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VALLEY/VENTURA COUNTY SPORTS

One Up, One Down

Improved Offense Offsets Loss of Wolf

January 20, 1998|STEVE HENSON | TIMES STAFF WRITER

MALIBU — A recruiting class that includes three players who spurned bonus offers from major league teams and the return of All-West Coast Conference and Team USA shortstop David Matranga give the Pepperdine baseball team its most potent lineup in several years.

The loss of Randy Wolf, who signed with the Philadelphia Phillies after being drafted in the second round in June, leaves a major void in the pitching rotation, but reliable starters Andy Shibilo and Steve Schenewerk are back.

Coach Frank Sanchez, who led Pepperdine to a 34-25 record in his first season despite a 4-10 start, recognizes the potential.

"We are fortunate to have a number of returning players who made an impact on our program last season," Sanchez said. "However, we are also counting on several freshmen and junior college transfers to step in and make an immediate contribution."

Pepperdine's problem in recent seasons has been a lack of punch. The Waves' team batting average of .288 last season was well below par by college standards. Figure in that the Waves hit only 33 home runs and were just 54 of 86 in stolen-base attempts, and it's understandable that Wolf was only 9-4 despite leading the nation with a 1.79 earned-run average.

Sanchez responded by importing some power hitters at catcher, first and third, positions where offensive production is crucial.

Dane Sardinha, a freshman catcher from Kamehameha High in Hawaii, is the most welcome--and surprising--addition. Sardinha was considered the nation's best high school catching prospect by pro scouts, but he turned down a sizable bonus by the Kansas City Royals, who drafted him in the second round.

Freshmen normally don't provide consistent offense, but Sardinha should hit better than Dennis Twombly and Mike Kramer, the catchers the past two years whose averages were under .200.

Jared Pitney, another freshman, won the job at first base because of his hitting. The left-handed Pitney batted .519 at Chaparral High in Scottsdale, Ariz. Third baseman Greg Raymundo, a junior who batted .399 with six homers and 40 runs batted in last year at Fresno City College, also brings solid offensive credentials.

That trio joins a strong group of returners led by Matranga, who batted .305 with a team-high 11 homers and 50 RBIs.

Tyler Ferrer, an All-WCC first baseman last year, moves to second base. Ferrer finished strong last season, batting .320 with five homers and 45 RBIs.

Two starting outfielders are back and will probably hit at the top of the lineup. Left fielder Josh Oder batted .338 with 19 doubles and 41 RBIs and center fielder Chris Cosbey batted .279 with seven triples and 12 stolen bases.

Right field is up for grabs, although Ryan Merkle, who transferred from Cuesta College this month, might be the leading candidate.

Steve Zorn, who batted .298 last year, will get at-bats as a designated hitter. Kramer, a solid defensive catcher, will back up Sardinha.

Pitching, typically Pepperdine's strength, has more question marks than usual. No one is expected to put up Wolf's numbers, but Sanchez brought in three highly regarded newcomers to complement Shibilo and Schenewerk.

Shibilo, a 6-foot-6 junior and pro prospect, was 6-4 with a 4.03 ERA, striking out 90 in 89 innings. Schenewerk, a sophomore right-hander, had an excellent freshman season, going 8-3 with six complete games.

Junior transfers Paul Avery, a fifth-round draft pick, and Richard Sundstrom, a 15th-round choice, turned down pro offers. Avery is a left-hander from Fresno City and Sundstrom is a right-hander from state junior college champion Cypress.

Jay Adams, a freshman right-hander from Peninsula High, is another top recruit who could make an immediate impact.

In the bullpen, left-handers Dave Reed, Will Ohman and Micah Weathers return along with right-hander Rick Chessman. Brad Tucker is a transfer from Fresno City.

One less starting pitcher is necessary because the WCC returned to a three-game weekend series format after experimenting with four-games series last season.

Santa Clara, the conference champion the past two seasons, is expected to again be a strong contender. San Diego might be the most improved team.

Then again, Pepperdine hopes to gain that distinction, improving enough to win the WCC and qualify for the NCAA regionals for the first time since 1995. The last time the Waves went two years without making the regionals was 1983-84.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

PEPPERDINE ROSTER

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