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Davis, California

Wednesday, February 21, 2024

Column: On the right track

Justin Schafer can rest a little easier – for now.

That’s because his UC Davis baseball team, which won a total of 13 games all of last year, has already surpassed that total with 14 this year – and we’re only midway through the season.

“It’s a lot better than last year,” Schafer said. “You can sleep better at night, that’s for sure.”

However, this feeling will only be momentary for Schafer and the rest of the Aggies. For them, exceeding last year’s win total is actually not that big of a deal.

“I don’t think it’s an accomplishment,” said coach Rex Peters. “We were so bad last year we should surpass that win total.”

So if improving on last season’s win total wasn’t one of this year’s objectives, then what are the Aggies’ goals?

The answer is actually pretty simple. Peters just wants the team to stay competitive in the super tough Big West Conference.

“I think for us to be at the point where we’re hovering around .500 or a little above and we’ve played a pretty good schedule is more of the accomplishment than the win total at this point,” Peters said.

That’s exactly where UC Davis sits right now, currently holding a 14-13 overall record with a 2-4 Big West mark through two series.

The Aggies have accomplished this by making one minor tweak – or a major one, depending on how you look at it.

They’re now playing as a single unit, as opposed to just saying it. Midway through the season, that much is now clear.

“The moment we stepped on the field in the fall, we knew it was going to be a different attitude,” said sophomore pitcher/outfielder David Popkins. “Since fall, the chemistry is probably 100 times better than last year.”

Popkins and Schafer were a part of last year’s squad that went just 13-42. That’s why they felt the need for a change.

“Last year, pretty much anything bad that could’ve happened did happen,” Popkins said. “It was one of those years. It kind of seemed like everybody was playing for themselves, especially when we started getting a losing record. This year, it’s just totally different.”

The difference shows.

Last weekend, UC Davis was on the wrong end of a Cal State Fullerton series sweep in which the Titans outscored the Aggies 46-13.

Whereas last year’s team might have been demoralized by a series result like that, the 2010 Aggies are motivated. They returned to take two of three from a strong Long Beach State squad.

“I think we’re [playing as a team],” Schafer said. “You can see that in a series win [against a team like Long Beach]. Last weekend, we got killed. Everyone played together this weekend, pulled together and won.”

The change of atmosphere has definitely helped the Aggies make a significant turnaround from last year.

However, improving their team batting average by over 30 points and earned run average by over two runs so far this season hasn’t hurt them either.

Now the Aggies have put themselves in the precise position they would like to be in as the Big West schedule heats up.

“We stand up there with anybody,” Popkins said. “The Big West, as coach [Peters] says, is pretty even. Anybody can win on any given day. If you get the right balance, you can end up at the top. If you get the wrong balance, you can end up at the bottom.”

Winning on any given day won’t be easy by any measure, though, especially with No. 16 UC Irvine coming to town the weekend after next.

With six non-conference contests before the Anteaters arrive, Peters would just like the Aggies to gain some confidence before playing probably their toughest opponent of the season.

“We want to try to build some momentum going into another big series,” Peters said.

MAX ROSENBLUM thinks baseball has been very, very good to the Aggies this season – much better than last season. E-mail him at sports@theaggie.org to tell him how many games you think UC Davis will win this season.


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