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Southland Baseball Preview : This Would Appear to Be the Season That the Waves Take Over

February 12, 1986|BOB CUOMO | Times Staff Writer

It last happened in the late 1970s, when Cal State Fullerton replaced USC as the premier college baseball team in Southern California.

Now there appears to be another changing of the guard.

Pepperdine looms as the new power in the Southland, at least for this season, anyway.

Pepperdine has long had one of the area's strongest programs. It's just that for the eight seasons before last, the Waves played in the Southern California Baseball Assn., the league that Fullerton dominated.

The Titans won or shared the title every year. Pepperdine finished second three times, more than any other team. In 1979, it got an at-large bid to the NCAA tournament, easily won its regional and went to the College World Series.

There, the Waves advanced to the semifinals, but were beaten by--you guessed it--Fullerton. The Titans then defeated Arkansas for the championship.

Pepperdine had the best team in the Southland last season. The Waves returned to the West Coast Athletic Conference and rolled to the title with a 20-4 record, finishing six games ahead of runner-up St. Mary's.

Overall, the Waves were 52-15-1, thanks in large part to the hitting of center fielder Brad Bierley, the pitching of Scott Marrett and Mike Fetters, and an excellent defense. Bierley had 27 home runs and 75 runs batted in while hitting .354. Marrett had a 15-0 record and a 2.08 earned-run average, Fetters a 10-4 mark and a 3.38 ERA. Pepperdine's .975 fielding percentage ranked second in the nation.

Pepperdine came within one victory of qualifying for the College World Series, losing to Pacific 10 champion Stanford in the final of the West I Regional at Stanford.

Bierley, Marrett and some other key players are gone, having signed pro contracts or graduated. But the Waves still have several veterans, among them Fetters, Paul Faries, who hit .350 and stole 31 bases in 37 attempts; Steve Erickson, who hit .327 with 5 homers and 37 RBIs, and Steve Kirkpatrick, a .329 hitter.

All but Fetters will be playing different positions, though. Faries has moved from third base to second, Erickson from right field to catcher, and Kirkpatrick from left field to center.

"When you look at our roster, many familiar faces are gone," said Coach Dave Gorrie, in his eighth season at Pepperdine after 19 at UC Santa Barbara. "On the surface, that does not look good. But we have a solid nucleus of guys back, and these kids are winners.

"We had many good things happen at Pepperdine last season. All of these factors are key ingredients to a successful and consistent program. The nucleus that we have returning indicates we should do well again in 1986."

Fullerton, the 1984 NCAA champion, returned to the Pacific Coast Athletic Assn. and won the Southern Division title with a 21-9 record. But the Titans lost two straight to Fresno State, Northern Division champion, in the conference playoffs and finished with a 36-32-1 overall record, their worst record since 1973.

The playoff defeat snapped a couple of impressive streaks. Fullerton had won or shared 11 straight conference championships and had made 10 consecutive appearances in the NCAA tournament.

Fullerton Coach Augie Garrido says he doesn't know how his team will do, since virtually every starter either signed a pro contract or graduated.

The most notable losses are left fielder John Fishel, shortstop Shane Turner, second baseman Jose Mota and pitcher Mike Schooler. Fishel hit .331 with 19 homers and 85 RBIs, Turner .406 with 49 RBIs, and Mota .317. Schooler had an 8-1 record and 4 saves.

Garrido will try to build a representative team from 12 lettermen, 9 junior college transfers, 4 college transfers and 3 freshmen. Among the returnees are outfielder Jef Garcia, who hit .333 last season, Andy Nieto, .337 in 31 games, mostly as the designated hitter, and outfielder Alan Stankiewicz, .277.

"I look at this team and get very excited, while at the same time, I really don't know what we have," said Garrido, who is in his 14th year at Fullerton." This will have to be a team that grows as the season progresses. We don't have the returning stars or one outstanding player to build around.

"There is no real trademark we can put on this year's team. We are not outstanding in any single area. Our main concern is our overall inexperience."

Coach Al Ferrer of UC Santa Barbara has no such worries. Well, almost. Pitching is a question mark, he said. But the Gauchos certainly seem capable of improving last season's 37-22-2 overall record. They were second in the PCAA's Northern Division at 16-14.

"I am very excited about our offensive strength," said Ferrer, now in his sixth year as coach. "We appear to be stronger than ever offensively. In terms of power, well, we have never been this powerful before.

The Gaucho offense is led by shortstop Erik Johnson, center fielder Vance Pascua and left fielder Robbie Bartlett. Johnson hit .343 with 9 homers and 48 RBIs last season, and Pascua .315 with 8 homers and 38 RBIs. Bartlett hit .442 last season at Citrus College.

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