Josh Hochgesang is hoping for a strong finish to his four-year career at Stanford.
"We came into this season thinking we might be down a little after losing so many key players, but it has turned out well," said Hochgesang, who graduated from Sunny Hills.
Stanford is ranked sixth nationally, has won 11 consecutive games and will be trying to win the Pacific 10 championship this weekend during a three-game series at UCLA beginning Friday.
The Cardinal (38-12, 17-4 in the Pac-10) has a two-game lead over second-place USC (31-22, 15-6) despite losing two of three games to the Trojans last month. USC plays a three-game series at home against Washington in the final weekend of conference play.
Stanford lost its top pitchers, Jeff Austin and Chad Hutchinson, in professional baseball's draft, but sophomores Justin Wayne (7-1) and Jason Young (8-3) are having good seasons and freshman Brian Sager (4-0) has become a capable third starter.
The Cardinal also lost outfielder Jody Gerut and shortstop Jay Pecci to the pros, but the return of Hochgesang, outfielder Joe Borchard and first baseman John Gall provided strength on offense.
"We don't have as many superstars as we've had in other years, but we feel we'll be right up there in contention when it's time for the playoffs," Hochgesang said. "I like our chances."
Hochgesang, who has been the team's regular third baseman for three years, is having a solid year, though his .308 batting average is slightly below that of the last two seasons.
Hochgesang leads the team in home runs this season with 14, and is second among the school's career home run leaders with 43, trailing only Paul Carey's 56 in 1987-90. Hochgesang has driven in 54 runs.
Hochgesang batted .365 with 17 homers as a sophomore two years ago, when Stanford reached the College World Series and Hochgesang was named Most Valuable Player of the NCAA West Regional. He batted .315 with 10 home runs last season, when Stanford was ousted by Long Beach State in regional play.
The Florida Marlins drafted him in the 17th round last June, but he decided to return to Stanford.
"I thought I would sign and I really can't pinpoint why I didn't," Hochgesang said. "But after going through the negotiations, I guess I knew in my heart I wanted to come back and see what we could do this season. I didn't play well in the regional last year, and that was disappointing to me."
Hochgesang had only one hit in 12 at-bats in three games in the 1998 regional at Stanford. As one of only three seniors on this year's team, he said he hopes he can provide leadership in the final weeks of the season. "I can't help but feel that way this year as a senior," he said.
In the last five games, Hochgesang is hitting .450 with 12 RBIs and nine runs scored.
SITE PICKING TIME
The NCAA is scheduled to announce its 16 regional baseball tournament sites Monday, but might delay the selection of a few sites until after conference tournaments next week, according to NCAA spokesman Jim Wright.
Stanford, USC and Arizona State are bidding for one of the tournaments, but Cal State Fullerton decided not to bid because of a conflict with graduation that will require the use of all available parking in the Titan Field area on the second day of regional play.
Fullerton, however, is keeping the option open to bid for one of the eight two-team super-regionals, if the Titans advance.
Rice, another of the nation's top eight teams, also won't bid for a regional, but would bid for a super-regional that would be played in the Houston Astrodome.
Seven other schools, in addition to Stanford, are likely to be hosts: Miami, Florida State, Texas A&M, Alabama, Wichita State, Arkansas and Ohio State. Long Beach State has not decided if it will place a bid, according to Athletic Director Bill Shumard. Schools have until Friday to notify the NCAA if they wish to bid for a regional.
STILL A BIG SERIES
The Fullerton-Long Beach State series this weekend at Titan Field lost some of its luster after the Titans clinched the Big West title last weekend at New Mexico State, but it's still important for both teams.
The Titans (43-9) are in a position to be one of the eight seeded teams nationally when the NCAA tournament bracket is announced May 24, and can strengthen their position in their final regular-season series.
Under the new NCAA tournament structure, the eight seeded teams are assured of not having to play each other unless they advance to the College World Series in Omaha. And the higher the seeding, the more consideration from the NCAA baseball committee when it assigns the teams.
The series against Fullerton and a three-game series against Miami at Blair Field next week will give Long Beach (30-20) a chance to show it deserves an at-large berth in the 64-team field.