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Saturday, October 23, 2021

Column: Going in the same direction

This year’s UC Davis baseball team has a different mentality.

While last season’s team struggled in pitching, defense and timely hitting on its way to a 13-42 record a season ago, the 2010 Aggie squad stresses the importance of playing as a single unit over anything else.

“We’re playing the game as a team,” said pitcher Dayne Quist who is 2-0 on the season with a 0.56 ERA. “Everyone is pulling the rope in the same direction. We all have the same goals game in and game out.”

So far, this change in mindset has worked to the Aggies’ advantage. They are 4-3 on the season and already own a dominating 8-0 win over Pacific 10 Conference member California.

“Everything went right,” said coach Rex Peters of his team’s win over Cal. “I don’t think you can play a more flawless game than we did down there. To go down and play an archrival on the road from the Pac-10 – to play that well and get a win is really satisfying.”

What is particularly amazing about the Aggies’ season so far is that they’ve been winning with a great pitching staff – something they mightily struggled with last year.

“The pitching staff wanted to put it on our shoulders,” Quist said. “We knew we were a weak point last year and we struggled doing our job. We just really wanted to come out and execute our game plan to put our team in the position to win. That’s what the pitching staff is going to continue to try to do.”

Peters doesn’t hold back his praise of the pitching staff.

“Other than [the 10-2 loss to BYU], we’ve pitched very well and that’s a positive sign,” Peters said. “Last year we struggled on the mound to throw strikes. Through six games, I am happy with the way we’ve thrown the ball.”

The Aggies’ staff has a cumulative 2.50 earned run average, a .238 batting average and has held the opponent to one run or less in four of the first seven contests.

But it’s not all about pitching.

For shortstop Justin Schafer, the improvement from last season to this one pretty much comes down to the disparity in culture.

“[The difference is] just the change of atmosphere,” Schafer said. “Last year, we were a bit soft mentally. When we were down five we packed it in. This year has been about mental toughness, grinding through, getting tough and being confident.”

The confidence that the Aggies have built so far this season is something they’ll attempt to build off of as they continue with non-conference play before heading into Big West Conference action in April.

“[The win at Cal] shows us what we are able to do – what we can do,” centerfielder Daniel Cepin said. “If we play our best baseball, we’re going to give ourselves the best chance. It’s up to us if we decide to show up and work as a team. That’s what big wins like that do for us.”

The Aggies aren’t quite there yet, though. And they know it.

“Offensively, we are still trying to find our identity a little bit and find a lineup that’s going to be productive for us,” Peters said. “But that’s going to come in time.”

While the Aggies wait, they are perfectly fine with riding that newly developed team mentality to their victories.

“We don’t have 32 individuals out there,” Schafer said. “It’s a team.”

Cepin would agree.

“Our goal was to play as a team and see where that takes us,” Cepin said. “You can throw all individual goals out of the way.”

It won’t be easy, however, to equate just a team effort into consistent wins. The Aggies will need to play their best baseball on a regular basis in order to produce the kind of results they’re looking for.

“There’s not a lot of room for error for us,” Schafer said. “When we play well we win. It’s easy to say but it’s the truth.”

MAX ROSENBLUM is hoping this year’s baseball team can relive the magic of two years ago when it went to Regionals. That year, UC Davis owned Stanford. The Aggies host the Cardinal Wednesday at 2:00 p.m. He has a midterm at 4:10 p.m. so e-mail him at sports@theaggie.org if you’re going for him.

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