Fresh off a record-breaking season, the New Mexico State baseball team eyes its second consecutive WAC tournament title.
In the 2018 season, NMSU baseball rallied to its first WAC tournament title in school history. The Aggies also competed in the NCAA Regionals for the first time since 2012. New Mexico State went 0-2 in the NCAA Lubbock Regional tournament, falling to No. 9 Texas Tech and Kent State.
Head Coach Brian Green turned many heads last year. The fifth-year coach ended last season with 40 regular-season wins and a 17-7 conference record. Green’s efforts led to a contract extension with the Aggies through the 2022 season.
Coach Green on his new extension said, “It’s an honor anytime as a coach in any sport. You’re just trying to do a great job for the university and provide value for the university and getting rewarded with an extension is a very satisfying feeling and is a very humbling feeling, too.”
Coach Green and the Aggies are predicted to win the WAC title again this season according to College Baseball Daily. New Mexico State will have a target on its back coming off a solid year. No matter the pressure they will be facing early in the season, the Aggies will be aiming for the WAC tournament title again this year.
This year’s team lost two All-American players from last season, Kyle Bradish and Jonathan Groff. Aggie baseball saw Bradish get drafted in the fourth round (121st overall) by the Los Angeles Angels — the highest an Aggie has ever been selected in the MLB draft.
“To lose those two guys is clearly a lot of innings, wins, strikeouts, a lot of everything, a lot of experience,” coach Green said. “We like our experience coming back. Anytime you have a good season you’re going to lose somebody who was very talented. We still have a lot of experience and expectations are going to be high.”
Losing the top two pitchers from a year ago, the Aggie baseball team doesn’t have a set ace to begin the season. Two players that will be battling it out on the mound to secure the job will be seniors Brock Whittlesey and Justin Dehn.
Brock Whittlesey made a lot of his appearances last season coming out of the bullpen. Whittlesey had 12 saves on the season and had an ERA of 2.95. Whittlesey will be shifting from being a closer to a potential starter on the mound. Whittlesey and his competition for the starting pitcher spot, Justin Dehn, both totaled 60 strikeouts last season.
The baseball team named Caleb Henderson as captain this season. Henderson is a redshirt senior this year. In the 2018 season, Henderson was in front of all other Aggies in hits, doubles, home runs and RBIs. He recorded 78 hits, 20 doubles, 10 home runs and 65 RBIs. Henderson also recorded one of the best fielding percentages among the Aggies with a percentage of .992.
Leadership doesn’t revolve around just one individual this season. Coach Green said there are several players acting as leaders and taking more command out on the field. On team leadership, freshman Nick Gonzales said “Caleb Henderson, [Tristen Carranza], Brock [Whittlesey], Justin Dehn, those are the guys that everyone looks up to and respects their word, no matter what.”
Gonzales, who is the first NMSU Aggie to be honored with the WAC Freshman of the Year award, led the team with a .347 batting average and a .596 slugging percentage. Gonzales finished with a total of nine home runs, tied for second most with Tristen Carranza.
Another notable returner for the Aggies this season is Joey Ortiz. He will have command of the infield at the shortstop position and will be looking for a solid season after being named to the All-WAC preseason team.
Coach Green is in search of another great season in 2019. The Aggies first matchup of the 2019 campaign is against Texas Southern at Presley Askew Field in Las Cruces on Friday, Feb. 15, with first pitch set for 4:05 p.m.