SANTA CLARA, Calif. – In a transition year under second year head coach Dan O'Brien, Santa Clara baseball had a difficult season at Schott Stadium but the Broncos used the adversity to learn and grow.
"A rough season like this is necessary and part of the growing process," saidO'Brien. "We must get tougher as a program and that message won't sink in until these guys get sick of getting beat. I welcome the adversity because I know it will help us learn to take a punch and keep moving forward. The struggles will ultimately build this program up. "
One thing that can't be taken for granted is the impact of the seniors. The class of 2013 was invaluable to teaching the younger players how to be successful student-athletes.
"This year's senior class put a lot of time and effort into leading this team and changing the direction of the program," said O'Brien. "It's obviously been a rough year, but I appreciate the senior class and their willingness and effort to the lead the program."
The other side of that equation is the impact that the young players made and the experience they gained.
"Our young guys got a chance to pitch a lot this season and you saw tremendous maturity from them as the season went on," said Santa Clara pitching coach Gabe Ribas. "They came out after tough outings and got back to some core principles. It was a great opportunity for the game to teach them some things that we as coaches can't necessarily do. The game teaches you your biggest lessons and they did a great job responding to those things."
"It was great to see so many young players get opportunities to contribute so early in their careers," said O'Brien. "You can't teach experience and they worked hard all season to get better."
The Broncos finished with a 14-39 overall record and a 1-23 mark in West Coast Conference play. The loss total was deceiving, as 18 of the losses came by one or two runs. The next step for the Broncos will be winning those tight games and come out on top on a regular basis. The best example of this was a three-game series at home vs. San Francisco that saw all three games go to extra innings but the Broncos dropped all three contests despite battling for all 35 innings that weekend.
"Three extra inning losses at home is as tough as it gets," said O'Brien. "I'm willing to bet, however, that those who saw all three games left very proud of the Bronco team. I would hope that they excited for our future as we continue to grow as a team."
The season started well with back-to-back wins vs. Seattle at Schott Stadium. The Santa Clara offense was leading the team as the team scored 36 runs in the first three games. The Broncos averaged 6.4 runs per game through the first 16 games of the season and posted an 8-8 record.
The fast-start offense slowed down and the Broncos hit a rough patch that continued into conference play. Santa Clara won a thriller in 10 innings vs. UC Davis. The Aggies tied the score at 6-6 in the top of the seventh with two runs and the game went into the bottom of the 10th. With a man on second, Casey Munoz roped a double to left field to give Santa Clara the walk-off win.
"We're going to continue to work on our situational at-bats and do everything we can to make sure that carries over to the field," said Bronco hitting coach Keith Beauregard. "Being in tough situations when the pressure is on is something we need to embrace. We're at our best when we're aggressive in our approach and dictating our at-bats. The guys are a confident and tight-knit crew that put in some serious man-hours to get better this season. They are prepared for any baseball situation that comes their way. We're going to do good things and we're really happy with where our hitters are. They're working hard everyday and sticking to their routine while trusting the process. As a team we just need to be consistent which will come in time. We're going to be fine as a team."
Santa Clara's best offensive player was the newcomer Munoz. The junior transfer led the team with a .308 (64-208) batting average while starting all 53 games. Munoz led the Broncos in RBI (31) and doubles (10) while scoring 21 runs. He added one triple and one home run to go with two stolen bases and a .354 on-base percentage.
The only other Bronco to start all 53 games was Justin Viele who finished his career with 158 consecutive starts. Viele batted .248 (52-210) but led the team in walks (28) and hit-by-pitch (11) to put his OBP at .364. Viele also paced the team with 32 runs scored and added nine doubles, three triples, two home runs, 17 RBI and 12 stolen bases in 15 attempts.
The 2012 breakout star Greg Harisis proved he was no one-hit wonder by hitting .293 (49-167) with a team-best .399 OBP. Harisis scored 27 runs, knocked in 25, hit nine doubles, one triple and two homers while stealing a team-high 13 bases in 15 attempts.
At the end of the season C.J. Jacobe showed the skills that made him a 2012 MLB Draft pick. Jacobe went on a tear in the final seven games of the season. He hit .385 (10-26) with his first two career home runs, two doubles, seven RBI and six runs scored while posting a .429 OBP and a .692 slugging percentage. He had a career day on May 17 at LMU when he was 3-4 with two runs scored and a home run.
Quinton Perry's season ended early with a shoulder injury but still led the team with five home runs. Perry hit .291 (25-86) with a .364 on-base percentage. He clubbed six doubles to put his slugging percentage at a team-best .535.
Sophomore T.J. Braff and junior Kyle DeMerritt both hit their first career home runs vs. San Francisco. Braff hit his home run on April 13 in the fourth inning. Munoz singled to start the inning and with one down Braff crushed a pitch over the wall in left field to tie the game at 2-2.
The next day DeMerritt followed suit by hitting a two-run bomb in the bottom of the seventh to make the score 5-3 USF. Matt Ozanne led off the inning with a single to right and DeMerritt took a pitch over the fence in left.
On April 21 vs. San Diego, Justin Gisch joined in the fun by crushing his first career home run in the bottom of the eight. His pinch-hit bomb cleared the batting cages in left field.
Tommy Nance (3-4, 3.60) led the team in ERA in 50.0 innings pitched. In 14 games, including eight starts, Nance had one complete game shutout, which came on May 14 at Stanford in his final start of the year. Nance handcuffed the Cardinal, allowing just six hits and one walk with six strikeouts. Stanford did not have two base runners in the same inning until the seventh. On the season Nance fanned 41 and walked 19 while holding opponents to a team-best .211 batting average against. He also had two saves, including in the final game of the season at LMU.
"When you get good starts from your starters, it relives a lot of stress off of your bullpen," said Ribas. "Tommy's success helped the guys in the bullpen to take a little bit off of their shoulders. Going deep into games, filling the zone up with strikes and having a great mental approach to deal with anything is what you look for from your top guys. Whether they win or lose, you're in the ballgame and they're giving you a chance every time they toe the rubber. I don't know where we would have been without him. I looked forward to working with him everyday and watching him pitch."
Chris Mendoza (3-2, 3.86) came on strong toward the end of the season and picked up the win on the final day of the season at LMU with 5.0 one-run innings out of the bullpen. Mendoza appeared in 26 games and made five starts while throwing 58.1 innings. On several occasions Mendoza saved the bullpen by coming in and pitching long relief to keep the Broncos in the game. He struck out a career-high 41 batters and picked up one save.
Mike Couch (4-9, 4.28) threw 103.0 innings, 40.0 more than the next closest Santa Clara player and started the season as the Friday night starter. Couch tossed four complete games and had one shutout on March 8 at San Jose State. He was second on the team with 50 strikeouts while walking 37.
"On a Friday night you need a guy who's going to preserve your bullpen and Mike chewed up innings," said Ribas. "Even when he wasn't at his best, he kept coming back and competing in the zone. He did a good job of picking himself up. The kid just competes from start to finish and that's what you love about Mike Couch. You know he's ready to go and is going to give you what he's got."
Max Deering (2-4, 5.75) led Santa Clara with 33 appearances, all but one out of the bullpen. In 56.1 innings Deering fanned 39 and walked 18 to place second on the team with a 1.2 strikeout to walk ratio while saving two games. Deering picked up a win on his birthday on April 23 by throwing 4.0 innings out of the bullpen vs. UC Davis.
"It was huge to have a guy like Max coming out of the bullpen, especially for matchups," said Ribas. "Max doesn't do anything special but does everything well. You can't ask for anything more and he totally bought into our pitching philosophy. He's a calming presence when he's out there and everybody trusts that he's going to get the job done."
Freshman Reece Karalus (0-9, 7.04) had a team-high 52 strikeouts in 62.2 innings. In 12 starts and seven appearances out of the bullpen Karalus led the team with a 2.3 strikeout to walk ratio and had one save. Against the high-powered San Diego offense, Karalus threw 7.0 innings while allowing just two earned runs on three hits with five strikeouts.
Other notable pitchers included junior Kenny Treadwell (1-2, 4.22) and freshman D.J. Zapata (0-2, 6.41). Treadwell played the biggest role of his career in 2013. He appeared in 21 games covering 21.1 innings and picked up his first career win on April 9 at Pacific with 2.2 one-hit shutout innings. Zapata struck out 15 batters in 26.2 innings while appearing in 21 games. He tied for the team lead with two saves.
O'Brien and his coaches, as well as the players, know that 2013 was a transition year for Bronco baseball. Building a program takes time and there will be bumps along the road, but every situation, especially the difficult ones, are chances to learn and grow.