May 3, 2006
Resiliency is one of the most important qualities that a baseball team can have and Pepperdine is finding that out this spring. The Waves, who were a consensus top ten team during the preseason, found themselves in a bind two weeks into conference play, losing series to league foes Loyola Marymount and San Francisco. But since that point, the Waves have been clicking on all cylinders. That has led to a well-timed resurgence.
The Waves have had a roller coaster season so far and a quick look at their schedule gives you an idea of what head coach Steve Rodriguez has had to deal with during the past three months.
Pepperdine began the season with a series win against UNLV, only to turn around and lose two of three to in-state foe Fresno State. The Waves then took series from Oregon State, Tulane and Oklahoma State, while sandwiching in a series loss to lowly San Diego State.
The Waves credit some of their early season struggles to reading too many preseason headlines. But Rodriguez believes that his club is playing with much focus heading down the final stretch of the season.
"With finals over and the club's main focus now on baseball, much of the pressure is off our team," Pepperdine head coach Steve Rodriguez said. "We're finally getting the timely hits and are starting to break games open with our offense. We are right now where we wanted to be at the start of the season."
Though some might expect second baseman David Uribes or catcher Chad Tracy to be leading the way offensively, senior first baseman Nick Kliebert has been one of the most pleasant surprises.
Kliebert, a veteran, leads the team in hitting at a .376 clip. He has also knocked in 27 runs and has a .437 on-base percentage.
The Waves have also received solid production from Luke Salas, Adrian Ortiz, Chad Tracy, David Uribes and Chase d'Arnaud.
Ortiz is third on the team in batting average at .347, while Uribes is second at a .365 clip. Tracy is the club's most consistent power producer, having launched five homers and knocked in 34 runs.
"Each of these guys brings something important to table," Rodriguez said. "Kliebert has been outstanding this spring while others such as d'Arnaud help this team out in a big way defensively."
While the Pepperdine offense continues to improve, the pitching staff is the club's strongest suit.
The Waves have a staff ERA of 3.39 and are being led on the hill by an unlikely source, senior righthander James Johnson.
Johnson, who logged 34.1 innings last season, has been phenomenal this spring. He is 4-1 with a 2.93 ERA in 61.1 innings. He has also struck out 35 and walked nine, while opponents are hitting him at a .270 clip.
"James has done an outstanding job this spring," Rodriguez said. "He's not a flashy hard-throwing guy, but he goes out there and keeps the ball in the strike zone. He also does a great job of keeping runners from stealing bases."
Returning weekend starters Paul Coleman and Barry Enright continue to do a solid job as well. Coleman leads starters in innings pitched and earned run average while Enright is the team-leader in wins with nine.
"Enright might have gone through a funk a while back, but he has honestly been the same guy since day one in our eyes," Rodriguez said. "Coleman has also done an outstanding job, which was expected."
With seven of their last nine games on the road, the Waves will be tested once again. That includes conference series with Gonzaga and St. Mary's as well as midweek bouts against UC Riverside and Southern California.
If the Waves could improve anything down the stretch, it would be their production at the bottom of the lineup.
"I think we are playing consistent baseball right now," Rodriguez said. "But we do need a few guys to get in a groove offensively. We are going to need them down the stretch and in the postseason."
The Waves will hit the road this weekend for a three-game set against Gonzaga.