunately, there was one troubling stat for her.  This would be the second game in a row for Brooke without a three, in spite of several attempts.        

Monique did come in eventually, along with her sister Dominique Mills.  I hadn’t seen them in a while before Friday.  I think they’d both had their hair highlighted.  At 22-6 Aggies, freshmen Pam Wilmore and Kaeli Atkinson came in.  26-13 Aggies after ten minutes.    

Second Quarter
The Mustangs were actually not playing badly.  They were pretty fundamental, but were giving up height and size at about every position, even with the Aggie bench on court.  One aspect of that size advantage was that the Aggies’ interior defense was almost impenetrable to the Mustangs.  They were having a hard time getting a shot off at all whenever the game was in a half-court set.  I also noticed that their coach remained seated during the game instead of working the sidelines. 

Baylee Robinson came in (I think her and Zaire Williams are competing for best hair), along with Aailyah Prince.  Prince (that’s just easier to type than Aaliyah) got a three on a bank and then another three on the next trip down.  Brooke, on the bench, ran down the line high-fiving everyone.  Kaeli got in on the act with her first college three.  Brooke was dancing afterward.  She loves it when the bench players score.  Zaire also got a couple of three’s this half, so hopefully she’s got her shooting touch back.  55-25 Aggies at the half.

The entertainment was a game of musical chairs with a layup with some little kids.  They didn’t quite get the rules at first.  The littlest kid, maybe about four years old, had no chance of making a basket.  Pete came in to help him (or shoot the ball for him).  A little girl won with some clutch shooting.

The Aggies were shooting 68% for the half.  Both teams were shooting 43% on threes.  Like I said elsewhere, the Aggies need to defend the perimeter better.  The Aggies girls made a surprise entrance from the top of the stands.  The PA was momentarily scrambling to announce them.  One of the ball girls big-timed Prince when she wanted a ball.  It takes more than a couple of threes to get the ball girls’ respect.

Third Quarter
The Mustangs came out firing with four points.  Coop got a steal and a layup to break up the run.  Tonishia took a rebound coast-to-coast through traffic for a layup and took a hard foul.  Kaeli came in and got two steals and another three.  Her and Prince were joking with each other on court afterward.  There were a pair of breaks within 10 game-time seconds of each other.  The Aggie Cheerleaders had to run out to perform during both.  They were gassed afterward. 

Kaeli racked up an assist to Coop right after the timeout, but then the game took a dark turn.  Kaeli nearly got a steal, but ended up with a jump ball.  During the scuffle, Adam reported that the Mustang player said something.  It wasn’t much, but it set Kaeli off and almost started a fight.  Not that I doubt her toughness, but she looks like a sweet girl, so this development was a bit shocking.  Both girls got a technical.

Next up, Jeneva got a foul and was called for a technical on top of it.  The referees had some rules confusion.  The Mustangs ended up with four free throws, since the Aggies were now over the foul limit.  Brooke then got tripped on a fast break.  It was probably incidental contact, but didn’t occur at a good time.  Prince had words with the Mustang player.  Jade Botelho on the Mustangs went over to talk to the other girl to make sure it didn’t escalate.  Jade was having a great game offensively, but really having to work for it as Aissatou Fall, six inches taller and bigger, was put on her defensively.  The Mustang bench gave out a big cheer for Jenika Padilla when she put in a three, rooting for a freshman.    

Sara Lopez came on as the last Aggie to play.  She got some applause.  I was glad to see her in.  I’m just kind of pulling for her.  Strangely on the other team, there was another walk-on from El Paso, Takiyah Lopez.  She was a former Aggie from a couple of years ago.  It’s probably an interesting story how she ended up at Western New Mexico.  

Fourth Quarter
Pete came by.  I got a handshake.  Back at the game, Aissatou picked up a foul that she disagreed with.  She put the ball on the floor, instead of handing it to the ref and picked up a technical too.  She did come back into the game and got a field goal, which caused the bench to erupt for her.  Prince was still out playing.  She blocked an inbounds pass right into the ref.  He laughed it off.  Unfortunately after playing so well, Prince reverted back to playing in an out-of-control fashion, which resulted in a bunch of misses.

Sara was back out.  She fearlessly drove into the lane and picked up a foul.  Sara converted on the free throws.  She took a couple more shots, but they didn’t go in.  The bench was pulling for her.  Brooke was smiling while watching.  I think they’re friends.  The Aggie bench finished with a four-minute scoring drought, but the reserves did score 50 in the game.  Our final: Aggies 89, Mustangs 60.    

Well, it was a graceless 29-point win over a winless Division II team.  (They were up by 40 at one point.)  I guess we’ll take it.  Frankly this win makes the Friday game all the more befuddling.  Granted they were shooting against a shorter, less talented team, but shots were there today.  I feel like this game exposed the team more than enhanced it.  Those technicals by the bench players revealed a real lack of discipline.  Aaliyah Prince showed some promise finally, but then she fell right back into being pickup game showboater.  Finally, Monique Mills and the Coach need to kiss and make up.  I don’t know what happened between them, but you two need each other to have any success this year.  Get on the same page ladies.    

My player of the game is Jade Botelho on the Mustangs.  This career two-point average player put in 21 points today.  She didn’t seem to be enjoying it though.  The Aggies were putting the big bodies on her down low and she was giving up significant height and weight on them.  It was a battle in the lane for her all game.  Everyone I’m tempted to single out on the Aggies for a good game, had some significant issues with their play.  No prizes this time.  I’m also a bit bent about the ticket price.  I remember they announced at an earlier game that this was going to be a discounted ticket game, but it wasn’t. 

Coach Atkinson called a meeting out on the middle of the court after the game, which I haven’t seen before.  It didn’t seem like an especially angry talk, but I was too far away to know.  She was definitely unhappy with the three technicals in the post-game interview.  (Meanwhile, Adam just about ran out of breath reading off all of the individual player stats.)  Afterward, the girls dispersed.  Several went into the crowd to talk to friends.  The Mills sisters walked off chatting with each other.  Ron and I went off to face our pizza destiny at Papa Johns.  It was pricey, but oh so good.  The Garlic Knots were to die for.  Ron pronounced new Salted Caramel Chocolate Chip Cookie the most sweetest thing ever.  He reacted like I do to chili in my food.  I thought cookie was just okay sweet, but his display made me too embarrassed to get seconds.  Happy New Years everyone!      

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

Arizona Bowl-NM State vs Utah State 12-29-17

After getting back from the basketball massacre and getting lunch, I watched a bit of the Sun Bowl at home.  It was a Chamber of Commerce day in El Paso for the game between NC State and Arizona State.  The place looked full.  I didn’t really watch as came in late and NC State seemed well on their way to victory, though it was a high-scoring game.  There was a bigger event on the agenda. 

This was the big day for Aggie Football, their 57-year curse-breaking Arizona Bowl game against the Utah State Aggies.  Much of the radio pre-game was actually about the Aggies’ last bowl game in 1960 at the Sun Bowl against this same team.  That NMSU team was 11-0 for the season and led the nation in offense.  The Sun Bowl was also a premier bowl game then.  In the present day, Aggies fans had “taken over Tucson,” with crimson being seen everywhere in town.  The Stadium Network had Jaleel Scott’s one-hand touchdown catch earlier this season against Arizona State as their number two play of the year.     

The “happiest bowl fans in the country” had sold out the team’s allotment of tickets (something like 7,000) and reportedly filled three-quarters of the stadium.  Even with over 26,000 in attendance at their last home game (nearly a sellout with capacity at 28,800 at Aggie Memorial), the university was worried that the fans wouldn’t buy tickets to a bowl game, even a close one in Tucson.  They thought it would be too expensive for them.  Well, they sold out of their original 5,000 allotment inside of two weeks. 

Athletic Director Mario Moccia was estimating 10,000 NMSU fans, but in an interview with the Sunbelt Conference commissioner, he thought it was more like 15 to 20,000.  I heard a number afterward that 40,000 total tickets were sold.  Bowl and city officials must have been ecstatic.  Some of the proceeds of sales went to charity too.  


The day before, there was a group picture at work with people dressed in Aggie gear supporting the team.  The picture even got retweeted by football team.  I bought two Aggie football shirts recently, but I didn’t get in the picture, but I’m not bitter.  I had a co-worker in a real quandary.  He’d already had tickets to the Sun Bowl and wasn’t sure which game to go to.  He made the right choice and went to Tucson.  Another co-worker guaranteed an Aggie win, being a smart ass, since both teams are called the “Aggies.”  I’ve covered the Utah State Women’s Soccer team here and referred to them as “USA” and the “US Aggies.”  I refrain from that in the recap.  

First Quarter
Jack Nixon, the voice of Aggie Sports, finally pronounced the name of sponsor, Route 66 Casino, correctly for the kickoff.  However, the usual promotion for that opening kickoff was not in effect for this game, so Jack backtracked and simply thanked them for their support this year.  The Aggies took their opening drive downfield for a field goal, 3-0 NMSU.          

What happened next was the usual stomach-churning thing that proceeds an Aggie blowout loss.  Utah State took their first kickoff all the way for a touchdown, 7-3 Utah State.  I could hear the fans in attendance and the entire city groaning.  Jason Huntley was not taking any of that.  He took the ensuing kickoff right back down their throats for a touchdown, 10-7 NMSU.  I believe this was the turning point of the game, if not for the Aggie team, then at least for Aggie fans.  It was going to be very hard to tune away after that resounding answer. 

Utah State would have to earn their way downfield next time.  The Aggie defense had two penalties, but held.  The Aggies had to punt on their possession.  Utah State lined to punt on their next drive, but instead, faked it.  The fumble on the play, however, was genuine.  Unfortunately, the Aggies were intercepted right after.  Utah State drove down the field as the quarter ended.  Whew!  We saw a little of everything in 15 minutes. 

Second Quarter
The U-tags (as Jack was calling them) led off the quarter with a field goal to finish off their drive.  The score was tied at 10.  I left for work at that point.  The game was on in the break room there, though no one was watching at the time.  I ran into a couple of co-workers who said that the Aggies were now up 13-10 after a field goal.  I had to start working, but put the game on the radio next to me.  In the last minute of the half, Larry Rose III fumbled deep in Aggie territory.  The defense managed to hold them to a field goal.  13 all at the half. 

Third Quarter
A bunch of work from my vacation last week suddenly resurfaced and was placed in my arms.  This is why I hate taking vacation.  I got pretty busy working, but was still listening to the game on the radio.  Utah State missed a field goal.  The Aggies pulled off a fake punt of their own to get a first down.  Unfortunately there was another interception right after.  Terrill Hanks managed to grab a fumble deep in Aggie territory to keep them from capitalizing on the turnover.
Fourth Quarter
The Aggies still couldn’t move the ball on offense.  Punter Peyton Theisler had been getting a workout in this game.  It wasn’t entirely surprising that a bad punt happened, especially backed up in the endzone.  This was real bad.  Utah State got the ball on the NMSU 20.  A quick effort gave them a touchdown and a 20-13 lead.  I’m sure that on TV, “goat-cam” was in effort for Peyton.  After another ineffective Aggie drive, the U-tags had a drive that resulted in another missed field goal. 

Late in the game, I’d like to think that the Aggies, not only really wanted to win, but also wanted to pick up their teammate, not wanting to hang a loss on Peyton’s one bad punt.  After only having one first down in the second half, the Aggie offense finally picked up some steam.  Jaleel Scott came up with a big catch downfield, though he hobbled off afterward.  Larry Rose came up with a circus catch to keep the drive going.  Johnathan Boone saved the Aggies’ season with a fourth down conversion catch. 

This was all feeling a little familiar, like the Aggies’ final drive versus South Alabama.  Tyler Rogers then found Jaleel Scott in the endzone, who made an over-the-shoulder catch, but out-of-bounds.  Or was it?  The officials started looking at the play.  The pro-NMSU crowd started going crazy watching the replay, as it showed Jaleel dragging a foot behind him inbounds as he caught the ball.  Touchdown Aggies!  The score was tied 20-20.   

By this point, I had abandoned work and was watching in the break room.  The husband of a just-retired co-worker was already there watching.  His wife was saying goodbye to people.  He tried to talk her into staying for the end, but when it went to overtime, she convinced him to go.  I tried telling them the overtime rules aren’t timed and they should stick around, but to no avail.  My boss, working late, sat in to watch with me. 


The Aggies won the toss and decided to go second.  The Aggie defense kept Utah State out of the endzone.  They set up for another kick and it sailed wide.  That was their kicker’s fourth missed kick of the game at the worst possible time.  I think it was mentioned he was like an all-conference kicker this year, but you can’t blame him.  He was kicking against destiny.  On the Aggies’ second play, Larry Rose III broke two tackles and galloped 21 yards into the endzone and right into legend.  57 years of bowl frustration ended for the Aggies.  26-20 Aggies in overtime.     

I was jumping up and down watching.  I didn’t even try to restrain myself.  The crowd didn’t either.  They stormed the field again.  A reporter on-field had a heck of a time trying to do interviews with the happy mass of fans and players there.  They couldn’t even find the hero, Larry Rose.  The TV studio guys were immensely proud of New Mexico State and their fans.  They heaped praised on Tyler Rogers’ clutch fourth quarter.  Checking on the team’s Twitter feed after the game, I saw Adam Young doing some interviews.  He found Larry Rose and asked him about being down in the fourth quarter.  “I told the guys, ‘We’ve been here before.  We know what to do.’”  That they did. 

It’s almost impossible to sum up this season for New Mexico State Football in a couple of paragraphs.  The story began in 2013 with the hiring of Coach Doug Martin.  From there, it was the recruiting and training and experience of this group of players that led to this moment.  There’s no real telling what’s going to happen next with the program going independent.  The team showed they can really play in the clutch, even having to carry their program’s history on their backs the whole time.  The fans really came out and supported them at the last home game and at this bowl game and had a good time doing so.  National recognition has followed, almost priceless good publicity for a nearly anonymous hard luck football team. 

This bowl win was a bit like a professional team winning a championship right before asking for a new stadium, but there are no guarantees in this situation.  I have to think if the team can do well and the fans show up for the next two years, there will be a conference invitation.  From there, the program’s future should be secured for another half-dozen years.  This football team may always have to prove itself to conferences, to opponents, to the media, and to the fans.  That was part of the coach’s motto of “Playing with a chip on our shoulders.”  We’ve all seen that that can be a winning strategy for New Mexico State Football.     

(Photo from Las Cruces Sun-News)