Next up on the schedule for the UC Davis baseball team: the defending World Series champion Philadelphia Phillies.
All right, not exactly. You get the idea, though.
Coach Rex Peters couldn’t have drawn up a tougher schedule for his club had he tried, especially in the past six series.
Over that span, the Aggies have squared off with defending champ Fresno State and three top-25 teams (No. 6 Cal State Fullerton, No. 15 Cal Poly and No. 21 San Diego State).
They’ve also faced a team that has 19 NCAA Regional appearances and four College World Series berths to its credit (Long Beach State).
The fireballer of a starting pitcher that should go No. 1 overall in June’s MLB Draft (SDSU’s Stephen Strasburg) – you guessed it. The Aggies saw him, too.
“It doesn’t matter what kind of schedule you put together on the West Coast,” Peters said. “It’s going to be tough.“
Tough is an understatement.
UC Davis is 4-18 since beginning this hell-bending stretch of a schedule.
The young club is coming off three consecutive three-game sweeps at the hands of Big West Conference foes Cal Poly, Cal State Fullerton and Long Beach State. It’s been outscored a combined 81-20 over that stretch.
The worst part of it all: The Aggies aren’t out in the clear yet. In fact, they’re still in the thick of things.
UC Davis hosts UC Riverside for a three-game set this weekend before traveling to Orange County to take on UC Irvine next weekend.
All UC Riverside has done is win six of its past seven en route to a 26-14 record on the season. The Highlanders have a history of Big West success, having won the league title just two seasons ago.
All UC Irvine has done is beat basically everybody. The Anteaters are the No. 1 team in the country. They’ve won 13 of their 14 Big West games, the only loss coming in extra innings to Cal State Fullerton (the Titans were ranked No. 1 at the time).
“This isn’t a regional thing,” Peters said. “If you’re competing well in this conference, you can go anywhere in the country and compete.… You’ve got to be a top-40 team nationally to even finish in the top half of this conference. That’s how competitive it is.“
That’s the moral of the story, boys and girls. As ridiculous as this current stretch has been – and will continue to be – for UC Davis, the fact of the matter is every team on the West Coast has to survive a schedule like this if it wants to succeed.
This is normal. There’s no calm before the storm. There certainly isn’t one after it, either. If the Aggies want to compete, they’ll have to beat these teams.
It’s not like winning is something UC Davis doesn’t know how to do, though. It went 35-24 last season en route to a NCAA Tournament berth in its first year of Division I play.
The problem is the Aggies lost 13 players from that club to graduation or the MLB Draft; a school-record seven UC Davis players were taken in June’s draft.
Last year’s NCAA Tournament season, though, brought a great recruiting class UC Davis‘ way. The Aggies certainly have had their share of struggles this season, but their youth has been picking up some invaluable experience for the future along the way.
UC Davis has 13 games left before it closes the book on 2009. It’ll face the same challenges in those games that it did in its previous 42 contests.
This final stretch is about understanding the grind that comes with playing out a full Big West schedule. Odds are the growing pains will continue for the Aggies.
They’ll learn from them, though. Even if they have to play the Phillies.
ADAM LOBERSTEIN has a full schedule, too. Fortunately, he doesn’t have to face Big West opponents on a weekly basis. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.