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Cal State Northridge, USC Up Next for Lions

March 16, 2006

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Winners of three of their last four, the Lions (9-13) will now turn their attention to Cal State Northridge (9-13) and USC (12-10). LMU will take on the Matadors in Northridge Friday and Saturday in day games, before returning home to host CSUN Sunday at Page Stadium. The Lions will remain at home for Tuesday's match-up with USC.

Comparing stats between this week's three times is made easy, thanks to the fact that each team has played 22 games. The Lions and Matadors enter the weekend at an even 9-13 overall record, while USC stands at 12-10. The Trojans have been ranked as high as 17th in the nation this season in the Baseball America Top-25 Poll.

This week's opponents are no strangers to the Lions, as the teams have met numerous times since Coach Frank Cruz took the helm of the LMU program in 1997. The Lions have played CSUN 20 times since the 1997 season, while meeting up with the Trojans 18 times in the home-and-home midweek match-ups. Cruz and the Lions own a 11-9 record against the Matadors and a 9-9 record against USC in those meetings.

Lion fans will notice that this weekend's schedule looks a little different: Friday and Saturday will be road games for LMU, while Sunday's game will be played at Page Stadium. When combined with LMU's fourth game against CSUN this season - a home game on Tuesday, May 16 - this weekend's site split gives the teams two home and two away contests for the 2006 season.

Sunday's game verses Cal State Northridge is sponsored by fraternity Sigma Chi. LMU's department of Campus Recreation will then sponsor the Tuesday match-up against USC.

Last weekend marked the second straight cross-country trip for Cal State Northridge (9-13), who was handed its first sweep of the season by then-10th-ranked Arkansas. Though the Matadors are looking forward to Friday and Saturday's home contests, the road relief will be short-lived, as CSUN will play eight of their next 11 games on the road. After this weekend, CSUN will travel to face Cal Poly in a non-conference match-up before opening Big West play at Cal State Fullerton on March 31. The Matadors are led offensively by outfielder Brett Blumenthal, who is hitting .395 with 30 hits and 22 RBI. On the mound, Sunday starter Jimmy Brettl leads the team in ERA (2.59), while Friday guy Craig Baker is tops in innings pitched (46.1). The Lions and Matadors have just one common opponent so far this season in UC Riverside. LMU fell to the Highlanders 6-3 in a Tuesday match-up, while UCR took two of three games from CSUN.

USC opens Pac-10 play this weekend after taking two of three from Stanford in a non-conference series last weekend. This weekend's series pits the Trojans against 13th-ranked Oregon State in a re-match of last year's NCAA Super Regional. USC is led offensively by third baseman Matt Cusick, who is hitting .409 with 29 runs scored and a .490 on-base percentage. Reliever John Dunn leads the Trojans in ERA (2.62), while Friday starter Ian Kennedy has a team-high 48 strikeouts in 41.2 innings of work. USC and LMU have faced common opponents in then-22nd-ranked Long Beach State, UC Riverside, UC Santa Barbara, Hawaii, and UC Irvine. USC is 3-6 against those teams, while LMU is 2-7.

LMU's Chris Pettit has been named the West Coast Conference Player of the Week, the conference announced Monday. Pettit paced the Lions' weekend attack on New Mexico State that saw LMU outscore the Aggies 46-14 on the road. The Lions' outfielder went 9-for-17 on the week for a .529 batting average over four games. He added 10 RBI, eight runs scored, and two home runs. Both home runs came in Saturday's 17-3 win. Pettit, a 2005 All-WCC first-team selection, also advanced his standing in the Lions' record book with his performance this week. The senior hit five doubles to bring his career total to 55, ranking him sixth all time at LMU. He also was a perfect 3-for-3 in stolen base to rank him in a tie for 10th all-time at LMU with 47 career stolen bases. He shares the ranking with Joe Ciccarella (1989-91). While this week's selection is the first of the 2006 season for Pettit, it is the fourth career WCC Player of the Week honor for the senior. It is the second 2006 selection for the Lions, as Brad Meyers earned the Pitcher of the Week honor earlier this season.

LMU went 3-1 on the week, earning its first series sweep of 2006 with three wins at New Mexico State. A balanced scoring attack, highlighted by a four-run first inning, gave the Lions a lead they would never relinquish in game one at NMSU. The Lions out-hit the Aggies 13-8 with the 9-5 win Friday night. For the second straight game, LMU used a early-game jump start to take a lead it would not relinquish at New Mexico State Saturday. With the 17-3 win, the Lions clinched their third straight weekend series victory. With a high wind advisory in effect in Las Cruces Sunday, it was the Lions who blew through the town earning their first series sweep of the 2006 season. Posting more than 15 runs for the second straight game, LMU defeated New Mexico State 20-6. For the Lions, it was the most runs scored since 2002 and their highest hit total in three seasons. On Tuesday, after scoring four runs in the seventh and loading the bases in the eighth, the Lions couldn't push across the final runs they needed and fell 10-5 to UC Irvine at Page Stadium. LMU had won five of its last six, including three straight, but dropped its second contest to the Anteaters this season.

Brian Wilson hit .400 (4-for-10) - including a game-winning double - and earned a win on the mound as the Lions won the home series with UCSB in early March. The freshman added three RBI, a run scored, and two doubles at the plate. In the Lions' 2-0 win on Saturday, Wilson threw the final 2.1 scoreless innings to earn the win, while driving in the winning run with a double in the eighth. On the mound, he allowed just one hit while striking out three. It was the first career decision for Wilson, who combined with starter Andy Beal for LMU's first shutout of the season. In Saturday's eighth inning, Wilson's double to right center drove in the first run of the game. The Lions then made it 2-0 when Wilson crossed the plate on a sacrifice fly. Now with 18.0 innings pitched on the season, Wilson's team-best ERA moves to 3.00, while his average at the plate is .355.

Brad Meyers was the WCC's 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 at San Jose State. 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.

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.

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.

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 - along with other parks around the nation- 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.