Cal State Bakersfield's baseball team will see familiar faces across the field today when the Roadrunners begin their quest to earn a berth to the NCAA Nationals.
The top-seeded Roadrunners (35-21) open the eight-team Western Athletic Conference Tournament against No. 8 San Jose State (17-38) at 1 p.m. today in Grand Prairie, Texas -- the same team that got into this tournament by beating CSUB 2-of-3 last weekend.
"We'll see the same guy we saw Friday," CSUB coach Bill Kernen said, referring to San Jose State starting pitcher David Wayne Russo. "There is a familiarity factor, but I'm not sure if it's an advantage or disadvantage."
Kernen will start his ace, senior left-handed Jeff McKenzie (12-2, 1.79 ERA).
McKenzie took a hard-luck loss in Friday's game when the Spartans scored twice in the bottom of the ninth to win 2-1. Russo got a no-decision, allowing the only Roadrunner run in seven innings.
The WAC Tournament is broken down into two four-team pods. The two "pod" winners will play Sunday in a winner-take-all game to decide the tournament winner and what is expected to be the WAC's lone qualifier into the NCAA Tournament.
Kernen said he is not overjoyed with the tournament format.
"It's tough for me to swallow, to be honest," he said. "We had the hardest schedule -- five road series against only four at home, and on the road against the toughest teams."
CSUB, playing its first season in the WAC after four seasons as a Division I independent, finished in a first-place tie at 18-9 in WAC games with Texas-Arlington. Bakersfield got the top seed because the Roadrunners beat Arlington 2-of-3 in the head-to-head series.
"If you do what we've done, you'd like to have the kids rewarded," Kernen said. "We know what we need to do. We think we're the best team, but we've got to be the best team this week."
A win today is crucial to CSUB's bid to win the tournament, Kernen said.
"You'd better win this one and worry about tomorrow tomorrow," he said.
Kernen has made a change in his starting pitching lineup.
McKenzie and senior right-hander Scott Brattvet have been the top two starters with senior left-hander Jonathan Montoya the No. 3 starter who pitches the Sunday games in the regular season.
But Montoya has been hit hard over his last five starts and will be replaced by senior Chuck Buchanan, Kernen said.
Montoya's ERA over his last five games is 9.74. He's allowed 30 hits and 20 earned runs in his last 19 innings.
Kernen said he's leaning on having Buchanan start CSUB's second game, Thursday at 5 p.m. vs. fifth-seeded Sacramento State (33-23), with Brattvet then pitching Friday at 5 p.m. against fourth-seeded Texas-San Antonio (31-23).
If CSUB makes it to the WAC Tournament title game Sunday at 10:45 a.m., Kernen will bring McKenzie back on three days' rest.
"If all three go out and pitch as good as they are we'll be fine," Kernen said. "It's all about our starting pitching. Our bullpen hasn't done well. We've given up games six or seven times."
Kernen said the Roadrunners are healthy. ... The tournament is being held at a minor league stadium, Kernen said. CSUB's workout Tuesday was delayed when a wild thunderstorm blew through the area. Kernen said the forecast is for improving weather with hot and muggy conditions expected. ... The WAC Tournament winner is expected to be the league's only qualifier for the NCAA Tournament because the teams' ratings percentage index (RPI) is not strong enough. RPI is used by the NCAA to help determine at-large postseason qualifiers. RPI is determined by a team's won-lost record, the won-lost record against opponents and the record against the opponents' opponents.
To earn an at-large spot at the NCAAs, Kernen said earlier this year that an RPI had to be no higher than the 40s. CSUB leads all WAC teams with an RPI of 82, followed by Sacramento State (118), Texas State (131), San Antonio (138) and New Mexico State (156). San Jose State's is 271 out of 298 teams with Division I baseball programs.