Statement Weekend For Toreros

SAN DIEGO–If there’s a more beautiful college campus in the world than the University of San Diego, I can’t believe it. Located on an idyllic hill overlooking Mission Bay, USD stands out for its gorgeous architecture, its stunning views and its perfect weather. Oh, and its top-10 baseball team.

The Toreros closed out their three-game sweep of West Coast Conference rival Pepperdine with a 7-3 win this afternoon, and watching Rich Hill’s team, there is a definite sense that something special is going on here. USD is now in prime position to earn a No. 1 seed in an NCAA regional. If that happens, the Toreros will have the luxury of throwing reliable junior righthander Matt Couch in the first game of the regional, then coming back with stud sophomore lefties Brian Matusz and Josh Romanski the next two days. Those could be the ingredients for a 3-0 regional and a trip to the super-regionals, where Matusz and Romanski would present a very daunting challenge for any opponent. The Toreros could try to host a regional at San Diego State if they can get the Aztecs to go along with it, but if that falls through, they could wind up as the top seeds in a regional at Cal State Fullerton or Long Beach State. Those are well-coached teams that are tough at home, but neither has the firepower of San Diego.

“It’s a great accomplishment to be where we’re at right now,” Hill said. “To be in the top 10 in the country around all those great teams with great tradition is a tremendous honor, and that’s basically what it is. We think that we can get better tomorrow, and I think we’ve got to get better before we play San Francisco this weekend. We’re going to try to desensitize and detach from the stakes that are at hand and focus on our play, and stay in the moment.”

When pressed further, Hill admitted there wasn’t much his team really needed to improve upon on the field after a nearly flawless weekend. The Waves can’t say the same. Pepperdine’s rhythm and practice schedule was interrupted last week by final exams, and the team that took the field against San Diego just didn’t look very crisp. The Waves committed a season-high five errors, including a dropped fly ball by center fielder Adrian Ortiz with two outs in the seventh inning that allowed two runs to score, turning a 4-3 game into a 6-3 affair.

Pepperdine had squandered a golden opportunity in the top of the frame, loading the bases with nobody out but managing to score just one run. With one out, pinch-hitter Matt Aidem lofted a foul ball down toward the left-field bullpen mound, and Mike Metzger made the catch and stumbled around the mound, but left fielder Luke Salas did not tag from third base. The next batter, Ortiz, grounded sharply to third, and Kevin Hansen threw home to get the force. USD catcher Jordan Abruzzo then tried to complete the double play by throwing to first, but Salas slid into his back leg and took him out, causing the throw to be wild. The home-plate umpire ruled interference to end the threat. To compound the frustration, Pepperdine loaded the bases again in the eighth but failed to score.

“We left a lot of guys in scoring position, and we had a lot of physical and mental blunders today that ended up costing us the game,” Pepperdine coach Steve Rodriguez said. “That’s part of the learning curve, and you just hope that doesn’t happen all the time.

“Some of the mental mistakes we’re making, the finals should have no bearing on. The physical mistakes, the first thing you learn to do as a little kid is to catch a ball. When we’re doing those kind of mistakes–I can understand maybe your timing is off offensively or something like that, I can get those kind of mistakes. But we’ll get through this and we’ll get back at it.”

The Waves will have some time to regroup after a midweek game against Cal State Fullerton, because they’re off next weekend. At least during this layoff they’ll be able to practice. Don’t write off Pepperdine; this is still a very good club with a lot of talented players. Shortstop Danny Worth, who made two errors today, might be the first college shortstop drafted in June (one scouting director on hand agreed that he might have a better combination of defensive and offensive ability than Mississippi’s Zack Cozart or North Carolina’s Josh Horton). Sophomore righthander Brett Hunter, who took the loss, has better stuff than he showed today–he topped out at 92 mph, but when he’s on he can run his fastball up to 95. Pepperdine misses injured third baseman Chase D’Arnaud, whose status is unclear thanks to a leg injury. If he can return in the next few weeks, it will be a major boost. That’s certainly no certainty, but it is a possibility. In the meantime, the Waves will lick their wounds and try to rebound against a Fullerton team that also will be hungry for a win after being swept this weekend by UC Riverside.

And the Toreros will savor their first-ever sweep against Pepperdine, then get ready for San Francisco and lefthander Aaron Poreda next Friday.