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Baseball Q&A: Kiko Garcia

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Senior pitcher Kiko Garcia of the Pepperdine baseball team tells us about the intrasquad Blue & Orange World Series that recently took place and what he hopes for moving forward with his baseball career:

Kiko  Garcia

Q: What's the atmosphere of the Blue and Orange World Series like?

A: This year, the team decided to make the Series very competitive so it is more game-like than a normal scrimmage. It ended up being pretty heated toward the end but we play better like that.

Q: What was it like being both a coach and a player at this year's series?

A: It made me be more engaged in the games because I had to constantly be mapping out our pitching throughout the game along with making sure I was ready to play. It also made winning the Series feel even better!

Q: How does it feel to be going into your final season of Pepperdine baseball?

A: It's definitely a weird feeling knowing that there's not going to be another season after this but it also makes me incredibly motivated to try and go out on a positive note.

Q: What do you hope to accomplish in this upcoming season?

A: Obviously, the goal every year is to go to Omaha, for the NCAA Tournament, but it has to start with coming back out here in the spring and doing everything we can to put ourselves in a position to be successful.

Q: How have you improved as a player in your four years at Pepperdine?

A: I think the biggest difference is my mentality. The improvement I have noticed there has 100% translated into better performances on the field, which I have to thank Coach Garza for. He places a large importance on having a positive mentality when most coaches completely overlook that component. Baseball is such a mental game and a positive adjustment there can really take your game to the next level. 

Q: How has the team as a whole improved in your time at Pepperdine?

A: I think the team has gotten closer over the last few years. Each year, the upperclassmen increasingly push for the team to do things together on a consistent basis. This year's team is as close as I have ever seen a baseball team here and I am excited to see how that carries over into the season.

Q: If you could go back and tell your freshman-self one thing, what would it be?

A: I think it would be to know that I am here for a reason and to not hold anything back. I was very tentative my freshman year and that does not work when baseball revolves around conviction in what you are doing. Also, to seek more advice from the older guys on the team. The best source of advice would be the guys who went through the exact same thing you did.

Q: What do you hope to do after graduation?

A: Ideally, I would like to continue my baseball career for as long as I can. If that does not work out, I want to finish my MBA at the graduate school here and see where that takes me.

Junior pitcher Kiko Garcia speaks with us about this year's team, and about the seniors that he has played with for the last three years. The Waves take on rival LMU in a three-game WCC series in Malibu starting Friday.

Kiko  Garcia

Q: The Waves are coming off of a couple of tough games against BYU and USCB. What does the team need to do to get back on track and finish the conference season strong?

A: I think we need to get back to the things we were doing earlier in the year that were working for us. Coming from the perspective of a pitcher, we were successful in getting ahead early and attacking hitters, and I think that we just haven't been executing like we should be as of late. Mentally, we are all there. We know what we need to do. We just need to execute.

Q: Each year you have been here, the teams have all had something special about them. What do you think that "something" is for this year's squad?

A:  I think that this year, the team has such great chemistry. There haven't been any fights between the guys. We are all super close, and we are absolutely set up for success.

Q:  As a junior, you have spent your entire career with the seniors of this year. How have they influenced you in your career at Pepperdine?

A:  They have definitely laid the groundwork for all of the success in the past. They are probably my favorite senior group that I have played with at Pepperdine. They really get the team motivated to play each and every day, and are really good role models for the younger guys.

Q: Do you have a favorite memory with any of the seniors?

A: I think it has to be with Chandler Blanchard. As a pitching staff, we come together on road trips and make music with him. A funny example is when we went to Texas this year. We made a little bit of a soundtrack, and it was a lot of fun to make, and we had a lot of laughs doing so.

Q: How do you think the leadership of the seniors has helped your leadership with the freshmen and sophomores?

A: I think that they set a standard of what Pepperdine baseball is all about. There is definitely a high standard of play here, higher than other schools, it feels, and I think that the seniors have done a great job of making that standard known.

Q: As a junior, you only have one more year after this as a Wave, what are you most looking forward to as a senior?

A: Making the most of my career here. It could be the last year of baseball I ever play, so I just want to make the best of it and embrace the memories. I will be leaving all I have on the field for sure.

Q: Do you have plans for your post grad? Are you looking to play ball after school?

A: If it happens, it happens, and it would be great. Realistically, it's super hard to make it all the way, but if the opportunity arises, I will absolutely take it. If not, I want to go to grad school and become a normal person again.

Q: Finally, with the season getting nearer to the end, what can we expect from the Waves coming down the stretch?

A: I think you will see a lot of fight. A lot more than you have seen recently. We are going to compete as hard as we can. Especially this week against LMU. They are one of our biggest rivals, and it is always a really competitive series. We just need to execute and get it done to get a chance to go to the conference tournament, and as far as we can run with it.

Freshman infielder Quincy McAfee of the Pepperdine baseball team tells us about the recent offensive explosion from the Waves, and about his transition from high school to college:
Quincy  McAfee

Q: The Waves are coming off quite the offensive showing with 43 runs in the past 4 games. What has clicked for the Waves in the past couple games?

A: I think just being able to stick to our approach and buying into the approach has really helped. We talk about sitting on fastballs and hitting fastballs, and I think that we have done that really well these past couple of weeks.

Q: How can you, as a team, continue to produce those kinds of numbers at the plate?

A: Just to continue to stick to that approach. Occasionally, we will come upon situations where we try to do too much instead of doing what we know and what we are comfortable with, and in those situations, we just need to trust our coaches and trust our approach.

Q: In the weeks before the offensive explosion, the bats were struggling a little bit. Has the coaching changed at all during the weeks, or has the team mentality changed?

A: I think it is a bit of both. It is really not fun as a hitter to not hit well and not produce runs for the team. So the want and need to produce is definitely up there. But I think that trust in our teammates and the mentality of the team has really improved and produced the runs that we need. Once one person gets going, there is really a ripple effect that takes place, and we just keep going.

Q: Historically, the baseball team has been a really close team. Do you think the family mentality contributes to the success of the team?

A: Yeah, everyone is definitely close. I think that it starts with the seniors. They do a great job of not separating themselves from the team. I also think that we as freshmen have done a good job following in the footsteps of the guys older than us. We all kind of mesh together, and it makes it easy to compete together.

Q: You are a freshman this year. How did the upperclassmen welcome you into the team? Were they pretty easy to get along with as soon as you arrived on campus?

A: Yeah, and it was a little surprising to me, because I had no idea what to expect. The first person I met when I first arrived on campus was Ben Rodriguez. He was extremely welcoming, as was Brandon Caruso, the second teammate I met on campus. The seniors have definitely been embracing us young guys and showing us the ropes.

Q: Coming to California all they way from Texas is a pretty big change. How has that transition been from high school to college?

A: Academically, it has definitely been a greater challenge. Being away from everyone, including our families, has been tough, but I think that all the guys on the team have made the transition a lot easier. They invite us all over to their apartments and houses, and make a point of hanging out with us. It's been really cool.

Q: Along that line, you moved out here with a familiar face. Your high school teammate, Brandt Belk, is also here playing baseball at Pepperdine. What was that like back at home? Did you guys make the decision together? Or did things just kind of work out?

A: Things just kind of worked out that way. Initially, he was going to Rice, and I was coming here. His going to Rice fell through, and there was always the option of coming out to Pepperdine. He ended up coming, and it was awesome being able to go to school with my best friend. Not only did we go out of state and into the same new state, but we also came to the same school. It definitely made the transition easier. It made it easier to go out and meet people and make friends.

Q: You came in and started playing right away. Was the move from high school baseball to college baseball a difficult one? Or did you feel real comfortable as soon as you stepped in?

A: It was a little difficult. I actually got a chance to play in the North Woods League, a college summer ball league, over summer. That experience made it a lot easier coming in to Pepperdine. Playing in the North Woods was really difficult at first. The game was faster, and the guys were bigger and stronger. I felt that when I first came out here, the first month or two of baseball really helped the transition.

Q: Finally, as we are in the middle of conference season now, what can we expect from the Waves the rest of the season?

A: Hopefully, a lot more games like the past couple weeks. Games where we score a lot of runs, and our pitchers continue to dominate on the mound.

Freshman catcher Joe Caparis is having a big week, getting a walk-off single to lift the Waves over Gonzaga in Sunday's finale to win the series, and then hitting his first career home run against CSUN on Tuesday. He speaks about the nerves coming in as a freshman, as well becoming comfortable with his teammates:

Joe  Caparis

Q: The Waves just came off of a big series win against Gonzaga and another big win against CSUN. How do you feel these past two wins have been for the confidence of the team?

A: I think that going into the rest of our conference series, having one of those Tuesday games where we can explode on offense and show what we can do is huge for our confidence. We know that we can hit like that all the time, so it was nice to actually do it.

Q: You played a huge part in the win in the last game of the series against Gonzaga, getting the walk-off single to win the game. What did it feel like getting that game-winning hit?

A: I wanted to hit the ball hard. I knew that the guys behind me in the rest of the lineup would get it done, so I wasn't worried that we weren't going to do it. It honestly was really surprising that it was me to do it, knowing that I had been struggling that game at the plate. It was a really awesome feeling to get the win for the team.

Q: What have the nerves been like as a freshman coming in and playing as much as you have?

A: The first six or seven games that I played, my nerves were off the charts. Everything was all over the place. The pace of the game was so much faster than in high school. I couldn't keep up with everything going on in the game. But the past week and a half, two weeks or so, it has been starting to fall in place, both offensively and behind the plate. I think that getting the opportunity to get in the game and really show what you can do is really nice, because you never know how many games you are going to get to play.

Q: You mentioned that the nerves were off the charts. How have you been able to settle down and really get into a rhythm?

A: Knowing that I have already failed. I didn't do well at all for a couple games, and I heard about it from the coaches. I know that I am in there for a reason, and I wasn't going to lose this opportunity to go out and play the game I love, and play as well as I can.

Q: Along that point, did you expect to come in as a freshman and start the majority of games behind the plate? How have you become so comfortable back there?

A: Coming in as a freshman, I knew about Aaron (Barnett) and Austin (Bernard) and that they were both really experienced, and both coming off of great seasons last year. I just wanted to come in and compete. I didn't know what was going to happen, and I didn't expect what has happened. I kind of had it in the back of my head that they were going to get the majority of the playing time, so I wanted to use this year as a learning year and learn as much as I could from those guys, and be ready for when my opportunity did arise.

Q: Being a catcher, you have the unique perspective of working with both the position players and the pitchers, including the coaches. How does that help you know what is going on in the minds of the players and coaches when they make decisions?

A: When it comes to the pitchers, I think that it is extremely important to know each one of them personally. Knowing who they are, how they work and how they handle their struggles. A lot of it is also how I can help them through those struggles, whether it is keeping their eyes focused on the task at hand, or getting them through a tough inning. With the position players, we know that we are all playing a part behind our pitcher, and need to make plays behind them and for them, so we can give ourselves a chance to score some runs.

Q: How has the transition been from high school to college, both athletically, and academically?

A: It has been tough going from the academics in high school to the academics in college. Especially the time commitment. The average day in college is a lot more hectic, especially being a student-athlete. Overall you really need to be efficient to get the things done that you need to every day.

Q: What have you been able to learn from the upperclassmen so far this season? Both about baseball and about college life in general?

A: I have learned to work hard and get everything done, but also, more importantly, to enjoy the time here. We are out there with the guys more than with our own families during the year, so it is extremely important to become comfortable with each other and understand that we are all in this as a team.

Junior pitcher Max Gamboa tells us about the season so far, as well as giving us an inside look on how the Draft process works for professional baseball. The Waves take on Gonzaga in a three-game WCC series beginning Friday at Eddy D. Field Stadium.

Max  Gamboa

Q: The season has gotten off to a little bit of a rough start. What do you think needs to happen for the team to right the ship?

A: I think that we as a team need to come together and play like we know we can. The pitchers have been throwing well, and the hitters have been hitting well, we just need to have both do well on the same day. I think that we are figuring it out and just correcting the little things. Once the timely hitting and pitching come around on the same game, we will be fine. With the start of conference play, we are definitely eager to do well and represent Pepperdine well.

Q: What are some of the positives that the team is looking at in order to keep morale up in the clubhouse?

A: Joe Caparis had a four-hit game on Sunday as a freshman, which was huge. He has really stepped in when he has been called upon. I think that as pitchers, we know that the hitters are going to pick us up, and I'm sure the hitters know that we are going to pick them up as well. You can't really single one specific group out. I think that that is the biggest morale booster. We all know that it is going to come around, and we are doing our best to have it happen as soon as possible.

Q: As a junior, how has your leadership role changed as opposed to years past?

A: I think this year has been different because I knew that it was time for me to step into that role of a leader. It has been cool to be able to lead some of the younger guys and be able to share my perspective on things with them. I have been through ups and downs here at Pepperdine, so I know what the guys are going through. And credit needs to go to the younger guys as well. They are super receptive to the upperclassmen and don't brush them off when the upperclassmen are trying to help. Leading by example is extremely powerful, and that is what I try to do. Especially with the pitchers. I know exactly where they are, and I think that my experience can help them develop as players.

Q: This being your junior year, the MLB Draft may be on your mind. How can you keep the games being played now separate from that?

A: I try not to think about it. I try to focus on what is going on here at Pepperdine. I know that the rest of the guys that are getting looked at, including myself, want to do the best that we can for our school. We know that everything will work out, and the chips will fall where they may and that will be that. Right now, I am focused on nothing else but trying to win a WCC championship and get to the post-season and make a run to Omaha.

Q: Were you a touted prospect in high school when it came to the MLB Draft?

A: Not really. I wasn't one of the big blue-chip guys out of high school. I am fortunate enough to get the opportunity to come here to Pepperdine and learn as much as I have. The coaches, Hirty, Coop, and especially Garza have taught me so much, as well as Rod and Strauss before them. I have learned and matured a lot both on and off the field here at Pepperdine. I am so thankful for the opportunity that I have been given. I just want to take every opportunity I can and make this school and this program proud.

Q: For those of us who don't know about the MLB Draft process, what is it like?

A: It is pretty similar to any other job, to be honest. There are obviously differences, because of the nature of the job itself. Scouts will come out to see you play to try and see your strengths and weaknesses. They want to find out ways to improve their teams, and for players that they can develop into what they want and need. There is definitely an open conversation between the scouts and the athletes themselves. The big thing to keep in mind when this process is going on is to keep playing. It is no different playing without scouts there. We are still trying to win ball games regardless of whether there are scouts in the crowd or not. And if they see something they like, it is an added bonus. We just want to try to win games.

Q: Going forward with WCC play, what can we expect from the Waves as they continue a run toward post-season play?

A: I think you can expect really good things. We know where we are struggling and we know what we need to work on. We are taking steps toward fixing problems every single day, so I think that really great things are on the horizon for Pepperdine baseball. There is a saying that has been said around the clubhouse, "We are one game away from catching fire." A truer thing hasn't been said. Once we get going, we are going to run with it until the end of the season.

Senior outfielder Matt Gelalich tells us about the non-conference season, preparing for West Coast Conference play and his post-baseball aspirations. The Waves host three games this weekend, two against Grand Canyon and one versus Long Beach State.
Matt  Gelalich

Q: The season is off and running, with the last non-conference series this weekend. How has the non-conference season been going for the Waves?

A: I think it has been going well. Probably not as great as we would have liked, but we have a lot of promise. There is a ton of talent on this team, and we just need to put it all together, and I think that we will be fine.

Q: What are some of the adjustments that need to be made before WCC play begins?

A: I think it is a matter of just firing on all cylinders. There have been games where our pitchers have been unhittable, but we couldn't hit, and there have been games where we are hitting well, and our pitchers haven't been as good. We just need to get both sides of the ball on the same page in the same game, and we will be off and running.

Q: How important is non-conference play to the team?

A: It's huge. We have a lot of tough non-conference opponents on our schedule this year, and at the end of the year, if you don't win conference, how you play against non-conference teams is what gives you your RPI and an at-large bid to a regional. We know this, and we make sure we take it extremely seriously.

Q: Is WCC play something the team looks forward to with extra hunger? Or do you try to keep the games as just another series?

A: It is definitely something we look forward to. We think that we are the best team in the conference, and we like going out to the other teams and proving it. It is going to be a fun year for sure.

Q: Are there any specific series that the team is looking forward to?

A: We always look forward to the San Diego series. They are always really good, we are always really good, and the games are some of the most competitive of the entire year. Plus, we always like to beat them. They are definitely one of the biggest rivalries we have.

Q: This being your senior year, is there a little extra weight on the way the season plays out?

A:  I don't think so, I am just trying to have fun. This might be my last year playing the game, so I just want to leave it all on the field and have no regrets looking back on my career.

Q: With draft implications, are you looking to play ball after college, or are you going to hang up the spikes and move to post-baseball life?

A: I would love to keep playing if I get the opportunity to. That is something that will play out how it plays out, and if I am lucky enough to have the opportunity, I want to make the most of it, but if not, I am fine with ending my career as a Pepperdine Wave.

Q: Speaking of the post-baseball, what, when baseball finally does end, is your plan? Grad school?

A: I am going to be applying to dental school this summer if I don't get to continue playing. Hopefully that works out, because along with playing baseball, I have wanted to be a dentist ever since I was little. Regardless of the outcome of baseball, I know that I will be happy doing what I love doing.

Freshman RHP Wil Jensen has begun his first year off strong and has earned the role as the Waves' Sunday starting pitcher. He speaks about being a first-year student-athlete on the baseball team and at Pepperdine, along with the challenges that come along with that:

Wil  Jensen

Q: As a freshman, you came in and were immediately being put into a starting role. What has that been like?

A: It was definitely unexpected, but I have been super happy to have the chance to come in and show them what I have to offer, and hopefully I get the chance to continue to do so.

Q: What were the nerves like in the first couple outings, and how did you overcome them?

A: To be honest, I'm not sure if I truly overcame them, but rather I tried to use them as a motivating factor rather than a hindrance.

Q: How has the transition from high school to college been athletically?

A: With pitching, your mistakes hurt you a whole lot more in college. If you miss your spot, the hitters will really take advantage of you, where in high school, I had a little more leeway with the mistakes that I made.

Q: Has the transition academically been as easy as athletically?

A: Pepperdine is definitely a tough school academically. There is definitely way more work than in high school, and the work is more vigorous. It is hard, but still fun at the same time.

Q: As a freshman, you are obviously going to be here for at least a couple years. What are your goals for this year, your first in college baseball?

A: My goals this year as a freshman are to keep my ERA below 5. I definitely think that is reasonable and attainable. I also want to help the team make a regional, and then a Super Regional as well.

Q: Why did you choose to come to Pepperdine to play baseball?

A: I chose Pepperdine for two very specific people: pitching coach Rolando Garza, and strength and conditioning coach Stew Gonzales. Those two individuals together made Pepperdine the best place for me to come and improve. Those two coaches along with the academic reputation of the school made it an easy choice.

Q: Being from Utah, what have been both the hardest and easiest parts of coming to school here?

A: When I first moved to college, I didn't think that being away from home was going to affect me as much as it does. Not being able to see family is tough. However, meeting the people that I have and making the personal growth has made coming to Pepperdine completely worth it.

Redshirt junior first baseman Ben Rodriguez had a massive opening weekend for the Pepperdine baseball team, going 4-for-9 with two home runs in the first three games vs. St. Joseph's. He talks about his confidence at the plate, his belief in the team this year and about the trip the team will make to Texas during spring break. The Texas trip will consist of a three-game series against Texas A&M, a Tuesday game against Sam Houston State and a three-game series against Rice University.
Ben  Rodriguez

Q: You guys had a big sweep of St. Joseph's this past weekend to open up the season. How big is it to start the season off that way?

A: This is the first time that we have won on opening day in the four years that I have been here, so it is a big deal to get our team rolling with some wins, especially going into the stretch of baseball that we are about to go into. It is good to have that kind of confidence going into that big trip.

Q: You had a big weekend yourself. What made you so comfortable at the plate?

A: Just simplifying the game. Looking for quality pitches to hit, get the barrel of the bat on it, and slowing the game down. It is so important to stick to your own game plan and know what you are good at without trying to do everything. If you stick to your strengths, you are going to have success.

Q: Now that Brad Anderson and Manny Jefferson are gone, do you feel that you have any added roles, and trying to produce some extra power for the team?

A: No, not at all. Our depth, especially with power, is unbelievable. I think that everybody wants to get involved, and I would love to lead the charge, but we have so many bats, that it is not just on me, by any means.

Q: Who are some of the guys on the team that will be able to step into that role of bringing a little extra power to the team alongside you?

A: I think that everyone on the team can step into that role. This is one of the most talented teams that I have ever played for. We are just so deep at every position. Even at the top of the order, Quincy (McAfee) had one this weekend, (Matt) Gelalich is a strong, strong dude. And then getting to the middle of the order, (Jordan) Qsar and (Austin) Bernard are some big-time bats. We have a long season, and as the games come and the guys get more and more comfortable, I think that you are going to see guys step up and hit some bombs, especially in the middle of the order.

Q: Looking ahead, you have a big trip out to Texas. How important is this trip for the team?

A: It's very important. Something Coach Cooper (Fouts) told us yesterday really rang true. He said that we are all college baseball players at heart, and going into this week, if you love college baseball, you have to love this trip. We go to A&M and to Rice, which are two big-time perennial winning teams. It is definitely a chance to measure ourselves against a quality of baseball that we probably won't see again until the postseason.

Q: What are the team's expectations for the trip?

A: We definitely have high expectations. We have a winning culture in our clubhouse. The expectation is always to beat everyone we are playing. This is a big stretch of baseball, including, but not limited to, the Texas trip. When we get back we have Cal Berkeley, another strong team. We have a big three-week span coming up. We all expect to win, and a desire to win. We want to make sure we go out and represent Pepperdine and show teams that we are here to win, and win often.

Q: How important is it to play these big-time teams in the beginning of the season?

A: I think it is huge. It is so important to have games against real strong, tough opponents so that you can be battle-tested. Especially for the freshmen. The young guys coming in don't really know what big-time D1 baseball is all about yet. Our conference is going to be really competitive, but these two weeks are going to really show those guys what high-level college baseball is, because these are the types of teams we are going to be playing in regionals, super regionals, and into the College World Series.

Q: Going forward with the season, what can we expect from the Waves?

A: You can expect us to compete day in and day out. If it is fair to say that you can expect wins, then you can expect wins. I have confidence in this team to go out every single day and get better, and that is definitely going to produce a lot of wins for this program.

Baseball Q&A: Ryan Wilson

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Ryan Wilson, a junior left-handed pitcher for the Waves, tells us about the upcoming season and how the Waves have been preparing and waiting for the season to finally come. The Waves take on Saint Joseph's this weekend at Eddy D. Field Stadium.
Ryan  Wilson

Q: Baseball season is finally upon us. What is the excitement level in the team right now leading up to the first series of the year?

A: We are really excited to finally get out on the field and showcase what we have been working on this year. It has been a long offseason, but a good one, and I think that I speak for everyone in saying that we just want to start playing.

Q: What were preparations like this year compared to the other years you have been here? Anything different that was done that you felt had a really positive impact on the team?

A: This year, the position players ran with the pitchers in the mornings. It was definitely a positive impact because it really helped with the team camaraderie more so than past years, where our morning practices are separate.

Q: How does the semester break affect the performance of the team? It must be a welcome break, but there is always the fear that having that break can be a negative aspect to the team.

A: There is definitely a potential fear to it. However, everyone on the team knows that there is a job to do during that break. We take it upon ourselves to make sure we get the work in to prepare for when we come back to school. I also think that the motivation of being able to start playing games after break makes the break a little more focused on baseball, so when we come back, there isn't a lull in practices where we have to readjust to baseball again.

Q: How have the freshmen meshed with the team? Were they able to fit in right away? And the transfers as well?

A: All the freshmen proved that they're going to fight for the rest of the guys and you're going to see a lot of freshmen come in big for us this year, which will show how much work they've put in to help this team win. The same goes for the two transfers we have. Unfortunately, Duncan McKinnon will have to sit out a year, but both he and Austin Gehle, the other transfer, know their roles and are doing everything they can to help the team. Gehle for sure is going to come up big for the team during the year.

Q: You played in the Cape Cod League this past summer. What was that experience like?

A: It was fun. I learned a lot. There was definitely a lot of baseball. I think that the best part about playing in the Cape is the friends you make. I for sure made some life-long friends while playing. The coaches were incredible too. Really high quality baseball with awesome people around you.

Q: What were some of the things that you learned in the Cape that have really helped you out so far this year?

A: Our pitching coach was kind of a guru about pitching. Personally, he taught me a lot of different grips on the ball in order to make it spin a certain way. I have definitely been using the grips he showed me to make the ball move to where I want it to move, even within the same pitches.

Q: The Waves did not make an NCAA Regional last year after making one the previous two years. How motivating has that been so far in wanting to get back to the postseason?

A: I think it will make it just that much better if and when we do make it. At the same time, we are taking the year every day at a time, and taking the season pitch by pitch and game by game in order to be as successful as we want to be. We can't look to the past and use that as motivation because we need to look to the future and focus on the job ahead of us.

Q: You are pegged to win WCC Pitcher of the Year by D1 Baseball. Does that motivate you to fulfill that, or do you try keep that off of your mind?

A: Again, it is motivating, but those types of things take care of themselves if you stick to your approach and keep the same game plan day after day. If I focus on trying to fulfill that idea, I am going to get away from my game plan, so I keep my mind off of it.

Q: Finally, with the season just around the corner, what can we expect from the Waves this year?

A: I think that you can expect some fun baseball. When we play our Pepperdine baseball, it is hard for any team in the country to beat us. If you come to the games, expect to see some really good baseball, and expect to see guys showing off what we have been working on and guys being really successful in doing so.

Senior right-handed pitcher Chandler Blanchard speaks about the recently concluded Blue and Orange World Series and how it prepares the Pepperdine baseball team for the upcoming season. He also reflects on his time at Pepperdine:

Chandler  Blanchard

Q: How did the Blue and Orange World Series showcase the skills of the guys, and how did it help with the preparations for the season?

A: We got to see a lot of guys show off their stuff. It was pretty impressive. A lot of guys really stepped up and competed really well. It was awesome to watch, both from the hitting side of the game and from the pitching side.

Q: You were a captain this year. What exactly does the captain do?

A: The captain puts together a lineup and decides who is pitching for that specific game. You determine when pitchers need to go in and come out, and keep track of pitches. It is really like being a true manager. You get to see how the coaches think, and decide what matchups are going to be advantageous for your specific team. It is definitely fun to see the other side of the game than what you are used to.

Q: Is there a draft aspect to the series? How does it work?

A: There is a draft. This year was a little different to previous years. The captains only drafted the position players, and the coaches decided which pitchers were on each team. The coaches chose based on who they wanted to see match up against which hitters. It was a little different, but it was definitely interesting.

Q: Looking back on the three other Blue and Orange World Series you have been in, how did this one compare to the others?

A: There have been some really good series. I remember that my freshman year, the series was won on a walk-off. A couple years ago was a complete five-game sweep. The World Series is all about competition. They are about getting to compete after so many weeks of practicing. It is a chance to get away from practice and get to a game-like situation.

Q: How do you feel the series prepares you for the season?

A: I think that this series showed that our team has a lot of heart and a lot of drive to play. There were a couple of comeback wins in the series, which shows us that we also have a lot of fight in us, and that we won't give in to hard opponents. I think that we are pretty mentally tough, which helps a lot.

Q: Now that the fall is over, looking back on the fall practices that you have been in, how does this one stack up? And how have you progressed as a player throughout the off-seasons of college baseball?

A: It's crazy how fast the four years have flown by. I remember the first time in my freshman year, coming out to the field going through all the "hell week" stuff that we do. And my progression and the progression of my teammates that have been there and been through it is just awesome. It is so weird to think that we are the oldest of the bunch now, and we are taking the roles of people that we looked up to. Now we have guys that are looking to us to show them what to do, and how to do it. It is pretty cool to think of all the years that we have been through, and I am excited to see what the final year has in store.

Q: As we go into December and winter break, how are you going to prepare for the season to come?

A: I am going to stay on my throwing program and keep lifting. I am probably going to work with Evan Dunn when I am home in Las Vegas, because he is local and I will be able to throw with him. Just stay on all the routines that we engrain during the fall, and stay healthy.

Q: What can we expect from the Waves this year?

A: I think that we have a pretty good shot of going far. We have a lot of pitching depth. We have bats all over the team. One through nine is unbelievably solid, plus guys that can come off the bench and pinch-hit. I think that we are going to be good. We are really deep in all aspects of the game, and I think that is going to translate really well this season.

Matt Gelalich is a junior outfielder who has been the mainstay in center field for the past two seasons. This year, Gelalich has started in 37 of the 38 games that he played in and is batting .284 on the season with 38 hits and 11 RBI. A force to be reckoned with on the basepaths, Gelalich also leads the team in stolen bases with nine. Gelalich also provides an anchor defensively out in center field. As the Waves head into the postseason, we catch up with him about how the team is looking going into the WCC Tournament.

Matt  Gelalich

Q: So the regular season is over, and you are in the WCC Tournament. How do you feel the regular season went? Is the team happy with where it ended up?

A: I think that we are definitely happy that we are in the postseason. We obviously would have liked to win the conference outright, but I think we are happy. We started off a little bit slow, but toward the end of the year we picked it up. We are happy with where we are and how we are playing going into the postseason, and I think that is the most important thing.

Q:  The WCC Tournament is in Stockton, California, and the team has won the past two tournaments up there. What kind of confidence does that give you, knowing how well the team has played there?

A: The team is really confident right now. I don't think that we could be in any better spot. We are pitching really well, and we're hitting well. And we feel as though that is our ballpark. We have won it there the past two years, so we are confident that we can go out and win it again this year.

Q:  During the regular season, you took two of three from Saint Mary's, and you have them for the first game of the tournament. Does knowing that you won those two games give you a little more confidence going into the first game?

A: Definitely. Even more, I think, we took out their guy, their Friday guy, their best pitcher, and we were able to get on him early, and rough him up a little bit. We are confident not only that we can beat their team, but that we can take out their number one guy.

Q:  Now that the regular season is over, will there be any differences in the way the team prepares for the upcoming tournament?

A: I don't know if there will be any difference to how we prepare compared to the regular season. We took it one game at a time and played every game with the same level of importance as every other game. I think that going into the postseason we are just going to prepare the same, and keep playing the game that we know how to play.

Ryan Wilson is a sophomore lefthander with a 1-0 record, six saves and a 0.59 ERA in 30.2 innings. A mainstay in the Waves' starting rotation last season, Wilson was given the role as closer after rehabbing an injury and has flourished in the position. We speak to him about this season as a whole, his changed role, Coach Rick Hirtensteiner and expectations for the rest of the season.

Ryan  Wilson

Q: The final series of the regular season is coming up this weekend. How is the team feeling?

A: The team is feeling good. The pitchers have been throwing the ball well, and the hitters have been swinging the bats well. I think that we just need to play our game, like we have been this season, taking each series game by game, and each game pitch by pitch and we will be in pretty good shape.

Q: How has the team meshed this year? Have the guys been pretty close?

A: We have been way closer this year than we have in previous years. We've been doing a lot of stuff off the field, which is having, I believe, a really positive effect to our team on the field with the success that we have been having.

Q: Last year, you were the Sunday starter for the Waves, and this year, you have been the number one guy out of the bullpen to close games out. Which do you like better and are more comfortable with?

A: I can't really say that I like one or the other better, because I really do love both situations. I am comfortable in both, and we have really been working this season on becoming comfortable in spots where we would otherwise be uncomfortable. So I think that whether it is starting and throwing seven innings, or closing the game, it is high priority no matter what and you need to put your focus into each pitch. I think that if I do that, the situation doesn't seem bigger than it actually is.

Q: Coach Rick Hirtensteiner is in his first year as head coach, but has been on staff for the 17 years prior. How, if at all, has his philosophy as a coach changed the team from last year?

A: I don't think that it has changed much. We are playing the same type of baseball that we did last year, but I think the guys are looser, and are playing better as a team for each other. A lot of that has really branched off of him.

Q: What are the expectations that your team has for the last series of the regular season and, hopefully, the upcoming WCC Tournament?

A: We can just expect some good baseball. We don't want to predict any results, but if we play Pepperdine baseball, we will be in good shape for the upcoming series against Pacific, and further on into the WCC Tournament.

Junior shortstop Manny Jefferson was named WCC Player of the Week on April 11 and became the first Wave to earn the honor this year. He's batting .310 with a team-high nine home runs, and we caught up with him to talk about his performance, how he stays healthy and what we can expect from the team come conference tournament time:

Manny  Jefferson

Q: You won conference player of the week recently. How did that feel?

A: It's a great honor. I wasn't expecting it at all. I'm just trying to do whatever I could to help the team win.

Q: What are you doing to try to keep up the numbers and keep playing the way you are?

A: I am just trying to keep doing what I've been doing: taking a lot of swings in the cage, working on specific things to try and get better. Trying to keep my swing more consistent than it has been recently.

Q: You are currently leading the team in home runs. What can you attribute this boost in power to?

A: I would say Stew Gonzales, our lifting coach. We spend a lot of time in the weight room. Stew has really been working with us, and a lot of us have gotten a lot stronger since we started in the fall. Even in the spring, we continue to get stronger, even though we aren't lifting as much as we do in the fall.

Q: Since your freshman year, you have been a mainstay at shortstop, rarely missing a game. How do you keep healthy enough to sustain such a rigorous position all the time?

A: I just try and do what I can, in the training room, to stay healthy, to prevent anything serious from happening. Obviously, there are going to be little nicks and aches, but I just try and play through that. But the major thing is to try and do what I can in the training room and keep anything from really happening.

Q: Besides the normal practices, do you work on your own either in the cages or on the field taking grounders?

A: Yes, I do. I try to hit at least six or so times a week in the cage, depending on how my swing is feeling that day. I am taking a lot of ground balls. I like taking ground balls; it kind of soothes me. I'm just trying to continuously improve every single day.

Q: The team has won the conference tournament and been to postseason play each of the last two years. How will that experience help now that the season is winding down and the WCC tournament is looming?

A: I think it will really help us. Almost everyone on the team has been there before. We kind of know what's expected, especially the pressure that has been put on us before, like when we played BYU in the conference tournament last year. We've really come back from that, and have played at a really high level since then. Hopefully we can make it to the tournament, stay at the level we know we can play at, and see what we can do from there.

We caught up with junior right-handed pitcher A.J. Puckett about his hot start in West Coast Conference play, coming from a prestigious high school, and about the MLB Draft coming up in June. The Waves leave for Santa Clara to play a three-game conference series this weekend and Pepperdine's ace (4-2, 1.53 ERA) will be on the mound on Friday.

A.J.  Puckett

Q: You have been throwing extremely well this year. What can you attribute that to?

A: I think just staying with the approach that I have always had. In the offseason, I got stronger in the weight room, working with other guys, whether it be in summer ball, or with the coaching staff. I think I just stayed with my approach and kept with it, and I've done pretty well with it.

Q: You came to Pepperdine from powerhouse De La Salle High School. How did that experience at such a prestigious program prepare you for Division I baseball?

A: I think it prepared me pretty well. Over at De La Salle, winning is a huge thing. Not only that, but working together as a team really taught me what teamwork was and I really tried to bring that here. It's a team aspect, it's a team game, and we just go from there.

Q: With the MLB Draft coming up in June, you are shaping up to be a pretty good prospect for Major League teams. What does it mean to you to be able to have this opportunity?

A: It is a pretty nice opportunity to have. I try not to think about it too much, and try to focus on what we are doing now, what we can do as a team, winning conference, going to regionals and so on and so forth. It is nice to have in the back of my mind, but I try not to worry about it too much and keep my mind focused on what we are trying to do as a team.

Q: Your teammate Brandon Caruso said, "Due to the energy that A.J. brings, and the positive attitude that he has, the sky is the limit for him." How do you keep up that energy in the dugout when you're not playing?

A: You know, honestly, I don't know. I think it is just a natural thing. I've always been an energetic guy. I am an extrovert, always jumping around trying to keep a lively situation. I don't think there is a secret to it, like a lot of Red Bull or anything like that, but I just try to be who I am, running around and having a good time.

Q: With finals coming up in about three weeks, how do you and your teammates stay focused on the games but still keep up with school at the same time?

A: It's hard. Pepperdine is a pretty prestigious academic school. We are always working hard in our studies, and on the field as well. I think all the guys are pretty good at time management, and working with it. It will be a little rough, but I know that we end school a little earlier than most teams, so it will be a nice breather for us in May. Being able to just focus on baseball will be really nice.

Q: Finally, what do you expect from the team as the season gets into the nitty-gritty of the conference and a third conference championship in a row is looming?

A: We are just trying to take it one pitch at a time, one game at a time, one team at a time. So as long as we just go for it from there, we know that we can get into the conference tournament and hopefully play our cards right and keep on going from there.

Ben Rodriguez, a redshirt sophomore with the baseball team, is a Pepperdine Scholar-Athlete. He tells us how being both a physics major and an athlete is possible:

Ben  Rodriguez

Q: You also take the student part of student-athlete very seriously. What is your major?

A: I am a physics major, with an electrical magnetics emphasis. I do take school very seriously.

Q: How is the balancing act between being a physics major and an athlete? As an athlete, there isn't much free time as it is, but also being a physics major must be tough.

A: Yeah, you definitely have to be very disciplined with your time. If you like what you are doing, it is not as difficult. It isn't like I stay up all night every night, you just have to make some adjustments and make some sacrifices in order to get everything done.

Q: I also understand that you are doing some research with one of the professors on campus. Can you explain that a little bit?

A: I am doing research with Dr. Mann. We are developing two-dimensional semiconductors for their use in integrated circuits for computers. Basically, we are trying to get really thin slices of a metal material semiconductor so that it can process information and electricity faster so that the computer can work faster.

Q: What is your plan after baseball when all is said and done?

A: I really don't know. I am just going to go do whatever I can. Continue academically and keep learning and studying. It is what I am passionate about.

Q: You've now started West Coast Conference play. What can we expect from the team this year?

A: Conference is the biggest time in the season. You want to take every game seriously, but when you are playing in your conference, these are your bitter rivals, the guys that you play every single year, that you grind against. You really judge how you are doing in the season based off of how you play against those guys. I am excited and I think that you can expect whatever you want to expect, because we are going out there and we are going to do the best we can, and that's really all that we can expect out of ourselves.

Freshman Jonathan Pendergast made his first career start on March 6 against the Tulane Green Wave. He received a no-decision in a 4-3 loss to the Green Wave, but then picked up his first career victory in a 3-1 win against Columbia a week later. We caught up with him about how different Division I athletics are compared to high school, and how college differs from high school academically:

Jonathan  Pendergast

Q: You made the first start of your career last Sunday against Tulane. What did it feel like? Were there nerves involved?

A: It felt really good. I was a little nervous, but you just have to go out with your best stuff, and do your best no matter what happens. You can't let your nerves get in the way of how you perform.

Q: How different is it coming from high school baseball to Division I college baseball?

A: It was really different. The workouts are more intense, the practices are longer, and it is just a whole different world you have to get used to. It was hard in the beginning but it was well worth the process that I have made, and that the team has made.

Q: How is the game environment different between the two?

A: It is much more intense. High school is much more laid back. When you are competing in Division I athletics, especially baseball, it is intense no matter what, no matter what the score is, no matter who is pitching. There are always intense moments during the games.

Q: As a freshman, how has the interaction with the upperclassmen and the coaching staff been?

A: It was a lot easier to adjust than I thought it was going to be. All of the guys have been really supportive and helpful. Obviously, they will let you know when you are doing something wrong, but they are never going to be harsh about it. They tell you what to do and you just follow along because they have been there, they are experienced. The same goes for the coaching staff, they are there to help you, and to make the whole team better. As long as everyone is invested in that, it makes it easy.

Q: How has the transition from high school been, not only athletically, but also academically?

A: Classes are much harder. There is a lot more reading and homework. But the classes are more tailored to what you want to learn, so it makes it easier and more fun to actually go to the classes and learn about stuff that you want to hopefully have a career in later. 

Q: Finally, after a somewhat rough start to the season, what can we expect from the team moving forward?

A: We are going to keep working, keep getting better and are going to turn the season around. It is still early in the year, so there is a lot of time, so we just need to get back at it and keep working.

Chris Fornaci is a senior infielder for the Waves. Last year, Fornaci was third on the team with eight home runs and second with 41 runs scored, and ended the year with a .240 batting average. Fornaci also set the Pepperdine record for hit-by-pitches with 24 on the year. The Waves start the regular season with a series against the University of Oakland on February 19-21 at Eddy D. Field Stadium.

Chris  Fornaci

Q: You are now back from winter break. Was the time away from organized practice a welcome break, or were you itching to get back on the field with your teammates the entire time?

A: I think everybody is pretty excited about this coming year, so I would say winter break is a needed break, but it gives a chance for everyone to accomplish goals that they had personally. It also gives the guys an opportunity to come back really ready to go for the season.

Q: What was the expectation for winter break? Was there a set schedule of things you should be doing, like workouts, or is it more of a situation where the coaches trust that you will be working out on your own and keeping baseball ready?

A: It is a little bit of both. We are given set workouts, both baseball-specific and weight-specific, and are expected to accomplish those on our own.

Q: Team practices start on January 29. Do you expect to jump right in to where you left off from before winter break, or is there a week or so to get back into the swing of things?

A: We are all expected to hit the ground running. We aren't given much time from when team practice starts and the first game, only two or three weeks, so we are all expected to not really miss a beat when it comes to practices.

Q: With the first game being so close, less than one month away, is the anticipation growing in the locker room?

A: Yeah, I think everybody is really excited. This is the best time of the year, it's why we've worked so hard in the fall. It gives us a chance to accomplish the goals that we are meant and expected to accomplish.

Q: The Waves have won the WCC Tournament title the last two years. Is there any extra pressure to win again, or are you as a team just going to take it series by series and let the wins speak for themselves?

A: This year, I think our goals are as high as ever. We don't pressure ourselves. We are just going to come out and let our abilities speak for themselves. Hopefully we are in a position where winning the conference tournament this year is a luxury, not necessarily something we need to do to make it to the postseason.

Q: Finally, what do you expect of the team this year? Will the team mainly rely on the upperclassmen to carry them through, or will younger guys like the sophomores and the incoming freshmen make a huge impact on the success of the team?

A: I think everybody will have their own impact on the team. We have a very strong team, very unified; much like it was a couple years back. Everyone loves each other; we're all out here playing for each other. I think in that regard, everybody has their job to do, and it comes down to everyone pulling their own weight for us to succeed as a team this year.

Brad Anderson, senior first baseman for the baseball team, has had an impressive three years in Malibu. Last year he was second on the team in home runs with 10, and was a key part to the Waves winning the conference championship for the second year in a row. We caught up with Brad after his final Blue and Orange World Series as he reminisces on his four fall seasons with the Waves and anticipates his final spring season. The Waves make their season debut on February 16th against Oakland University at Eddy D. Field Stadium.

Brad  Anderson

Q: What team were you on and what was the outcome of this year's Blue and Orange World Series?

A: I was on the Blue team this year, and the Blue team won for the third year in a row. It was a fun series.

Q: What does the Blue and Orange World Series mean to Pepperdine baseball?

A: The Blue and Orange World Series really signifies the end of the fall and kind of gives us a little glimpse of what season is going to be like. It's a fun time for the players to reward them for their hard work and everything they did during the fall.

Q: This being your last Blue and Orange World Series, did it have a little bit of a bittersweet feeling, knowing that your last fall is out of the way and your last season as a Wave is upon you?

A: Yeah, if I stop to think about it, I get a little sad. On the plus side, though, there are no more morning lifts for the fall, so that is always nice. But it was my last one, and it was a good one. I'm sure, down the road, it will affect me a little more, but for now, I am just getting excited for the season to start.

Q: How do you think you did over the fall season?

A: I think I had a pretty good fall. It is really about finding yourself as a player and what you need to work on for the season as well as staying in shape for baseball and getting hacks in. I think it was an okay fall. We worked on some things and hopefully it will translate to the spring.

Q: How do you feel you did over the Blue and Orange World Series?

A: I think I did okay. There are always things that you wish you could have done better, but overall I feel as though I did well. We did a really good job as a team, we really came together well.

Q: Does the Blue and Orange World Series add a little more camaraderie to the team? You have two different teams, and you want to win, but at the same time, you are all part of one team and at the end of the day a little competition never hurts.

A: It definitely helps, especially since we get to coach ourselves. You really get to see how people think in different situations. You see how players would approach different coaching situations as the games go on and get their perspective on the game. The teams that I have been on, at least, have done a really good job at getting everyone on the same page and getting everyone involved in the game. It definitely brings us closer together as season comes along.

Q: What are your goals for this season, and how do you think the fall season prepared you for those goals?

A: Our main goal is to win the conference championship. Since I have been here, we have won it twice, both in the last two years, so it is definitely a trend that we would like to continue. After that, of course, we want to make it as far as we can in the postseason, hopefully all the way to the College World Series. This fall has helped us with getting an idea of our coaching staff. We changed coaches this year, so the fall gives us a little rundown on how things are going to be. Also, it gives us an idea of which freshmen can come in and immediately make an impact, and how those freshmen will help us in our upcoming season.

Fall baseball practice has been in full swing, and the annual Blue and Orange World Series gets started on Thursday. Two teams are led by player managers with bragging rights on the line. Before the series' start, we checked in with junior catcher Aaron Barnett and senior righthanded pitcher Evan Dunn:

Aaron  Barnett Evan  Dunn

Q: How is fall practice going so far?

Dunn: I think that it is going pretty well. We've had a couple setbacks because pitchers' arms need to be in shape, so we haven't had as many inter-squads. However, I think that it has been really helpful for the pitchers to be able to get into shape, for longevity's sake.

Barnett: Yeah, I think that it's been good too. The new coaching staff has been stressing individual defense for each guy a lot more than years' past, which I think is really good. And because of that, each position is honing their skills better. So I think overall, it's been pretty good.

Q: How is the dynamic with the new coaching staff?

Barnett: I think it has been really good. It's been positive and they have a ton of energy. They get involved with the practices, which I think is awesome. They join in on the plays we are working on, and they have just been really constructive so far and it has just been really good.

Dunn: I would say the lines of communication are just widely open. We can go to them with literally any problem, whether it is with a play or with our arms or body, if there is anything going wrong, we can always go to them and talk to them about each thing and have an open dialogue about it.

Q: How does this year's freshman class look, and how do you think they are adjusting?

Barnett: I think they are doing pretty well adjusting. They have meshed with the team really well so far, and the culture has been really good so that has helped a lot. They have integrated themselves really well with the team, and I think they have adjusted really well. I also think there's a couple guys that can really help us this year.

Dunn: I agree with what Aaron said, with them coming in and adjusting well. We have a really good team chemistry, more of a brotherhood than just an athletic team. This improves more and more every day. We hang out all the time, guys going over to other guys' apartments. It's been really fun.

Q: Coming off two straight conference championships and NCAA Tournament appearances, do you feel like there is kind of a target on your backs from the rest of the WCC?

Barnett: Yeah, I think it would be really fun to win that tournament four years in a row, and obviously every other team in the conference doesn't want us to do that. I would say that we are probably the team to beat, as far as the amount of success that we have had in the last couple of years. I think it makes us better, having that target. I think that it is a lot of fun playing like that, when you know teams are coming for you and you just beat them anyway.

Dunn: Yeah, I think that's a really fun part of competition, especially if you're good. We were good in the past; we'll be good again this year. We want to be that team that everyone wants to beat. It gives us a bit of a competitive edge. It's a really good feeling to have.

Q: Finally, What can we expect from this year's team? Another title?

Dunn: I don't want to say anything too revealing, but I'm expecting another title, yeah. I am expecting us to be pretty good. We have a lot of guys returning, so we have some veterans, and we have a lot of young guys that can really help us out as well. I think that we are pretty solid in the pitching aspect, the defensive aspect and the hitting aspect.

Barnett: I agree with Evan. I think this team is pretty talented. We have a lot of returners. I think the coaching staff has been really good, having us work on some parts of our game that we might have struggled with last year. For example, I already think our defense looks a lot better and I just think that this will be an exciting year.

 

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