MWC Tourney Title Up For Grabs

All tickets are on sale as of May 15 for next week's Mountain West Conference Tournament hosted by BYU at Larry H. Miller Field, May 22-25.

Individual game seats now join session passes on the market for the tournament which truly is an open race for any team to secure the NCAA automatic berth. Prior to today, only VIP and All-session passes were for sale, but now fans can purchase tickets ranging from $5 to $12 for reserved seats at specific games or sessions (call 1-800-322-BYU1 or at www.byutickets.com).

Although San Diego State has locked up the regular season crown, the other five teams have legitimate chances to upstage the Aztecs or host Cougars. Seeding is yet-to-be determined for all teams, but BYU will be playing in the 7 p.m. game on May 22. Following is a reason why each team could lay claim to the tourney title.

BYU

As the defending MWC tournament champion, BYU has its work cut out for it.

The Cougars are currently tied with Air Force for third place at 13-13 in the MWC and a half-game behind Utah for second. The Cougars overtook the Utes two weeks ago for second place, but lost two-of-three in Salt Lake City last weekend to fall back to third. But with only a three-game series left for Mountain West teams, BYU will face last-place New Mexico at home, and Utah will battle Air Force at Colorado Springs, Colo.

BYU has had its troubles at the plate on the season, but has improved in league play. The Cougars have the lowest season batting average at .309, but have managed to hit a third-best .339 against MWC opponents. BYU leads in stolen base percentage at 40-for-55 in league games and 84-for 112 on the year.

First baseman Dave Jensen anchors the Cougar offense. Jensen is second in batting average (.449) and RBI (30) in against MWC foes and leads the league in slugging percentage at .720.

Cameron Coughlan leads the league with 25 stolen bases on the year (13 in MWC action) and is tied for the most Mountain West triples with 4.

Sophomore pitcher Jeff Mousser hurled his way to a second-best eight wins against four losses and a 4.89 ERA.

Air Force

The Air Force Academy is currently tied with BYU for third place in the MWC and boasts one of the best starting rotations in Air Force baseball history.

Starters Johnny Koegel (5.65, 6-5), Matt Kaercher (6.44, 7-8) and Erik Fisher (7.95, 3-4) recently pitched three complete games (one each) in a weekend sweep of regular-season champion San Diego State, including a 173- pitch performance by Kaercher to defeat the Aztecs 8-7. The Falcons have a Utah connection in Tooele sophomore pitcher Paul Pratt who got the win in relief over BYU almost a month ago.

Air Force also leads the MWC in stolen bases with 93 (45 in league games). Adam Howes is tied with Cameron Coughlan of BYU for the lead in stolen bases against MWC opponents with 13.

The Falcons will face Utah in Colorado Springs, Colo., this weekend. Utah swept the AFA earlier this year and sits a half game ahead of Air Force and BYU.

AFA has finished last or second to last in each of the last 12 seasons. With only three games left in the conference regular season, the Falcons have a chance at a second place, their best since a second-place finish in 1982 in the Western Athletic Conference North Division. With 26 wins, the Cadets have won the most games in a season since 1995, and the sixth best ever at the Academy.

UNLV

UNLV has an explosive mixture on offense and defense, but has struggled to put it all together. The Rebels have scored the most runs in league games with 239 and have struck out the most MWC batters with 195 (62 looking).

BYU saw the volatile nature of Rebel baseball in the first game of a weekend series in Provo. UNLV scored 19 runs on a record 28 hits on their first day at Larry H. Miller Field. That was the ninth day of a five-game run where the Rebels scored 76 runs.

Infielder Joe Wickman holds the league's highest batting average at .460 and on base percentage at .559. David Trujillo has 12 home runs and 60 RBI.

Utah

Power hitting and a surprising senior season by pitcher Mitch Maio has kept Utah at second in the Mountain West.

Utah leads the MWC with 66 home runs on the year, 33 in league games. The Utes also have the highest season slugging percentage at .514 and total bases at 995.

Nate Weese leads Utah's offense and the MWC with 15 home runs on the year and 8 in league games.

Senior Mitch Maio, after receiving his first start six weeks into this season, leads the Mountain West in wins with 9 and strike outs in league games at 61, (21 looking). He is second in league ERA at 4.06.

San Diego State

What many of the other MWC teams achieve at the plate, the Aztecs defeat with their pitching.

SDSU is the stingiest defense in the Mountain West, holding opponents to a batting average of .266. The Aztec pitchers have a 4.40 ERA on the season and have struck out a league-leading 433 batters.

San Diego State pitchers have allowed the least number of runs with 158, and three of the 10 lowest ERAs come from San Diego State. Closer Royce Ring's 13 saves are good enough for second in the nation.

Aztec fielders make their pitchers' jobs a little easier, registering the least number of errors in league games with 29.

While the SDSU pitchers hold opponents from crossing the plate, opposing pitchers have had some success against the Aztec offense. San Diego State hitters have struck out a league-high 397 times, only slightly lower than the league-leading 433 strikeouts the pitchers have registered.

San Diego State clinched the Mountain West Regular Season Championship with a win over New Mexico last week. They will enter the tournament as the No. 1 seed.

New Mexico

While New Mexico's last place position may not be impressive, their offensive stat sheet has turned some heads.

The Lobos are third in the nation in batting average at .357, and lead the MWC in slugging percentage (.533), hits (360), total bases (538) and the least strikeout (144) in league games. They are also second in runs (234). New Mexico also has four of the eight highest individual batting averages in their lineup.

While the Lobo offense is scoring 8.6 runs per game, the defense is allowing 9.9. New Mexico has the worst team ERA at 9.31, and opposing Mountain West teams hit a league-high .379 against the Lobos.

New Mexico's bright spot is ace pitcher James Vermilyea. With a record of 7-7, Vermilyea has the most season strikeouts at 98 (28 looking) and is sixth in season ERA at 5.60.

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