On Monday, the NCAA announced that UC Davis was one of three teams in the country to earn an at-large bid to the 2008 NCAA Division I Baseball Tournament. The Aggies (34-22) compiled the second-best overall road record in the Big West Conference at 17-12, and will travel down to Stanford on Friday for the Palo Alto Regional Tournament with No. 15 Stanford (33-21-2) of the Pacific-10 Conference, Arkansas (34-22) from the Southeastern Conference, and Pepperdine (36-19) of the West Coast Conference.
Aggie Staff Writer Ray Lin recently sat down with UC Davis head coach Rex Peters to talk about being the most “dangerous” No. 4 regional seed in the tournament, matching up against Stanford, and the team’s biggest weakness going into the postseason.
Having coached six years here at UC Davis before finally getting that NCAA Division I tournament invitation, what are your thoughts and emotions on getting the bid?
It’s a tribute to all the hard work. We’ve come a long way in a short amount of time. When the move was announced four years ago, we took a step back and looked at what we were in for, and realized that we were going into one of the best baseball conferences in the country. We asked ourselves how we were going to compete with the Fullertons and Long Beaches and those types of teams. It seemed darn near impossible at that point, but we just said that we would take it one step at a time, take steps forward each year and get better.
This year, we played a tough schedule, competed against very good teams and did enough to get into the tournament. We feel like we deserve to be there based on what we’ve done this year.
On Monday, Baseball America called your team one of the most “dangerous” No. 4 seeds in the country and the one with the best chance to win its regional. Do you feel like you can surprise some people as a fourth seed?
We feel like we’ve been in a position to surprise people all year long. We were picked to finish last in the Big West and we had a lot to prove. Then, we started beating some people and opened their eyes to UC Davis and what we were accomplishing.
Now, this is another opportunity to go out there and surprise people, open their eyes, shock the world or however you want to put it. We feel like we can compete with teams at this level. And we’ve proven it all year long with the quality of wins we’ve had.
Your team has gone 5-1 against Stanford dating back to 2006, including a two-game sweep this season. How are you matching up so well against what is perennially one of the best programs in the nation?
I can’t really put my thumb on it, but for some reason they just bring out the best in us. I don’t know if it’s because it’s the Stanford Cardinal, playing in Sunken Diamond or what. I think that’s what happens for a lot of sports here at Davis. Stanford is very talented, but I don’t think there‘s a better place for us to go in the postseason, especially in our first year.
What’s the scouting report on the other two teams in the regional, Arkansas and Pepperdine?
I don’t know anything about Pepperdine and Arkansas other than the fact that both teams are very well-coached. Coach Van Horn at Arkansas does a good job with his program, and he’ll have them prepared to play, as will Steve Rodriguez with Pepperdine. We did play Pepperdine last year, so I know that they’re going to have good solid starting pitching, pretty good team speed, and they’re going to pressure our team’s defense.
I think because we’re more familiar with Stanford, we’ll probably be more comfortable going in head-to-head with them than any other team in the regional.
If you win the regional, what will be the thing that puts you over the top, and if you lose, what will hold you back?
I think if there’s anything that holds us back, it’ll be our defense – that’s been the weakest aspect of our game this season. As a program, we preach throwing strikes and playing catch. We’ve done a pretty good job with our pitchers in throwing strikes, and we pitch to contact a lot, so when you do that, you have to play defense behind those pitchers.
We’ve been a little erratic with our defense over the season. If we pitch and play defense, we’ll give ourselves a chance to win. We’ll be in games. If we go in there and pitch the way we’re capable of, play solid defense, and get some timely hitting, we’ll have a chance to move on.
What’s the mood of the players now that they have the chance to take this program where it’s never been before?
They’re excited and grateful for the opportunity to compete in postseason and represent the university. I’m sure that at this point, all we’re focusing on is playing good baseball. The hardest thing is getting into the tournament. Now we just have to play good baseball and hopefully it’s good enough for us to move on.
RAY LIN can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org. XXX