2018 Baseball Season Preview
The Waves start their season with a four-game series with Louisiana Tech Friday-Sunday.
MALIBU, Calif. – The Pepperdine baseball team is set to start its 2018 season on Friday at home against Louisiana Tech with a four-game series. Head Coach Rick Hirtensteiner has high hopes for his 2018 team.
“Our goals for the season are what they are always: to win the conference, get to a regional, and advance as far as we can in postseason play,” said Hirtensteiner, who is in his third year at the helm. “We are unproven. We have a lot of guys who are very athletic and have pretty high ceilings, but they just haven’t done it in a season yet. That doesn’t mean that they can’t, and as a matter of fact, I think that they will, they just haven’t yet.”
The Waves are looking to bounce back from a tough 2017 season, in which they finished 20-32. The team missed the West Coast Conference tournament for the first time since 2013.
“I think that everyone is key,” said Hirtensteiner. “We don’t really have a guy coming back that we know for certain is going to hit .350 or .360. We might have that guy, but I think that we are going to be pretty balanced one through nine. We have a lot of depth, more so than in year’s past. There is a lot of competition, and that breeds improvement. We definitely have some guys that hit for some power.
“Matt Kanfer has been driving the ball lately, along with Reese Alexiades, Jordan Qsar and Dempsey Grover. We might not hit a ton of home runs, but balls are being driven into the gaps, resulting in a lot of extra-base hits and run-scoring opportunities.”
The Waves return five of nine offensive starters from last season, including junior outfielder Jordan Qsar, who hit .269 for the Waves with two home runs, and sophomore middle infielder Quincy McAfee, who played all but one game for the Waves, batting .249 with 54 hits, good for second on the team. Key losses include the Waves’ average and hit leader, Aaron Barnett, and home run leader Ben Rodriguez.
“We are definitely strong defensively,” Hirtensteiner said of his team. “In the outfield, we have a lot of guys who can really run with good arms. We are very sound out there. Going with the theme, we are really deep all around the field, and have guys who are just flat out athletes.
“The guys right now are really working hard to improve their defense. With all of the athletes all around the field, spots are still up for grabs. We as coaches have to balance what guys have done in the past with their performance so far throughout the offseason.”
Defensively, the team is strongest in the infield. They return starters McAfee and infielder Aharon Modlin, and infielders Brandt Belk and Chase Lambert are back from injury. Qsar will most likely move from right field into center, with healthy options of redshirt freshman Reese Alexiades, junior Matt Kanfer, senior Josh Davis and transfer Cory Wills to fill the corners.
The team had a solid year in 2017, posting a .974 fielding percentage over the course of the season. Senior transfer Dempsey Grover is expected to be stationed behind the plate. With time at UC Santa Barbara, including a trip to the College World Series, he brings invaluable experience to the team, as well as knowledge of how to work the pitching staff.
“We have some pitchers coming back with experience,” said Hirtensteiner of his staff. “Wil Jensen is coming back from a really good freshman year in which he put up some good numbers. He had two outings where he got roughed up a little bit that inflated the numbers, but he was really solid all year. He is in the running to pitch on Fridays for us. Kiko Garcia came out of the pen last year for us and had a really good year, and we expect him to continue to do so.
“Cooper Chandler is a freshman who throws a heavy sinker and gets a lot of groundballs. Christian Stoutland has made probably the biggest jump for us. He came out and had a great fall and has continued that into the spring and really put himself in the running to pitch for us.”
Quite possibly the toughest loss to take this year is Ryan Wilson, who platooned as the Friday starter all year in 2017, posting a 3.61 ERA, 72 strikeouts and a .255 batting average against. Filling his spot is likely to be sophomore righty Wil Jensen, who was the Waves’ Sunday starter last year. He had a solid freshman year, posting a 4.61 ERA and 42 strikeouts in 14 games.
Sophomore lefty Easton Lucas, who missed last year due to injury, is expected to start either Saturdays or Sundays. As a freshman in 2016, Lucas went 3-4 with a 4.58 ERA and 45 strikeouts with a .250 batting average against. Rounding out the rotation will most likely be a combination of junior right-hander Jonathan Pendergast, senior righty Christian Stoutland and freshman right-hander Cooper Chandler.
Qsar is expected to be the closer, coming out of centerfield in the final innings with a Waves’ lead. Senior righty Kiko Garcia is expected to come out of the pen in long relief, after going 4-1 last year, with a 2.53 ERA, with 25 strikeouts and a .262 batting average against in 2017. Sophomore right-hander Michael Mahony should retain his set-up role, after a solid year last year. He posted a 2.76 ERA with 18 strikeouts in 16.1 innings.
The Waves begin the season with home series against Louisiana Tech (2/16-18), and Michigan State (2/23-25), with a single game against UCLA sandwiched in between (2/20). Other home series include playing CSUN (3/9-11), BYU (3/29-31), Pacific (4/6-8), San Diego (4/20-22), San Francisco (5/4-6) and Portland (5/18-20). The team’s longest road trip this year will be to North Carolina, first taking on Campbell on Feb. 28, and then playing at the LeClair Classic, hosted by East Carolina, from Mar. 2-4.