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Sports : He Has the Trip to Omaha Down Pat

August 04, 1994|SEAN WATERS | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

New Pepperdine baseball Coach Pat Harrison knows the way to Omaha and the College World Series.

Harrison, 48, also knows how to win at Omaha. He has been associated with four College World Series champions.

In 1968, Harrison was the starting second baseman for USC, which won the championship.

In 1973 and '74, Harrison helped guide the Trojans to the championship as a member of the USC coaching staff under Rod Dedeaux.

Last season, as an assistant under Oklahoma's Larry Cochell, Harrison had a hand in a fourth national championship.

So when Pepperdine began its search to replace Andy Lopez, who resigned June 20 to become coach at Florida, the first person it turned to was Harrison.

"It's great to have a business or a school show interest and pursue you," Harrison said. "I think Pepperdine has a great baseball tradition, even better than some people realize, and I hope to continue that tradition."

After he was hired, Harrison brought in former Dodger and Angel pitcher Geoff Zahn, who will coach the Wave pitchers. Zahn was the athletic director at The Master's College in Newhall, where Harrison was coach from 1987-90. The Master's competes in the National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics.

"I think with the experience I bring from the major leagues, I have a lot to add to this program," said Zahn, who had a 18-year professional career. "We're going to try and maintain what Andy started and put in a lot of hard work."

For the past four seasons, Harrison has been a hitting and fielding coach with the Sooners. Last season, Oklahoma finished 50-17 with a 13-4 victory over Georgia Tech in the College World Series title game.

In 1972, Harrison was studying to become a Presbyterian minister at Fuller Seminary in Pasadena when he received an invitation from Dedeaux to be an assistant at USC. He has also coached at Washington State and Oral Roberts.

"I've heard nothing but good things about the guy from friends in Orange County who played at Oklahoma," said Pepperdine infielder David Newhan, who spent the summer playing in the Cape Cod League in Massachusetts. "We have three Oklahoma kids on our team and they were saying they would be real disappointed if he left because he is a good coach and a nice guy."

As a player, Harrison became USC's first two-time All-American. During his senior season, he batted .278 and led the Trojans in runs batted in with 47 to help USC win the national championship. He was selected by the Dodgers in the first round of the secondary phase of the draft.

During his first day in major league training camp, Harrison tore his left hamstring. He quit as a player after 2 1/2 seasons in the minor leagues.

Harrison has been a college hitting instructor to several major league players, most notably John Olerud of Toronto Blue Jays.

"One of my main strengths is teaching hitting. I also understand the struggles a fielder can have in a ballgame. I consider myself a players' coach because of the positive feedback I have received over the years from my former players."

Harrison will be pressed to match Lopez's record. In six seasons as coach, Lopez guided the Waves to four NCAA playoff appearances and the 1992 national championship. His record was 241-107.

Although most Pepperdine players enjoyed playing for Lopez, some say he did not handle internal problems that existed last season between veteran players and community college transfers. The Waves finished 33-20 and failed to make the NCAA tournament for the first time since 1990.

"I felt some of the players had a difficult time getting adjusted to the program coming from junior colleges," Pepperdine starting first baseman Ruben Gamboa said. "Hopefully, that will change."

Said Tony Treul, who played left field after transferring from Rancho Santiago: "We were not getting along as a team. We were not jelling well. We were treated like intruders.

"I hear Coach Harrison is a good guy. I just hope he is not timid and takes control."

Pitcher Matt Wise, who will be a sophomore, looks forward to working with Zahn.

"I want to do whatever it takes to win," Wise said. "I just want to get to Omaha."

Harrison believes he can lead Pepperdine to another national title.

"I've been to the top of Division I with a variety of different players," he said. "I know how to get there and how to win. I'm realistic to know you need to win a few games you probably don't deserve to win and you need lucky breaks. But Pepperdine has been there before and I believe I can take them there again."

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