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Spring Break by the Beach

March 2, 2006

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A trio of coastal opponents will take to the field at Page Stadium this weekend as the LMU campus begins its Spring Break. The Lions (4-10) will host UC Santa Barbara (3-6) in a three-game series this weekend, before Long Beach State visits Page Stadium on Tuesday. The Lions, coming off their first weekend series win last weekend at San Jose State, will look to start Spring Break with a solid showing at Page Stadium in this four-game homestand.

The Lions and Gauchos are no strangers, as the two have battled every season since 1996. The match-up between LMU and UCSB was especially heated 20 years ago during the 1986 season. After defeating UCSB twice during the regular season, the Gauchos topped the Lions in the first game of the NCAA West Regional. But LMU responded with four straight wins- including a convincing 14-6 victory over UCSB- to advance to Omaha and the College World Series.

UC Santa Barbara (3-6) visits Page Stadium after three straight losses at Cal last weekend. Sunday's game was called due to rain after five innings, when the Golden Bears were ahead 2-0. One of the Gauchos' three wins came against a team now familiar to the Lions, as UCSB defeated San Jose State 8-5 on February 11. SJSU took the other two games from UCSB in the three-game series. The Gauchos are led by Chris Valaika, who played for LMU's Coach Cruz on the 2004 gold-medal winning USA Baseball National Team. Valaika enters the series hitting .353 with 11 RBI. Head Coach Bob Brontsema is in his 12th season at the helm of the UCSB program and enters this weekend's series with a career record of 325-326.

16th-ranked Long Beach State will visit Page Stadium after a three-game series with No. 22 Baylor. The 49ers dropped a 6-3 decision to UCLA last Tuesday. Saturday starter Andrew Carpenter earned his second-straight Big West Pitcher of the Week selection, while Evan Longoria leads the 49ers offensively posting seven-multi-hit games and batting .439 overall heading into the weekend series with Baylor. Head Coach Mike Weathers is in his fifth year at Long Beach State.

Brad Meyers has been named the WCC Pitcher of the Week after throwing a complete game without a walk to lead the Lions to a 3-2 victory on the road Friday.It was the first career complete game for Meyers, who was selected as the WCC's Top Draft Prospect by Baseball America in January. The selection also marks his first WCC Pitcher of the Week selection. Meyers worked the nine innings Friday without issuing a walk. He struck out a career-high six batters and allowed just one extra base hit to pick up his first win of 2006. The complete game effort marked the first of 2006 for the Lion pitching staff and the first since May 7, 2005, when Stephen Kahn (Seattle Mariners) threw nine at Saint Mary's.

After last Saturday's 11-run seventh inning, the Lions are outscoring opponents 16-11 in the seventh inning. It is the only inning the Lions have outscored their opponents. LMU and its opponents are an even 6-6 in the fifth inning.

Facing the nation's ninth-toughest non-conference schedule, LMU has already picked up two victories over ranked programs. The Lions topped then-31st-ranked Arizona 12-5 on the road in the season-opening series. LMU then earned a win in its home opener, defeating then-25th-ranked Cal Poly 10-8. The Mustangs have since moved up in the national rankings, currently sitting at 22 in the Baseball America poll.

Playing tough teams again this season, Boyd's World has rated LMU's schedule among the most challenging 20 schedules in the nation. LMU ranks 17th on the Boyd's World Strength of Schedule poll for its overall schedule, and ninth in the nation for its non-conference schedule. The Lions will face 25 games against teams listed among the nation's best in the Collegiate Baseball poll. Five opponents off the 2006 schedule participated in the 2005 NCAA Baseball Championships. The LMU schedule will, as always, feature home and away match-ups with perennial powerhouses USC, Long Beach State, and 2004 national champion Cal State Fullerton.The WCC has done away with its divisions, and beginning the season, the teams will play just one three-game series against each WCC team. With this shortened league season, fans will notice additional non-conference match-ups on the schedule. The Lions host three-game series with non-conference opponents Cal Poly, Hawaii, and UC Santa Barbara at Page Stadium in February and March.

If Baseball America's preseason predictions prove to be true, LMU will have four All-WCC first-team selections and 2007's top WCC draft pick. When the national publication released its annual preseason picks, Lions were listed all over the WCC preview. Eric Farris (2B), Kyle Mura (3B), Chris Pettit (OF), and Brad Meyers (RHP) were all predicted to be first-team all-conference selections. Meyers was also projected to be the highest drafted player out of the WCC in the 2007 MLB Draft. Last season, Baseball America had tabbed Kahn as the WCC's top prospect, and the then-LMU junior was the top WCC player drafted in June when he went to Seattle in the fifth round. LMU also had four players listed among the WCC's Best Tools, including awarding Best Baserunner to Pettit. The publication then tabbed the LMU infield as the best defensive infield in the conference when it named A.J. LaMonda the WCC's best first baseman, Farris the best second baseman, and Mura the best third baseman.

Chris Pettit is listed among the nation's top baseball players on the 2006 Wallace Watch released by the College Baseball Foundation (CBF). The Brooks Wallace Award is presented annually to the national college baseball player of the year, and Pettit is among this season's early candidates. The Lions' outfielder was a 2005 All-WCC first-team selection after leading LMU to its second straight WCC Coast Division title. In conference action, Pettit hit .380 and started each of the Lions' 58 games on the season. Pettit ranked in the top 10 in the WCC in more offensive categories than any other conference player, including leading the league in runs scored (38) and doubles (14). A three-year starter in the outfield for the Lions, Pettit also finished WCC play ranked in the top three in hits (41), stolen bases (10), RBI (26), total bases (67), on base percentage (.473), and slugging percentage (.620).

Brad Meyers was named one of the Cape Cod Baseball League's top-10 prospects by Baseball America. The sophomore was the only player in the top-10 with just one year of college experience under his belt. Meyers allowed just one earned run in two Cape League playoff starts, earning postseason MVP honors as his Orleans Cardinals won the title. He was the Cardinals' starter in the rubber match of the championship, and allowed just one run on nine hits through six and a third innings. Meyers issued no walks while striking out three during his 87 pitches. He left the game in the seventh to a standing ovation from his Orleans crowd. Meyers was named to the league all-star team earlier in the season.

This season, LMU celebrates the 20th anniversary of the 1986 team that advanced to the College World Series. Lions past and present gathered on Alumni Weekend January 28-29 to honor the 1986 Lions. One of the teams that CWS team faced in 1986 was the Arizona Wildcats, who defeated LMU 7-5 in Omaha and then went on to win the title. Now, 20 years later, LMU opened its 2006 season at then-31st ranked Arizona.

The Lions are remembering some very special people this season with memorial tributes. Page Stadium now has a #1 on its left center field wall in memory of legendary coach and ambassador of baseball Rod Dedeaux, who passed in January. The Lions also wear a black bar across the LMU on their caps in memory of LMU student-athletes Jessica Hanson and Adam Bacon, who were killed in a car accident in August, just before the two were to begin their senior seasons with soccer and cross country.

Now leading the Lions for a decade, Cruz will look to take a team that's picked to finish fourth in West Coast Conference play to LMU's fifth WCC Championship Series appearance in eight seasons. The Lions are picked to finish fourth in the WCC by both the league coaches and by Baseball America's preseason predictions. The last time the Lions were tabbed to finish fourth, Cruz led the 2004 team to a conference-best 20-7 record and the Coast Division title. His efforts earned him his third WCC Coach of the Year selection and the top place in the 2005 WCC preseason poll.

As Lion fans scan the 2006 roster, some notable names are missing. And the majority of those names are now found on minor league rosters around professional baseball. LMU had a total of seven players sign professional contracts in 2005, including top-10 round picks Stephen Kahn (fifth round, Seattle Mariners), Jeff Stevens (sixth round, Cincinnati Reds), and James Cooper (ninth round, New York Yankees). Kahn was the 2004 WCC Pitcher of the Year, while Stevens and Cooper brought home all-conference honors last season as juniors. Joe Frazee, selected in the 25th round by the Philadelphia Phillies, became the first player in LMU history to receive All-WCC recognition for four seasons. Four transfers, all of who are probable starters, will try to fill the void left by the draft and graduation. Eight freshmen will join them in the hunt for the WCC title. The returning squad is highlighted by All-WCC first-team selection Chris Pettit, second-team selection Eric Farris, and honorable mention recipient Sean Dovel. 2004 All-WCC honoree Kyle Mura, a 49th round selection of the Chicago Cubs who opted to return for his senior season, also has Lion fans hoping for big things in 2006.