SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Transitioning into a new era that has the campus buzzing, the Santa Clara baseball team wrapped-up its first season under head coach Dan O'Brien on May 27 vs. LMU. The Broncos finished 2012 26-28, the most wins for the program since 2008.
The team began the season red-hot, winning its first five games and 13 of its first 16. Santa Clara took down an impressive list of teams that included then-No. 35 Texas State and then-No. 37 Wichita State on the season's opening weekend, as well as Cal Poly twice. Overall, the Broncos took down eight teams with a winning record, including 2011 College World Series darling Cal.
"It was an incredible experience and a really good foundational year for what we're trying to build," said O'Brien. "A lot of people will look at the win-loss column and judge the year on that but there are so many other things that we focused on to not only win more ballgames in the future but to create a really well-rounded baseball program. It takes a lot to build sustained success so in year one we had some big wins and some guys have big years. It was a good start for where we are looking to go with the program."
O'Brien doesn't want to just build a winning team, he wants to make sure that his players are the kind of people you root for because they are outstanding individuals.
"We really want to create a culture here that is a place where our guys love every aspect of the program from their teammates to the uniforms to the facilities," added O'Brien. "We want to them to love everything about being a Bronco. We want people to love coming to ballgames and meeting our players because they're such great guys. I think that will create a lot of support for the program and I think our guys deserve that support."
Several players had outstanding years, including INF/OF Greg Harisis, OF Pat Stover and OF Lucas Herbst who were all honored by the West Coast Conference, in addition to pitchers Tommy Nance, a transfer from Palomar College, and senior Paul Twining.
Harisis, a First-Team All-WCC selection, led the Broncos with a .398 (49-123) batting average in 40 games, including 31 starts. His 49 hits, 30 runs scored and eight doubles were all good for second on the Bronco roster even though he didn't start playing regularly until the team's 23rd game vs. Portland on Mar. 30 as he was a projected back-up to start the season. Harisis had one home run and 13 RBI while drawing 13 walks to put his on-base percentage at .464.
Another First-Team All-WCC selection, Stover tied for the team lead with five home runs while starting all but one game. He batted .297 while leading the team in several offensive categories, including at-bats (202), hits (60), runs scored (33), RBI (37), total bases (85), doubles (10) and stolen bases (14).
Herbst was second on the team with a .351 batting average (53-151) in 40 games while being named All-WCC honorable mention. A hamstring injury slowed Herbst in April but he still scored 29 runs while hitting seven doubles, four triples and two homeruns to go along with 26 RBI. His .409 on-base percentage was helped by eight walks and nine hit-by-pitch. Playing mostly right field, Herbst swiped six bases. To cap off his impressive collegiate career, Herbst was drafted by the Baltimore Orioles with the fourth pick in the 26th round of the 2012 Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft.
On the mound Nance pitched a team-best 94.1 innings while making 15 starts and one relief appearance. Nance posted a 4.20 ERA with 4-6 record while striking out 48 batters and tossing two complete games.
Twining served as the teams' closer and recorded eight saves. In a team-leading 33 games, Twining threw 50.2 innings while striking out 42 against just 16 walks. He led the team with an ERA of 3.55 and had a record of 6-6.
The positives for the Broncos on the field, however, went far beyond statistical success.
"On the field I saw a lot of guys mature," said O'Brien. "There were guys who were giving away at-bats at the beginning of the year who were very tough outs and the end of the year. There were some guys who were very analytical on the mound and worked through that adversity to become very courageous at the end of the year. There were guys who stepped up when they had their opportunities, like Greg Harisis. Even for guys who had a tough year, we're going to spend a lot of time talking about how that tough year is going to be really good for us moving forward. We're looking at this year as a very important year of maturation for our players."
O'Brien and his staff know that despite a solid first year on the Mission Campus there is a lot of work yet to be done.
"The ultimate goal is to be a very well-rounded team," said O'Brien. "We gave away too many bags this year, whether it was walks or hit-by-pitches. Our defense was solid but can still get much better. We want our pitchers to be strike-throwers that use their defense and we want our offense execute whether it be on bunts or hit and runs. We really need to fine-tune the game of baseball."
"Strength and conditioning has to be a huge emphasis going forward," added Bronco pitching coach Gabe Ribas. "The 56-game college baseball schedule is long, it's grueling and guys need to continue to work hard if we want to get to where we want to be which is a WCC title, regional's, and ultimately Omaha."
O'Brien will bring in his first class to Santa Clara in 2013 and so far he is very pleased with what he and his staff have been able to accomplish. There will be six new pitchers and six new position players joining the Bronco roster.
"The recruiting is going well," said O'Brien. "We already have great players in the program but we need to get some more depth. We worked very, very hard on recruiting players who are just awesome guys and come from great families. I was pleasantly surprised about the make-up of the current team and even though you're losing some great guys in our seniors class this year, next year you're going to see positive energy, incredible effort and talented players. I think we're going to surprise some people next year."
"It's a great bunch and I think they're going to challenge even our top-end guys," said Ribas. "No role for next year is determined and we have some really special guys coming in. All the new guys are going to challenge for the major roles and I think we're very lucky to get them. We're going to have great options next year and everyone is going to be pushed. I'm really excited and I think we're in a really good place going forward."
For a college program to thrive, many people have to support the team, whether by showing up at the field for games or donating money. O'Brien knows what those off the field have done for Bronco baseball and wants to assure them everyone involved appreciates their commitment to the program and this is just the beginning of a new chapter in Santa Clara baseball history.
"We cannot be thankful enough for all the support we've gotten," said O'Brien. "A lot of people came out to support us at the ballpark and our donors helped us get an all-new set of uniforms to bring back that old-school feel. It's been a blast this year and we've had our ups and downs but we have so much to build on and we're just getting started. It's going to be a blast building this program into something special. In all of our one-on-one meetings our players are talking about how much they learned and how excited they are to be a part of building something really special here at Santa Clara."