Pepperdine baseball can’t hold on for regional crown

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A four-run first inning goes for naught in the loss to Stanford.

By John Reid / Special to the Malibu Times

Chase d’Arnaud’s personal onslaught was not enough for the Pepperdine University baseball team, which lost in heartbreaking fashion to Stanford, 9-7, in Monday’s NCAA regional title game in Palo Alto. It was the second time in as many days the Waves (38-22) lost to the 15th-ranked Cardinal (38-22-2), which pounded Pepperdine 13-1 Sunday evening.

“We started the year with 16 new kids,” said Pepperdine coach Steve Rodriguez, a member of the school’s only NCAA title team, which won the crown in 1992. “I didn’t even know what I had for our first game. I’m proud of my team.”

The Waves had to play without their leading hitter, Eric Thames, who pulled a quadricep muscle in the final regular season series. Thames ended the season batting .407 with 13 home runs, eight triples, 11 doubles and 59 RBIs. He stole 11 of 12 bases. A junior out of Bellarmine Prep in San Jose, he could go high in this week’s Major League Baseball First-Year Player Draft. Thames was recently named second team All-American by Collegiate Baseball.

“Eric is the best hitter I have ever seen,” Rodriguez said. “It hurt not having him. I don’t know what is going to happen in the draft, but I would be very glad to have Eric back next year. We over-achieved to get this far, especially without Eric.”

Another Wave who could be lost to the draft is d’Arnaud, who put on quite a show this past weekend at Sunken Diamond. The junior shortstop went 6-14 with three home runs, a double, seven runs scored and five RBIs. On Monday, d’Arnaud belted a three-run homer in the bottom of the first inning as the Waves jumped to a 4-0 lead. He doubled and scored in the third as the Waves went up 5-1, still tasting a possible first-ever super regional berth. Trailing 8-7 in the seventh, d’Arnaud clouted a no-doubt home run to left off of Cardinal reliever Drew Storen, who could only look to the ground after d’Arnaud made contact.

“He’s a strong hitter,” Storen said of d’Arnaud. “I threw it down the middle of the plate and he hit it pretty far.”

“Chase is one of the best players on the West Coast and not many people know that,” Rodriguez said. “He’s going to go on and have an excellent pro career.”

David Harris’ double to left-center field with one out in the first got the Waves jumpstarted. Matt Aidem followed that with a double to right field for a run. Ryan Heroy was hit by an Erik Davis pitch before d’Arnaud’s drive over the wall.

The Waves made it 6-2 on a double by Donald Brown and a sacrifice fly by Harris. Stanford took the lead for good on a grand slam by Sean Ratliff in the fifth, with the ball barely clearing the right-center field fence.

“That ball is caught for a sac fly in a lot of parks,” Rodriguez said. “The ball caught a jet stream. The wind was scary out there.”

With one out in the ninth, Aidem drilled one off the glove hand of Cardinal reliever Austin Yount, who couldn’t find the ball at first. Aidem was nearly aboard with an infield single, but Yount recovered enough to throw out Aidem. The game ended on a foul pop-up by Heroy as Cardinal catcher Jason Castro made the catch in foul territory. Waiting eagerly on deck was d’Arnaud, who never got a fifth chance to come to the plate.

“We had a roller coaster season,” d’Arnaud said. “We got up 4-0 and they kept scoring as we scored.”

The Waves opened the tournament with a thrilling 4-3 win over Arkansas on Friday. Nathan Newman (8-4) pitched 6 2/3 innings to pick up the win, striking out a career-high 10 batters. Closer Nick Gaudi garnered the first of two saves in the tournament. The game ended on a spectacular diving catch in left-center field by Nate Simon.

“I was asking myself, ‘Could he hold on to it?'” Arkansas coach Dave Van Horn said. “He had to dive to make that play.”

“I expected Simon to make that catch,” Rodriguez said. “We have good athletes on this team and they make athletic plays all the time.”

The Waves edged UC Davis on Saturday, 7-4, behind a two-run home run by Simon. Hess (4-0) got the win in relief and Gaudi earned the save, his 15th of the year.

Joining d’Arnaud (shortstop) to the regional all-tournament team was Heroy (first base).