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Loyola Skids Into Playoff for NCAA Tourney Slot

May 15, 1986|ALAN DROOZ

Loyola Marymount University's baseball team, which rolled merrily along until the final week of the season, suddenly finds itself in a playoff with Pepperdine for an automatic berth in the NCAA playoffs.

The Lions lost two of three at Nevada-Reno while Pepperdine swept a three-game series from Santa Clara last weekend, leaving both at 19-5 in the West Coast Athletic Conference. They'll clash in a one-game playoff at 3:15 p.m. Saturday at UCLA's Jackie Robinson Field to determine the automatic NCAA representative. For league purposes, the teams have been declared co-champions.

Loyola, which finished the regular season 44-12, expects to receive an NCAA bid regardless of Saturday's outcome. But the Lions, who were ranked No. 1 nationally during a streak of 20 wins in 21 games, have fallen out of favor with the pollsters this week--dropping to seventh in the Baseball America top 10 and to 11th in Collegiate Baseball.

Pepperdine, 35-18-2, feels it must win to be assured a tournament bid. The teams split their season series, 3-3.

At-large berths will be announced by the NCAA on Monday.

Loyola is expected to start ace senior Tim Layana, 15-2, against Pepperdine's 12-game winner, Mike Fetters. Layana owns nearly every pitching record at Loyola, including the 15 victories and 120 strikeouts this year. Layana's top sidekick is junior left-hander Mark Stomp, who led the team in victories for much of the season. His record is 12-4.

The Lions are batting .325 and averaging 9.3 runs a game. Sophomore third baseman Chris Donnels set school records with 18 home runs and 81 runs batted in. Senior outfielder Billy Bean, who set several school career hitting records, is at .348 with a team-high 74 runs and 56 RBIs. Outfielder Jim Holleran leads the regulars with a .373 average. First baseman/designated hitter Todd Elliott is hitting a productive .315, with 48 RBIs in 108 at-bats. First baseman/designated hitter Steve Polk is hitting .360 with 50 RBIs.

Pepperdine, 24-7 in its last 31 games, has moved up to 17th in the Baseball America poll and 18th in Collegiate Baseball playing a different type of game than Loyola--scrapping for runs and winning on tough pitching and defense. The Waves rank ninth in the country in earned-run average and second in defense. Fetters, 12-5, a junior, is being touted as a potential first-round pro draft pick. Tony Lewis, 9-3 with a 2.52 ERA, has been nearly as effective.

The offense revolves around sophomore outfielder Steve Kirkpatrick, the leading hitter at .349; junior third baseman Paul Faries (.330) and freshman outfielder Rick Hirtensteiner, whose .288 mark includes a team-high eight game-winning hits.

"It's been kind of a revival of the Loyola-Pepperdine rivalry this year, in both basketball and baseball," said a Pepperdine spokesman. "It's extra fun for these games to mean something."

In their most recent series the teams played to form--and to win. Pepperdine won two low-scoring pitching duels before Loyola broke loose for a 14-4 victory that featured a benches-clearing brawl and one casualty--the umpire got punched in the nose.

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