By Brandon Rebboah '13
The 2011 season, maybe be a coming of age for the youthful Broncos. Last year the Santa Clara University baseball team carried 17 freshmen, led by a senior class that saw four players drafted this past summer. This year the rising sophomores will have increased leadership roles on the team. Their growth from last season to this season will be crucial in the success of the 2011 campaign.
Despite the number of youngsters on this year's squad, the Broncos have players at every position that started games last year. "The younger guys gained a lot of valuable playing time last year" said Santa Clara Head Coach Mark O'Brien. "So they have some experience. I'm expecting them to act a class older than they actually are because they've played a lot. I'm excited to get things going."
SCU now into its fall schedule with players and coaches hard at work. Underclassmen such as Justin Viele and Matt Ozanne had success their freshman seasons and will look to have even bigger years as second-year players. Viele, a defensive ace, will look to build upon a rookie campaign in which he started 28 games at shortstop. Ozanne was named part of the West Coast Conference All-Freshman team, hitting .429 during league play.
The Bronco upperclassmen will look to provide additional leadership to the youthful Broncos. Curtis Wagner and Patrick Terry, two of the returning upperclassmen look to build upon the breakout seasons they had last year. Wagner, who was named an ESPN The Magazine/CoSIDA Academic All-American as a junior, led the team with a .404 batting average. Terry, who will be a fifth-year senior, brings versatility to the Broncos. He started games as a left fielder, designated hitter, and catcher in 2010, a season that saw SCU win 23 games.
"Curtis is without question the guy people will look to," said O'Brien of his standout first baseman. He just needs to go out and be Curtis Wagner. He doesn't need to be anything he's not. He has a personality that people will follow. Pat Terry brings a good level of stability and he doesn't back down. My goal for him is to keep swinging the bat well, but catching has to be his number one priority this year."
The Broncos will welcome back nine battle tested pitchers, none more important than starter Chris Mendoza- another sophomore. Mendoza started 11 games last year for the Broncos, pitching 66.1 innings and striking out 33 batters. The Broncos will also get Thain Simon back from injury. After a stellar freshman season, Simon didn't pitch in 2010 due to injury.
"Thain was an All-American as a true freshman," says O'Brien. "For me, he has a chance to really elevate us to the next level. He can throw three pitches at any time for strikes; he could really be our ace if he's healthy"
Santa Clara will also need to rely on new faces during the 2011 season. The class of 2014 has an array of talent that should help the Broncos immediately on offense and defense. O'Brien is most excited about his new left-handed pitchers in this year's class.
Their first series of the season isn't an easy one; the Broncos travel across the country to battle University of South Carolina, the defending College World Series champions.
"There's no down side (to that trip). We are definitely looking forward to that challenge" said O'Brien of the trip to Columbia, South Carolina, where SCU will play their 2011 season-opener the weekend of February 18. "Right now we're building the foundation of our program. It's early but we're excited about the upcoming season."
Needless to say, the Santa Clara baseball team will be hard at work this fall preparing for the 2011 season. The Broncos will play 29 games in front of their home crowd next spring. For the complete 2011 schedule click here.