In late March of last year, about the halfway point of his first season as coach at Loyola Marymount, Dave Snow said that his top priority for building the program was pitching. It was imperative to have pitchers who could win at the Division I level, he said. He also said that it probably would take at least two or three years to transform Loyola into a winner.
Snow was right about the pitching. Tim Layana, Mark Stomp, Jeff Goettsch and Eric Reinholtz compare favorably with the top four of any other college staff. Their combined record of 36-8 going into the weekend certainly speaks for itself.
As for the time required to turn the struggling program around, well, one out of two isn't bad. So Snow was off by a year. Who's counting, anyway?
Snow surely isn't. Neither are the Lions. Last week they were the No. 1 team in the country in the Collegiate Baseball-ESPN poll.
Loyola beat Cal State Fullerton, 10-6, a week ago Tuesday for its seventh consecutive victory and 20th win in its last 21 games. But over last weekend the Lions lost the first two games of a West Coast Athletic Conference series to Pepperdine, 2-1 and 4-3.
As a result, Loyola dropped to fifth in this week's rankings. But hey, there's nothing wrong with fifth. After all, before this season, the Lions had never been ranked.
Loyola won the third game of the Pepperdine series, 14-4, to retake first place by a half game. With Friday's conference win over the University of San Diego, the Lions are 40-10 overall, 16-3 in conference, by far the best in school history.
Should Loyola win the WCAC title, it will be the Lions' first since 1973.
Last season, Loyola lost its first six games but finished with a 27-28 record. The Lions, who also lost five of their first six WCAC games, were fourth in the seven-team league at 12-12. Not too bad a year, considering that Snow inherited a team that finished seventh in the eight-team SCBA with a 10-18 record and was 23-38 overall.
Before taking the Loyola job, Snow, 36, was the pitching coach at Cal State Fullerton. In 1984 he turned the weakest part of the team into what Fullerton Coach Augie Garrido said was its strength and the main reason the Titans won the NCAA title.
Snow also coached at Valley College for five years and won four Metropolitan Conference titles and a state junior college championship.
"I think we're definitely overachievers," Snow said of his Lions. "But it doesn't really surprise me.
"If you can get the kids to be receptive, get them to believe in themselves and to play to their ability, they'll be successful.
There's nothing like a few quick wins to make believers out of ballplayers. The Lions won their first six games, all against United States International University and Cal State Los Angeles. The following week they beat UCLA, won two of three from Arizona State in Tempe, and beat Fresno State.
"We got off to a good start and they experienced success. That makes it easier to believe," Snow said. "And we had five tough games in seven days and we won four. That helped us. It gave us confidence."
The pitching obviously is a big reason for the turnaround, but it's not the main reason, according to Snow.
"The strength of the team, the reason for this success, is our late-season hitting," he said.
In the seven straight wins before the Pepperdine series, Loyola scored 118 runs on 107 hits. For the season, the Lions were hitting .331 and averaging 9 runs and 10 hits a game. In WCAC games they were hitting .355 and averaging 12 runs and 12 hits.
College Baseball Notes Dave Snow isn't the only coach impressed with Loyola's strong showing this season. Asked to appraise the Lions, Pepperdine's Dave Gorrie said: "That's a very good club. They have a good third baseman, a good shortstop, a good center fielder, and good pitching. They have some guys who can run. And they hit. They can put together an inning." . . . The third baseman is Chris Donnels, a sophomore. Donnels, the Lions' cleanup hitter, has been doing just that. He leads the WCAC in home runs and RBIs. He began the week with 14 homers, 65 RBIs and a .354 average. The shortstop is Carl Fraticelli, a sophomore who has good range and a very strong arm. The center fielder is senior Billy Bean, who began the week with a .368 average, 5 homers and 49 RBIs. Bean, a fine defensive player, has six assists. In the second game of Saturday's doubleheader, he made a play that the Angels' Gary Pettis could be proud of. He raced into deep left-center, dived, and while completely outstretched, caught a sinking line drive hit by Chris Sloniger.