Pepperdine baseball looks to repeat success of 2012

Pepperdine Coach Steve Rodriguez is one win shy of 300 victories in his career. 

After capturing the 2012 West Coast Conference championship for the first time since 2006, the Pepperdine University baseball team now faces the hard task of defending its title. The Waves open the defense of that title on Friday, when Western Michigan comes to Eddy D. Field Stadium in the first game of the year. 

Picked to finish second in a recent WCC preseason coaches’ poll behind San Diego, the Waves return 21 players, including five in the starting lineup and three starting pitchers. Many of the players say they feel slighted by the poll, which is voted upon by the conference’s nine head coaches. 

“I saw the pre-season rankings online. We feel uneven about it,” said sophomore third-baseman Austin Davidson. “I know we won last year, but it gives us more reasons to work harder. We have great chemistry and we all just want to get better. As long as we have fun and play as a team, we will win.” 

Davidson earned pre-season All- WCC honors after batting .316 with two home runs and 14 RBIs in conference play a year ago. 

Another Waves player receiving pre-season recognition was Aaron Brown. The sophomore utilityman was selected to the 2013 Baseball America Preseason All-American team. 

“The team is looking really good,” Brown said. “We have been practicing hard all fall and pre-season. We are getting better at the things we need to.” 

A talented hitter, Brown will start in centerfield on defense while seeing action on the mound as a projected starter. He hit .265 last season with five doubles and 24 RBIs. On the mound Brown went 2-1, with a 4.64 ERA and 19 strikeouts to go along with four saves. 

“It takes a lot of training and hard work to do both. At practice you are doing multiple things, doing outfield drills and spending time with the pitchers,” Brown said about his double duties for the Waves. “It’s a lot of time put in during the week so hopefully the preparation shows up in the games.” 

Joining Brown in the competition in the starting rotation are juniors Scott Frazier (7-5, 3.93 ERA), Corey Miller (8-3, 3.38), Matt Maurer (6-1, 3.56), Michael Swanner (eight saves) and Eric Karch (four saves). 

“I’m really excited about seeing what this young team is going to do with the veterans we have on the mound,” Pepperdine coach Steve Rodriguez said. “It’s a really neat combination for us.” 

Backing up the solid pitching will be defensive stalwarts Drew Hacker, Cody Nulph and Hutton Moyer with Davidson and senior first baseman Sam Meyer protecting the corners. Senior Nate Johnson, who redshirted last year due to injury, returns behind the plate along with sophomore James Grandpre. 

Patrolling the outfield will be Brown, sophomore Bryan Langlois (.310 avg.), Ranny Lowe and Devin Carter. 

“I think every time you are starting a new season you always have the element of excitement and the air of caution too,” said Rodriguez, who begins his 10th year as head coach for his alma mater. “On paper we look really good, especially on the mound. I really like our defense and offensively we have been really good in our past inter-squads and practices. It’s time to see another uniform and kind of see what we have.” 

Pepperdine captured its 18th WCC title last spring while going 36-23 overall and 16-8 in the conference. The Waves first victory of 2013 will serve as win No. 300 in his career for Rodriguez. 

“Our biggest challenge, like it is every year, is to make sure our guys are playing good baseball,” Rodriguez said. “It has nothing to do with your opponent or really anything else other than playing the game the way it’s supposed to be played. Once you do that, your opponents are almost irrelevant.” 

First pitch on opening day against Western Michigan is set for 2:00 p.m. with three other games slated to be played this weekend, including a doubleheader on Saturday.