Updated: March 18, 2013 at 12:00 am
Optimism is high among Air Force baseball players, and this year there are actually numbers to back it up.
The Falcons open the home season Tuesday with a five-game homestand against Nebraska-Omaha and Fresno State after playing 18 games on the road. The past 11 games have seen Air Force go 5-6, with five of those losses coming by just one run – two in extra innings.
For a program that is 331-857 against Division I competition since the mid-1990s, that’s plenty of reason for hope.
“I see the light,” said senior lefty Ben Bertelson, who is second in the Mountain West with 39 strikeouts against just 10 walks in 29 2/3 innings. “We are night and day from what we were freshman year. We’ve progressed. We’ve got the coaches that we need, we’ve got the players, we’ve got the drive, we’ve got the leadership.”
The Falcons own the conference’s third-best ERA at 4.28 and are striking out 8.2 batters per game, up from fewer than six in each of the past three seasons.
“We’ve got a great staff this year,” said catcher Garret Custons, a first-team All-Mountain West selection as a sophomore and a second-team pick last year. “They’re giving us a chance to win every game. You can’t ask for much more, we’ve just got to do our part and hit a little bit.”
Custons and the offense have enjoyed a boost from freshman DH Peter Johnson, who made a quick leap from bench player to No. 4 hitter as he has hit .382 with 14 RBIs over his first 55 at-bats. Johnson’s two-run home run Monday at Nevada helped the Falcons to their first road win in the conference since 2010.
So, the pieces are in place. The task now is to take those one-run losses and turn them into victories.
“We are playing good baseball and we’re right in there with good teams,” said senior second baseman Matthew Roberts. “We’re one play, one at-bat from winning the game. It’s my job as a captain to make sure no one’s confidence is faltering at all and that people are staying focused.”