by Brandon Rebboah
SANTA CLARA, Calif. – From January to June, there is no doubt Division I college baseball is a grind. After winter workouts and fall practice, the three-month, 55-game season officially begins in late February. With at least four games per week, the season offers adversity for every team and how they respond is key. The Broncos have had their share this season and many have stepped in and stepped up admirably.
Despite having three 'Opening Day' starters miss significant time, the Santa Clara Broncos have had other players step in to contribute. In the fall, the team came up with a saying that, 'you're one out away from playing.' The motto has stuck during the 2011 season, which has seen players coming off the bench to make significant contributions, with some players thrust into unfamiliar roles.
Senior catcher Patrick Terry started the year as the team's designated hitter, but moved behind the dish after Zach Looney took over in leftfield due to rash of illness that spread throughout the team. He's grown comfortable with his defensive duties, starting every game at catcher since Looney moved to left. Terry has also responded offensively by having a great year at the plate, hitting .280 with 21 RBI, including two homeruns.
"I couldn't be more proud of the way he's developed," said Santa Clara head coach Mark O'Brien. "To get thrown into an every-day role, he has done a tremendous job for us. He's playing such a pivotal role for us [behind the plate]."
Terry's switch to catcher was sparked by Looney's move to leftfield,that Looney made with ease. The first-year player from Colorado Springs, Colo. has started in 35 of 38. He has been productive offensively, hitting .254 while posting three doubles, a triple, 11 RBI and three stolen bases. Looney also leads the team with nine sacrifice bunts.
With Terry vacating the designated hitter spot, Drew Ozanne emerged to seize an opportunity. Ozanne has now started 16 games as the DH. He had a breakout game in a 13-inning win against Cal State Bakersfield on Apr. 1, finishing with a game-winning RBI single. He is batting .274 on the year with 13 RBI.
"We always knew Drew could hit," said O'Brien. "He's got a couple of big hits. When he focuses on having quality at-bats, he's a tough out."
After seven games, the Broncos lost their second baseman and one of the team's top hitters, Evan Peters to injury. Sophomore Blake Leyva stepped in to provide a spark for the Broncos. Levya brought with him game experience from his freshman year, in which he started 40 games. His seven RBI have come at pivotal moments, which includes a two-RBI performance in the 13-inning win against Bakersfield, not to mention his role as a steady defensive player in the Broncos' middle-infield.
"He's another great example of a guy who's taken advantage of an opportunity," said O'Brien. "Blake has been lights out at second base for us. He's a scrappy guy, who gives us his best effort every time out."
Half way through the rivalry series at Saint Mary's, Stephen Takahashi was stepped into the starting lineup. Takahashi has gone on to start in each of the last 11 games, providing stellar defensive work in centerfield, while contributing with his bat. He has stolen four bases and his speed has added another dimension to the lineup.
Another key player who has assumed a new role is hard-throwing right-handed pitcher J.R. Graham. A premiere closer, Graham has also started three games. He turned in a seven-inning performance against Saint Mary's in which he allowed three hits in a game that the Broncos took in 10 innings. Graham has matured into the Broncos most dangerous weapon and a legit pro prospect, consistently hitting the mid-90s on the radar gun. He has tallied 36 strikeouts in 46.2 innings and is the team's emotional leader.
"He loves the game. When he gets on the mound our team feeds off his energy," said O'Brien. "The development he has made both in his maturity and on the field has been quite a transformation. He deserves all the credit in the world. I feel he's become not only one of the better pitchers on the West Coast, but also the country. He has really helped with his versatility to start and close games for us. "
With players stepping up throughout the lineup, the Broncos look to finish the season strong. Santa Clara has 12 games left on the 2011 schedule. In addition to three non-conference games, they also travel to Pepperdine, host San Diego and visit Portland to wrap up the year.