April 25, 2008
MORAGA -- Kyle Jensen went to the plate figuring San Francisco State pitcher Jeff Henning would start him off with a slider. Sure enough, the slider came, staying up in the strike zone before falling harmlessly into the catcher's mitt.
"After he came back to the dugout he was like, 'Oh, man, I should've swung at it,'" St. Mary's College infielder Randy Wells said. "So on the second pitch, he thought, 'Here comes (the slider) again.' And he turned on it (for an RBI double)."
Jensen hasn't needed many second chances in what has become a breakout sophomore season.
Through 34 games, including Tuesday's 17-6 win over the Gators, the 6-foot-4 utility player leads the West Coast Conference in home runs (12), batting average (.441), on-base percentage (.518) and slugging percentage (.839).
Jensen's productivity has helped St. Mary's (20-13-1, 4-5 WCC) get off to its best start in nearly two decades. Going into this weekend's series against San Diego (28-11, 7-2), ranked 12th nationally by Baseball America, the Gaels have won four of five and are tied for fifth in the WCC after being picked to finish last in the eight-team conference.
"I just wanted to come in, do the best I could and see what happened," Jensen said. "I'm just seeing and hitting the ball really well right now."
Jensen started 39 games as a freshman and put up modest numbers -- a .279 batting average, 18 RBIs, 13 runs scored. He also made four appearances as a pitcher, compiling a 6.75 ERA.
AdvertisementThis season, Jensen is strictly being used as a left fielder and designated hitter. And after making some minor adjustments at the plate, Jensen has a chance to break the school's season records for home runs (15), batting average (.420) and slugging percentage (.734).
"He's one of those kids that likes to creep in on the plate. But if he gives himself a little bit of room and gets extended, then all of a sudden there's a real power surge," Gaels coach Jedd Soto said.
"Freshman year, he was trying to figure it out, and he had a fairly good season. But now he's just a force in the lineup."
Jensen has a batting average of .611 during his current nine-game hitting streak. But he and the Gaels, who lead the WCC with a team batting average of .322, will be going up against one of the best Friday-to-Sunday starting pitching staffs on the West Coast in Brian Matusz, Josh Romanski and Kyle Blair.
Juniors Matusz and Romanski were both Baseball America second-team All-Americans in 2007, and Blair, a freshman, was the Los Angeles Dodgers' fifth-round draft choice last year. Blair and the team couldn't come to terms after he reportedly sought a $1.1 million signing bonus to turn pro out of Los Gatos High School.
This year, the three pitchers have a combined 17-4 record, with Matusz sporting a WCC-best 1.99 ERA.
St. Mary's has held its own against good competition this season, going a combined 2-2-1 against No. 10 Stanford and No. 23 Pepperdine. In those games, Jensen went 10-for-20 with six RBIs and two runs, and he's hoping to make the same impact against the Toreros.
"We're just going to go down there, play our game and worry about ourselves," Jensen said. "Our approach is just going to be to stay back and wait for something in the zone."