Traffic jam atop WAC baseball race

What's more congested than the Spaghetti Bowl area at 5 p.m. on a weekday?

If you guessed the Western Athletic Conference baseball pennant race, go to the head of the class. It either means you are a college baseball diehard or have no life.

With the WAC season pretty much at the halfway point, all six teams have a viable chance to win the championship and the automatic NCAA berth that comes with it.

Nevada leads the pack with an 8-4 record, followed by San Jose State (9-6), Rice (8-7), Louisiana Tech (7-8), Fresno State (5-7) and Hawai'i (5-10).

The logjam isn't a surprise to either Nevada's Gary Powers or San Jose State's Sam Piraro.

"This is the most underrated conference in the country," Piraro said. "Allen Squires of Baseball America wrote that in preseason of 2004. He did a big thing about it. The thing that makes it so tough is the travel and the amount of time you have to spend on the road."

Funny, but that's the same thing the WAC basketball coaches complain about. There are very few two-hour trips in the WAC like there is in the Pac-10 and Big West.

"I think everybody has improved," Powers said. "I've said before that every game would be a dogfight and that we were in for 30 dogfights, and so far it's playing out that way.

"Louisiana Tech is always tough. They have good players and a good pitching staff. They have played and beaten some good teams. We have just happened to have some success when we play them."

What make this a different season than the last three is that Rice isn't, at least yet, running away with the WAC like it has the previous seasons.

In the past, teams would be hoping to get enough wins to qualify for an at-large bid because they knew they would be unable to overtake Rice. It seems the opposite this year. Rice got off to a fast start and has 24 or 25 wins at this point, and nobody else has more than 20. It seems teams will have a better chance to win the conference than get an at-large berth.

That is especially true with Nevada. The Pack has ugly losses to St. Mary's, Pacific and Cal on its plate. It did beat Oklahoma and UCLA earlier this year. With 20 games left, the Pack (19-14) probably need to win at least 13 of those to have an outside shot at an at-large. Not an easy task by any means. One of those games is against Stanford at Peccole Park, and it would be a feather in Nevada's hat if it could knock off the vaunted Cardinal.

Piraro said he expects it will take possibly up to 35 wins to get in, and that's probably a pretty accurate assessment.

TAYLOR GETS DRAFTED

Louisiana Tech's Erica Taylor, whose standout play in the second half of the season carried the Lady Techsters into the NCAA Tournament, was selected in the second round of last weekend's WNBA draft.

Taylor, who averaged 11.2 points per game, was taken 19th overall by the Washington Mystics. Taylor, who averaged 23.7 in the 2004 postseason, was considered a lock to be a first-round pick until she got pregnant. She is married to unbeaten middleweight boxer Jermain Taylor.

Taylor is the 13th Lady Techster to be drafted. At least one Lady Techster has been drafted seven of the last nine years.

PLAYERS OF THE WEEK

Louisiana Tech third baseman Ryan Hamilton and Rice pitcher Eddie Degerman have been selected as the WAC player and pitcher of the week.

Hamilton extended his WAC-leading hit streak to 20 games by hitting safely in each game of the Bulldogs' sweep of Fresno State. He went 5-for-12, including a triple and three-run homer. It is his first WAC Player of the Week award.

Degerman blanked Hawai'i on four hits in a 5-0 win over the weekend. He fanned seven and walked five in improving to 5-0.

Both players won out over very good candidates from Nevada - outfielder Jacob Butler and pitcher Ryan Rodriguez.

Butler went 4-for-10, all homers, and drove in nine runs to spark Nevada to two wins over San Jose State. Rodriguez threw seven strong innings in Nevada's 9-2 win last Saturday.

FRESNO STATE LOSES ONE

Dominique White, who split time at point guard last season, has left the Fresno State basketball squad.

Jake Bragonier, the men's basketball sports information contact, didn't think the move was because of the coaching change.

Bragonier believes the White wanted more playing time. Bragonier said that White was looking at going somewhere closer to Illinois where he grew up.

Speaking of Fresno State, the Bulldogs have hired Heath Schroyer as their new associate head coach. Schroyer previously worked with new head coach Steve Cleveland at Fresno City College and BYU. Schroyer most recently was at Portland State University.

NEW LOOK IN HOOPS

According to a source within the Western Athletic Conference, the proposed basketball schedule will have a much different look.

With only nine teams, there won't be travel partners, and games will be played on Mondays, Wednesdays, Thursdays and Saturdays. The WAC will inherit the 9 p.m. time slot on ESPN's Big Monday broadcasts.

n Darrell Moody can be reached at dmoody@nevadaappeal.com, or by calling (775) 881-1281

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