SANTA CLARA, Calif. - Coming off of a successful first year under new head coach Dan O'Brien and his staff, Santa Clara baseball looks to continue to make strides on the field in 2013. Last year, the Broncos improved by an impressive nine games, going from 17 wins to 26. It was the most wins any of the seniors had experienced and the most since the team won 33 in 2008.
"Year one was pretty crazy," said O'Brien. "When I look back at all that was accomplished in such a short period of time, I feel great about our foundation and the future of the program. The biggest difference this year has been the transition from people getting to know us to fully supporting us. Everyone was supportive last year, but now I feel like they're 'on board.' It's an amazing feeling when people all around you are asking how they can help. We can accomplish anything with that kind of attitude and support."
Santa Clara will return several key players from last year, including Greg Harisis, Matt Ozanne and Justin Viele. Harisis led the Broncos in hitting with a .398 (49-123) batting average with eight doubles, one homerun and 13 RBI. He scored 30 runs while swiping six bags. Ozanne was second on the team last year with four homeruns and had 17 RBI. He hit .261 (43-165) with a .335 on-base percentage and had 13 steals. Viele was the only Bronco to start and play in every game while showing his slick glove at shortstop. Viele hit .242 (38-157) but had a team-high 22 walks and 13 hit by pitches to post a .378 OBP.
On the mound Santa Clara returns Friday starter Tommy Nance and WCC Pitcher of the Month for February Powell Fansler as well as relief aces Max Deering and Mike Couch. Nance started 15 games in 2012 and made 16 appearances with a 4-6 record and a 4.20 ERA. He pitched a team-best 94.1 innings and struck out 48 batters. Fansler missed the end of the season due to injury, but went 5-5 on the year with a 4.06 ERA in 68.2 innings over 18 appearances, including 11 starts. Deering was second on the team in appearances with 28 and saves with three. He fanned 19 batters in 37.1 innings. Couch, a starter last season, could be the closer this year and made nine appearances, all starts. He threw 57.1 innings while placing second in strikeouts with 39 against just 14 walks. His 2.8 strikeout to walk ratio was best on the team.
Joining the team will be 12 newcomers, including nine freshman and three junior transfers. Casey Munoz, an outfielder from San Diego, Calif., leads the transfers, while Jake Steffens of Phoenix, Ariz., could crack the Broncos' starting rotation. Also joining the team will be Jose Vizcaino, Jr., son of former San Francisco Giants Jose Vizcaino.
"Our goal this year is to reach our ceiling and break through it," said O'Brien. "No crystal ball predictions here, but I can promise that every man in this program will give everything they have to help find that ceiling. We're going to be a ball club that competes, from the first pitch to the last, a resilient team that can take a punch, a bunch of guys who care about each other and will make sacrifices for one another and ballplayers that get dirty, and love it. If you come watch the Broncos play this year, you'll leave proud."
There is also turnover in the coaching ranks. To replace two coaches that moved on from Santa Clara, Ryan Leake moved from athletic performance coordinator to assistant coach and Keith Beauregard came on board the Bronco staff.
"All you have to do is ask a player about Coach Leake or Beauragard and a smile will come to their face," said O'Brien. "They're that awesome. I've been in the trenches with Coach Leake for many years. He's a competitor and a winner and does an outstanding job, especially with the mental aspects of the game. Coach Beauregard brings an excitement and energy level to the program that is electric and contagious. These guys are great human beings off the field and difference makers on it."
Bronco baseball is about playing the game the right way in all aspects. It should come as no surprise that O'Brien values balance on his teams.
"The goal is to always be balanced," said O'Brien. "That's what we strive for in our development and our recruiting. We never want one area of our game to outshine another. I like that this team is balanced. We are solid on the mound, defensively, at the plate and on the bases."
Taking a moment to look back on his first year at Santa Clara, O'Brien had several fond memories.
"It's hard not to think back to opening weekend," said O'Brien. "My first ballgame as a Bronco was about as special as they come, especially as I watched the seniors truly enjoy the moment. On the road we were playing a ranked team in extra innings and they had the bases loaded with no outs in the bottom of the 10th and we ended up winning which was pretty special. Then to cap the week off with four more great wins and to receive national attention in the polls in our first week made the whole experience all pretty amazing."
With a year on the Mission campus under his belt, O'Brien will look to continue his work of restoring Bronco baseball to the forefront of the college baseball landscape with a trip to Omaha in his sights.