When they broke up the Southern California Baseball Assn. last year and Pepperdine got out and into the reconstituted West Coast Athletic Conference, everyone thought the Waves had a lock on a berth in the NCAA Regional Tournament.
Everyone was right--unless Pepperdine does an unexpected nose dive in the last four weeks of conference play.
Coach Dave Gorrie's Waves, often runners-up in the SCBA to Cal State Fullerton, defending NCAA champion, are running far ahead of the pack in the WCAC and seem certain of winning the league and a berth in NCAA playoffs.
After sweeping a three-game series from the University of San Diego last weekend, Pepperdine was 33-7-1 overall as the week began and 13-2 in the WCAC. With nine league games to play, the Waves have a 4 1/2-game lead over second-place Santa Clara (24-17, 8-6 in the WCAC).
Gorrie has been getting consistent and timely hitting, solid pitching and what he calls superb defense from his crew. But he cautions that Pepperdine's apparent trot through the WCAC has been more like trudging.
"I've never seen the WCAC as an easy league and it isn't," Gorrie said. "We've had a lot of success, but they have been tough games. Everybody in the league, whether it be Nevada Reno or St. Mary's, plays us very tough, and we haven't blown anybody out."
He uttered those words shortly before Pepperdine exploded for 21 hits and blew out USD, 15-1. But the Waves did have tough times in the next two games of the series, edging the Toreros, 3-1 and 3-2, in a double-header Saturday.
"Fullerton dominated our (old) league, although we played excellent games against them. We had a strong rivalry with Fullerton, but we are reviving old rivalries with the San Diegos and the Loyola Marymounts."
The San Diegos and the Loyolas may not appreciate the revival as much as Gorrie--at least not this year. For Loyola, which was a member of the SCBA, it's not a revival anyway.
Pepperdine is hot. The pitching staff, led by Scott Marrett and Mike Fetters, has an earned-run average of 3.51. The team batting average is .305 and its slugging average is .451. Best of all from Gorrie's point of view, the team is fielding .975.
"The defense is superb," Gorrie said. "We just do not give up cheap runs; other teams have to earn everything.
"A sound defense is going to keep you in games. If the hitting is off or the pitchers are struggling, the defense can always be a focal point of consistency."
The hitting has been on, not off. Sophomore right fielder Steve Erickson (.366) tops a list of six players hitting .325 or higher. The others are senior center fielder Brad Bierley and sophomore third baseman Paul Faries (both .342), senior first baseman Chris Johnson (.331), freshman infielder Brian Allen (.330) and freshman left fielder Steve Kirkpatrick (.325). He is the son of Ed (Spanky) Kirkpatrick, who played with the California Angels and the Pittsburgh Pirates.
Bierley Bounced Back
The hitting hasn't been much of a surprise; the six were expected to do well. But Gorrie has been pleased with the resurgence at the plate of Bierley, whose average dipped to .284 when he was tried at third base last year instead of his usual outfield position.
Bierley, who set a single-season school record with eight triples in 1983, had only three last year but has four three-baggers this season.
He hit just four home runs last year, but the former Palos Verdes High School star has hit 16 this year, shattering the school record of 11 held by Andy Stankiewicz, the team's junior second baseman who hit that many last year, and Mike Gates, who did it in 1979.
Gorrie said Bierley's hitting may have fallen last year because he was "learning a new job at third base. And he learned it well; he made only three errors in 28 league games.
"But he is a natural outfielder and is now hitting with consistency and power. He had a good fall and he is getting better all the time."
The pitching staff is not struggling--far from it. The big surprise is Marrett, a 6-4, 195-pound junior right-hander who was a natural first baseman at Calabasas High School but is having a year on the mound that seems preternatural.
Marrett Is 10-0
Marrett, who began making the transition from the infield to the mound when he was a freshman, last year was 3-1 with a 3.40 earned-run average and walked 19 hitters in 45 innings. This year he is 10-0 with a 1.05 ERA, has pitched seven complete games and has walked just 16 batters in 85.2 innings.
"Last year Scott showed a lot of promise, but he did not have consistency," Gorrie said. "This year he is maturing." And bringing out the scouts, who were in Malibu with their radar guns as Marrett pitched a four-hit complete game in the 15-1 defeat of USD.
Sophomore right-hander Mike Fetters showed maturity beyond his years in 1984, topping the staff with a 10-2 record and a 2.84 ERA and making Baseball America's freshman All-American team.