Santa Clara University Baseball 2002 Season Outlook
Jan. 7, 2002
Baseball at Santa Clara University dates back to 1883, making it the oldest sport on the Mission Campus. With those years comes a tradition of winning. The Broncos have posted nearly 1,800 wins during that time span and a winning percentage of .560. Forty-five former players have made it all the way to the Big Leagues, including Charlie Graham who became the first Santa Clara played to don a Major League Baseball uniform in 1906 when he suited up for the Boston Red Sox.
Including the 2002 season, there have been 35 head coaches during the program's history which have led the Broncos to 12 postseason appearances and one college world series appearance. Santa Clara has claimed 11 conference titles, including eight in the West Coast Conference. There have been 22 All-Americans, nine conference MVPs, six pitchers of the year, five coaches of the year and 202 all-conference selections.
All in all, the history of baseball at Santa Clara is very rich, and one that will be continued in the coming years.
Continuing the Traditon
The 2002 season will mark the beginning of another chapter in the baseball tradition at Santa Clara. New head coach Mark O'Brien brings a history of success with him into his first major collegiate head coaching job.
Over the last three seasons O'Brien helped guide Stanford to a third place finish at the College World Series in 1999, and back-to-back runner-up finishes in 2000 and 2001. Shortly after the Stanford season ended in 2001, an ambitious O'Brien found himself on the Mission Campus (on Father's Day) eager to begin his new job.
O'Brien has strong ties to the Bay Area, having played high school ball at St. Francis, and collegiately at De Anza College and San Jose State. He was the head coach at DeAnza before spending the next seven years as an assistant coach, four at Cal Poly and the final three at Stanford.
O'Brien also has strong ties to Santa Clara University. "I remember growing up that we would always go to watch Santa Clara play," said O'Brien. "Those were the good ol' days. Watching baseball as a kid, you just couldn't beat it."
In addition to watching the baseball program, he also heard about the University from his uncle, Terry O'Brien who was a member of the 1968-69 men's basketball team with Bud and Ralph Ogden, Dennis Awtrey and Kevin Eagleson that finished the year 27-2 and ranked No. 2 in the country behind UCLA.
O'Brien's wasted no time putting his stamp on the baseball program as he completed his coaching staff quickly after his appointment, hiring Scott Kidd, Tom Myers and Mike Oakland to assist with the duties on and off the field. Kidd comes to Santa Clara after finishing his playing days in the New York Yankees organization. Myers comes from UC Santa Barbara where he was the pitching coach for the last four seasons. Oakland joins the staff from Cal Poly where he spent the last five years as an assistant coach.
The coaching staff soon began to mold and shape the program into their own, preparing for the beginning of the fall season. When the academic year began in September the fall baseball season trailed very closely behind and left the coaching staff pleased with where the team was heading into the spring.
"I thought we had an outstanding fall," said O'Brien. "We got better as the fall went on which is one of the key things you look for heading into the spring season so you can build upon that and be even more prepared for the season. We have to have some big years out of some key guys in order for us to be successful."
"I think that our work ethic during the fall was fantastic and our guys did a really good job of setting the tone for the springtime. One of the things that we emphasize is how we are going to go about our business on the field, as far as our style of play is concerned. I was very please with how the guys went about our business on a daily basis."
One very noticeable change in the way that the team went about their business was the hustle shown in everything that they did which is very characteristic of O'Brien's coaching style. O'Brien's approach to his first Division I head coaching job is to overwhelm all obstacles with sheer energy, a trait he has used in all of his previous jobs which did not go unnoticed by those around him.
"Nobody will outwork him," said Stanford head coach Mark Marquess.
"He's a 24-7 guy," said San Jose State head coach Sam Piraro.
That kind of work ethic and determination will tend to overcome most obstacles that get in the way of success. For it is success that O'Brien is truly striving for at Santa Clara and it begins each year with fall ball.
"I really think that there are some guys on this team who, if they step it up, can be the components that lead us on the field. If that happens I think we can be pretty successful this year."
"From an offensive standpoint it is the older guys who need to step up and have big years. Jack Headley, Pat Peavey and Joey Gomes each have to step up and perform this year in order for us to be successful."
There is little doubt as to why these players are pointed to for the focus of the Broncos' success. Last year the trio combined to hit .322 with seven home runs, 62 runs batted in, 84 runs scored, 26 doubles and a .400 on base percentage.
Jack Headley enters his junior season with a .360 career batting average, 156 hits, 30 doubles, seven triples, five home runs, 65 runs batted in and 27 stolen bases. The 2000 WCC Freshman of the Year followed up that honor in 2001 with a selection to the first team All-WCC squad. He has started 108 of the 109 games he has appeared in during his first two seasons and will be relied upon heavily for leadership by example.
Pat Peavey returns for his senior year after leading the team in batting during his junior year with a .368 average. Peavey has accumulated a .309 career batting average with 85 hits, 23 of which have been for extra bases, and 50 runs batted in during his career at Santa Clara. Peavey will be relied on for a steady glove at third base and a lively bat in the middle of the lineup.
Joey Gomes also returns for his senior year in a Bronco uniform. Gomes has accumulated a career .272 average with 14 doubles, three triples, four home runs and 38 RBIs in his previous two years on the Mission Campus. Gomes will also be depended on for a steady bat in the middle of the lineup as well as anchoring the outfield for the Broncos.
In addition to these three key components, the Broncos return 16 players from last year's team that finished tied for first place in the Coast Division of the WCC.
Joe Diefenderfer will return to both the outfield and the mound for the Broncos in 2002. Last year he batted .255 in 52 ball games, stroking eight doubles and driving in 15 runs. On the mound he posted a 5-6 overall record with a 4.92 ERA in 16 appearances.
Diefenderfer started 13 of his 16 appearances, throwing a team-high 89.2 innings and two complete games while striking out a team-leading 62 batters.
Kellen McConnell, like Diefenderfer, returns to play two positions for the Broncos in '02. As a freshman in 2001, McConnell made 16 appearances on the mound, starting nine of those contests. He finished the year with a 4-2 record, a 4.43 ERA, 43 strikeouts in 63.0 innings of work, and managed to throw the team's only complete game shutout.
McConnell also logged time at first base and at the plate, making 58 plate appearances in which he got 16 base hits, two of which were for home runs.
John Redmond and Chad Fillinger will also factor heavily into the Broncos' success this year. As freshmen last season, both pitched effectively at the collegiate level. Redmond started all 14 of his appearances last season, going 5-4 with a team-low 4.39 ERA. Fillinger made 25 appearances, throwing 42.2 innings in which he went 6-1 with a 4.43 ERA and two saves.
"Kellan, Joe, John and Chad all need to continue to improve and have big years for us," said O'Brien. "We know that good pitching and solid defense will win a lot of games. We will be a defense-minded team, so we will depend on them and the rest of our staff to do well this year."
Jared Anderson, A.J. Ampi, Grant Feichtmeir, Patrick McBride, Anthony Rea, Kirk Spreiter and Matt Travis all return to the mound for the Broncos. Rea, Ampi and Travis all saw a lot of innings last year for the Broncos and will each need to have breakout years in order for the pitching staff to have success.
"Matt Travis needs to rebound from last year and we will need some guys who have been around before like Ampi and Feichtmeir to step up and give us some good innings if we want to be successful this year."
Behind the pitching staff will be an already solid defense that posted a .968 fielding percentage that tied them with Portland for tops in the WCC.
Infielder Alex Anderson and catcher Jim Wallace both return after seeing good amounts of time on the field last year. Anderson started 13 of the 33 games in which he played in 2001, while Wallace started 35 of the 42 games in which he appeared in last season. The two combined to score 43 runs and drive in 33 more.
If the Broncos are to be successful in the 2001 season they will need to function on all cylinders throughout the course of the year as the tough schedule will provide no reprieves at any point during the year.
The New Crop
Thirteen new players will put on the Bronco uniform for the first time in 2002. There are two transfers, one redshirt freshman and 10 true freshman which should make for an energetic clubhouse.
A.J. LaBarbera heads the list of transfers that will make their Santa Clara debut in 2002. LaBarbera comes to the Mission campus from Long Beach State where he played two season for the 49ers. During his stint at Long Beach, LaBarbera accumulated a .290 batting average while committing only two errors in the field.
"A.J. is one of our new players that really has to have a good year in order for us to be successful. He has a lot of ability and plays tremendous defense in the infield, which will be one of the keys for us."
Scott Dierks transfers to Santa Clara from De Anza College where he accumulated a .330 average in 2001 with six home runs, 12 doubles, 42 RBI and 10 stolen bases. Dierks should see some time on the infield in 2002 and, possibly, in the outfield.
Five of the 11 freshman entering the program for 2002 are pitchers, including Thomas Van Buskirk who stands 6-foot-7 even before stepping on to the mound. The imposing figure could gain some valuable experience on the mound during his first season.
Jared Anderson, Conor Curtis, Nash Robertson and Chris Russo will join Van Buskirk in the fight for time on the mound, but with the emphasis being placed on defense and on pitching by O'Brien, all of these young talents could have chances to make an impact in their first season.
Chiarelli comes from California High School in San Ramon, Calif., where he batted .460 with 12 doubles and 37 runs batted in.
Pierpont played his high school ball at Clovis West in Fresno, Calif., where he earned first team all-league honors during his senior year after batting .367 with three home runs, eight doubles and 24 runs scored.
Wiginton steps on to the Mission campus from Bullard High School in Fresno, Calif., where he had a .578 batting average in league play and a .500 average overall during his senior season.
Epidendio earned WCAL MVP honors in 2001 by leading Archbishop Mitty High School to a league championship by batting .440 with four home runs and 43 RBI.
Folgner comes from a tradition of winning at Galena High School where he helped lead Galena to a No. 18 National Ranking by Baseball America.
The new crop of talent have all proven themselves at their previous school, but they will need to perform even better in their first year at Santa Clara. If the Broncos are to be successful, each player must contribute in some way to see any kind of positive results in 2002.
Those desired results will definitely be contested as the Broncos will play a very difficult schedule in '02.
"You have to beat the best in order to be the best" is a phrase that is often heard when coaches describe their schedules. You take one look at the Broncos' schedule and you know that Mark O'Brien agrees with that philosophy.
In his first year at Santa Clara, O'Brien has put together an impressive non-conference schedule to go along with the always-tough West Coast Conference slate of games. The Broncos will open up their 2002 campaign with a three-game set against preseason No. 11 Fresno State. They will then take on a UCSB team that finished the 2001 season with 40 wins, before taking on BYU and California to wrap up their first homestand.
They will then head out on the road to take on UC Irvine before heading back up to the Bay Area for a three-game, home-and-home series with Stanford. After a home game against Sacramento State the Broncos will go out on a season-long eight-game road trip that will include Nevada, San Jose State and the University of Hawaii-Hilo.
Following the four-game set with Hilo, the Broncos will begin play in the WCC. Unlike last year, the Broncos will be in the WCC West Division alongside 2001 WCC Champion Pepperdine. The Broncos will open the WCC schedule with two home series' against Saint Mary's and Gonzaga before heading to Los Angeles to take on Pepperdine.
Santa Clara will also take on San Francisco, Portland and Pepperdine at home, while taking on San Diego, Loyola Marymount, Saint Mary's and Gonzaga on the road.
"We are playing a tough schedule so we can get better," said O'Brien. "Hopefully we can surprise some people this year. The key for us will be taking each game one at a time."