Feb. 17, 2009
SANTA CLARA, Calif. - After one of the more successful seasons in Santa Clara baseball history, the 2009 Broncos return to the diamond this year with two clear goals in mind - to win the West Coast Conference Championship and move on to postseason play.
"We built a good foundation in the fall with some key returning players," said Bronco head coach Mark O'Brien. "We are battle-tested. It's nice to have guys who have been there before in your lineup and to have pitchers who have gone through the battles on the mound."
Despite the experience - the Broncos return six starting position players, six pitchers and 23 letterwinners - O'Brien insists there is still room to grow and get better.
"We want to continue to get better everyday and see where that takes us towards the end of the season. I'm very excited to get the 2009 season started, and I'm extremely happy with what our players have done so far with their work ethic and attitude."
"We want to build on last year's success," said junior pitcher Nate Garcia. "We have a lot of returning guys on the pitching staff and in the infield. It's already shaping up for us to have a chance to make the postseason. Our goal is to win the WCC and get to a regional, and I think we are truly capable of doing that."
Garcia is one of six All-WCC honorees returning to Santa Clara's roster. He is joined by seniors Brady Fuerst and Matt Long, juniors Tommy Medica and Jon Karcich, and the 2008 WCC Freshman of the Year and freshman All-American Thain Simon. The 2009 schedule boasts seven teams that advanced to the NCAA Tournament - N.C. State, Stanford, UC Davis, Pepperdine, Long Beach State, California and San Diego - and four teams ranked in preseason polls - Stanford, San Diego, Pepperdine and California.
"The schedule is a tough one," said O'Brien. "It was a top-20 schedule last year and it will probably be a top-20 schedule again this season. We try to take a big trip every year to get our guys used to traveling. We have that experience if we make the postseason. We also like to play good teams and it's always good to play teams from very strong conferences around the country."
Along with one of the toughest schedules in the nation, one of the major battles Santa Clara will face this season is replacing its corners in recent graduates Ryan Conan and Gabe Alcantar. O'Brien will look towards sophomore Curtis Wagner and junior Geoff Klein for help at first base.
"It will be very difficult to replace Ryan's leadership," said O'Brien. "But Curtis had a very good season for us last year and he can play first base for us. He also has very good potential at the plate. Geoff can DH and play a little first base as well for us. He's a big threat at the plate and we're happy to have him back in the DH role."
"Geoff started really hot for us last year and faded a bit in the end. He can have a huge impact on the team this year. He had a really good fall and he's been working really hard to get back in the lineup," Medica said echoing O'Brien's sentiments.
Third base is still up for grabs as a couple players are expected to battle in February to work to earn the starting role.
"We have a couple of guys battling it out," said O'Brien. "Gabe was a phenomenal defensive player and one of the best third basemen I've ever coached. Brady can also play over there, which means David Abraham can see time at second base. We have options. The decision is going to come down to who is able to play defense, tough defense, every day."
As for the newcomers, O'Brien and staff welcome 10 freshmen and one junior college transfer, Cory Hall, to the roster. On the mound, Hall had a standout fall. "He's a good competitor, works quickly and keeps the ball down in the strike zone," said O'Brien. "If you are going to face him, you're going to have to have a lot of quality at bats to beat him. He does not beat himself."
The key to the Broncos success this year, according to O'Brien, is to focus on what's important and approaching each game separately.
"We have talented players returning and we're expecting them to have a good year. They need to focus on continuing a good work ethic and competing hard when the game comes around. We cannot let our level of competitiveness, preparation and intensity be affected by whether we are playing the top team in the nation or a team that has a record below .500. If we concentrate on that, we will have a successful year."