April 12, 2006
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - With the conference season nearly a third of the way in, the Santa Clara University baseball team finds itself in the thick of the hunt for a top-two finish and a spot in the WCC Championship Series. Starting Thursday night the Broncos will be faced with another challenge as they face perennial WCC power Pepperdine for a crucial three-game series at Stephen Schott Stadium.
Both Thursday night's opener and Friday's game are set for a 7 p.m. first pitch. Saturday's finale is set to get underway at 1 p.m. Tickets are available by calling (408) 554-4660 or by visiting the Leavey Center ticket office.
Santa Clara (20-14, 3-3 WCC) currently stands tied for fourth in the West Coast Conference with two other schools, although that pack is only one game behind another three-way tie for first as Gonzaga, San Diego and San Francisco all share the lead at 4-2.
The Broncos captured three of their four games last week, including a crucial WCC series against first-place Gonzaga over the weekend. Last Wednesday the Broncos started things off with a big 12-7 non-conference win over Pac-10 leader California, as Kris Watts, Kevin Drever and Gabriel Alcantar each accounted for two hits. On Friday afternoon SCU dropped the series opener to Gonzaga 5-1, but came back in dramatic fashion on Saturday, scoring five ninth-inning runs to steal a 7-6 win. Eric Newton hit two homers, his eighth and ninth, in that contest while Jeff Lombard got his first win of the season in relief and Mark Willinsky closed the ninth for his sixth save.
After a Sunday washout pushed the rubber game to Monday, the Broncos jumped out to an 8-1 lead before holding on and staving off a late Bulldog rally to capture the series with the 8-7 triumph. Matt Long drove in a pair and notched his second three-hit game of the series while Matt Wickswat allowed only two runs and struck out six to earn his sixth win of the year.
Many Broncos have staked out places amongst the conference leaders in various categories. Offensively, Newton is one of the conference's top power hitters, standing second in home runs (9), fourth in slugging (.585), fifth in runs scored (34), and sixth in both total bases (72) and runs batted in (30). Daniel Nava paces the circuit with four triples, Long's .363 batting average is seventh and as a team the Broncos are third in the WCC with a .303 average. Eight Bronco starters are hitting .300 or better heading into this weekend.
On the pitching side of things, Wickswat stands as one of the WCC's top hurlers with a 6-1 mark and 2.52 ERA. His six wins are third in the conference while he stands seventh in ERA. Wickswat has also struck out 14 batters in his past two starts, including eight against San Francisco on April 2. Relivers Daniel DeMarco, Lombard and Willinsky are 1-2-3 in the conference in mound appearances while Willinsky's six saves are tied for the WCC lead.
Pepperdine (21-15, 2-4 WCC), meanwhile, is coming off of a weekend which saw them drop two of three to the San Francisco Dons. The Waves have dropped two of three in their first two conference series of the season. Against the Dons, Pepperdine evened the set with a 5-3 win on Saturdya before dropping the rubber game by a score of 2-0. On the season the Waves have notched victories over top schools such as Long Beach State and Cal State Fullerton in addition to capturing series from ranked schools as Oregon State and Tulane.
Pepperdine is led offensively by 2005 WCC Player of the Year Chad Tracy (.333, eight doubles, three triples, five homers, 29 RBIs) and David Uribes (.347, seven doubles, 17 stolen bases, .423 OBP) while on the hill, Barry Enright (6-1, 4.73 ERA) paces the staff and Brett Hunter (4-2, 2.50 ERA, five saves) brings the heat out of the bullpen.
This series marks the start of a four-game homestand for the Broncos as they will conclude things next Tuesday, April 18 against San Francisco State at 6 p.m.