SANTA CLARA, CALIF. — After five home games to start the season, Bronco baseball hits the road for nine in a row beginning Thu., Feb. 20 with the first game of the Irish Baseball Classic. Santa Clara will square off against the host, Notre Dame, Thursday for a 5 p.m. PST first pitch from Nelson Wolff Stadium in San Antonio, Texas.
The rest of the weekend features a 2 p.m. first pitch Friday against University of the Incarnate Word; a 10:30 a.m. first pitch Saturday against Gonzaga, and an opponent to be determined based on record through the first three days for a 9:30 a.m. first pitch Sunday.
The 1-4 Broncos are coming off an 8-0 loss to the No. 22 Cal Poly Mustangs Feb. 18 at Schott Stadium. Santa Clara put two baserunners aboard in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings and had Luke Huerta reach third with one out in the ninth, but were held to five hits and could not bring across a run.
Notre Dame enters the Irish Classic with a 1-2 record after opening the season at Florida Atlantic (No. 24 – Perfect Game USA). The Fighting Irish won their first game 9-2 Feb. 15 before dropping 16-6 and 13-3 contests over the next 24 hours. The game-deciding run was scored in the third inning of all three games over the weekend.
University of the Incarnate Word has also taken on a top-ranked team in the young 2014 season, losing 10-5 to Oklahoma State (No. 18 – NBCWA) on Feb. 14. The Cardinals followed up with a pair of games against conference foes UT-Arlington (W, 4-1) and Stephen F. Austin (L, 12-5). UIW is in its first Division I season after officially joining the Southland Conference in July 2013.
Fellow WCC school Gonzaga opened up the season at the Husker Classic against Oregon State (No. 2 – Baseball America) and played the Beavers to a 4-3 loss. The Bulldogs took a 3-1 lead to the bottom of the seventh before Oregon State responded with three runs in two innings to pick up the opening day victory. Gonzaga dropped a 7-4 game to Nebraska and 9-5 game to Pacific in a doubleheader on Feb. 15, and avenged its loss to the Huskers with a 5-3 victory Feb. 16 to improve to 1-3.
Thu., Feb. 20, 5:00 p.m. vs. Notre Dame
SCU: RHP D.J. Zapata (0-1, 3.18 ERA) vs. ND: RHP Nick McCarty (0-1, 11.57 ERA)
Fri., Feb. 21, 2:00 p.m. vs. Incarnate Word
SCU: RHP Peter Hendron (0-1, 1.35 ERA) vs. UIW: RHP Geno Encina (1-0, 0.00 ERA)
Sat., Feb. 22, 10:30 a.m. vs. Gonzaga
SCU: RHP Steven Wilson (0-0, 5.40 ERA) vs. GU: RHP Andrew Sopko (1-0, 0.00 ERA)
UPDATED FEB. 22: Sun., Feb. 23, 9:30 a.m. vs. Notre Dame
SCU: RHP Jacob Steffens (0-0, 1.29 ERA) vs. RHP Scott Kerrigan (0-1, 11.57 ERA)
Greg Harisis and Casey Munoz have both reached base eight times by way of the hit or walk this season. Harisis leads the Broncos with six hits alongside two walks while Munoz leads the Broncos with three walks alongside five hits. The senior duo was among the most productive offensive players last season, as Munoz led the Broncos in batting average (.308), hits (64), doubles (10) and RBIs (31) while Harisis led the Broncos in on-base percentage (.399) and stolen bases (13-for-15).
After going 7-for-12 in stolen base attempts over the weekend, Santa Clara did not attempt a stolen base in Tuesday's matchup with Cal Poly. Munoz currently leads the team with a 3-for-3 mark in that category.
Harisis posted a team-high six hits, two doubles (tied with Jose Vizcaino, Jr. and Rory Graf-Brennen), one home run, 11 total bases, three runs scored (tied with Vizcaino, Jr.) and a .647 slugging percentage during the four games of opening weekend. Vizcaino, Jr. recorded the highest batting average at .385 (5-for-13) and Zach Looney hit .357 (5-for-14) alongside a team-best three walks in his four starts prior to Tuesday.
Jacob Steffens has produced the longest start through five games with a seven-inning effort and held Nevada to one earned run in Sunday night's win, while Peter Hendron threw 6.2 innings and limited Boston College to one earned run Saturday afternoon. Steven Wilson finished with a no-decision and held Boston College to a .130 average (three hits in 6.2 innings) in the first game of Sunday's doubleheader.
SCU starters combined to allow 12 runs and eight earned runs over 26 innings in the opening four games for a collective 2.76 ERA. Three of those pitchers threw at least 6.2 innings, and all four threw at least 5.2 innings. Santa Clara is scheduled to use the same rotation in Texas, beginning with opening night starter D.J. Zapata, who threw 5.2 innings and allowed seven hits to Nevada while holding the Wolfpack to two earned runs and striking out four.
Nick Medeiros has been called on three times out of the bullpen, and delivered in each of his three outings with a total of 3.0 innings pitched and four strikeouts. No opposing batter reached safely against Medeiros this season. He earned Santa Clara's only winning decision of opening weekend by tossing a scoreless 10th Sunday night, after entering a game tied at 3-3 with no outs and a runner on first. Chris Heckert is also off to a hot start on the mound with three strikeouts, no hits and one walk in 2.2 innings out of the bullpen.
Scouting Notre Dame
Notre Dame's offense has put up multiple runs in six of its 10 scoring innings, including all four scoring innings of its season-opening 9-2 win against Florida Atlantic.
One of the top offensive returners is 2013 All-Big East Third-Team selection Ryan Bull, who hit .319 with 38 RBIs and walked 27 times last season. He went 3-for-9 with two doubles, a home run and four walks opening weekend.
The Fighting Irish enter 2014 without their top two hitters from a season ago: Trey Mancini hit .389 with 28 extra-base hits and 54 RBIs in 2013 and Eric Jagielo hit .388 with 29 extra-base hits and 53 RBIs. Both slugged at better than a .600 clip.
Nick McCarty threw 2.1 innings and gave up seven runs (three earned) on five hits with two walks and one strikeout Saturday. Notre Dame made two errors while he was on the mound and six overall in the loss. The right-hander was used more than any Notre Dame pitcher in 2013 with 29 appearances, and made one start a season ago.
The Fighting Irish defeated the Broncos in the only head-to-head meeting between the teams back in 1961.
Scouting Incarnate Word
Slade Brown has been the biggest offensive threat for the Cardinals with a 6-for-12 opening weekend that included two RBIs, two runs scored, one walk, a double and a triple. Fellow three-game starters Jonathan Armijo and Jesse Hoover picked up five hits apiece, and Hoover led the team with three RBIs.
Geno Encina earned the winning decision in Incarnate Word's victory Feb. 15 by throwing 5.1 innings and holding the UT-Arlington Mavericks to one unearned run on five hits. He led the 2013 Cardinals with 75.2 innings pitched and seven wins as a freshman in 2013, along with a 4.40 strikeout-walk ratio between 10 starts and 12 relief appearances.
The Cardinal offense walked nine times in the opening three games while Incarnate Word's pitching staff issued 29 walks overall, including 13 walks in both of the team's losses to Stephen F. Austin and Oklahoma State. The Cardinals allowed only three walks in their victory against UT-Arlington.
Offensively, Mitch Gonsolus is tied for the team lead with five hits and leads Gonzaga with five walks, three more than any other Bulldog through four games. In just two appearances (with one start), Nick Brooks has four hits and one walk in six trips to the plate, including a team-best three RBIs.
Andrew Sopko is scheduled to start Saturday after throwing seven scoreless innings with four strikeouts in Gonzaga's only win of the opening weekend, 5-3 over Nebraska. The right-handed pitcher was named the first WCC Rawlings Baseball Pitcher of the Week for the 2014 season on Tuesday. Sopko's only appearance against the Broncos happened the last time these teams met on May 5, 2013. He pitched two scoreless innings, gave up two hits and struck out three.
Santa Clara's last victory in the series came on May 2, 2010 in Spokane as part of a three game sweep. The Bulldogs currently own a nine-game winning streak over the Broncos. Neither Santa Clara nor Gonzaga has scored double-digit runs in their last 11 head-to-head matchups.
Welcome to the New Age
Several Santa Clara freshmen have seen a significant part of the action in the team's first five games: Stevie Berman made five appearances and three starts (5-3), Rory Graf-Brennen (4-4), Max Kuhns (3-2 in the field, 2 relief appearances), Seaver Whalen (5-4), Kyle Czaplak (5-2) and Tyler Meditz (4-0).
Four of five Bronco pitchers to make a start this season are underclassmen, including three that are scheduled to pitch this weekend: sophomore Peter Hendron, redshirt freshman Steven Wilson and sophomore Jacob Steffens. Thursday night's starter and senior D.J. Zapata is the lone upperclassman in the current rotation.
The Broncos went 1-3 on opening weekend. They dropped 4-1 contests to Nevada in the season opener Feb. 14 and Boston College Feb. 15. In game one of its Feb. 16 doubleheader, Santa Clara used a four-run second inning to jump out to a 5-0 lead over the Eagles, who rallied for six runs over the final three innings to win 8-6. In game two of the doubleheader on Sunday, the Broncos and Wolfpack scored six combined runs in the fifth through seventh innings, which featured three ties, before Santa Clara won 4-3 on a walkoff single to left by pinch hitter C.J. Jacobe in the 10th.
The opening weekend format featured six games in three days at Schott Stadium, with a doubleheader for Nevada Friday, Boston College Saturday and Santa Clara Sunday. Teams playing in their respective doubleheader days finished 5-1 overall, and the only loss was dealt to Santa Clara on the first game Sunday as the Broncos could not hold on to an early five-run lead against the Eagles.