The UC Davis baseball team is a hard team not to root for.
The squad has flown a bit under the radar in the Aggie sports world for the last several years, but early in the 2012 season it looks like the Aggies could prove to be one of the most compelling groups this campus has seen in some time.
Granted Dobbins Stadium will probably never produce the energy of Aggie Stadium during the Causeway Classic or the Pavilion as men’s basketball looks for a win over Pacific, but UC Davis baseball is turning things around and it’s time to take notice.
At this point last season UC Davis was an unimpressive 2-5, but after eight games this season the Aggies are 5-2 –– with their game against San Jose State still waiting to be completed (it was suspended due to impending darkness).
From top to bottom the Aggies are going to be a fun team to watch this season, and it all begins with their first-year head coach.
Matt Vaughn is UC Davis blue and gold all the way through.
After thinking he would be hired as the Aggies’ new head coach in 2003 only to be disappointed by the university’s choice to hire Rex Peters, Vaughn chose to stick with UC Davis as associate head coach with the hope that he would one day become the top-man at his alma mater.
Over the next eight years Vaughn turned down several head coaching positions at other universities to stay in Davis, and now, in his 20th year as a member of the UC Davis coaching staff, Vaughn is finally in his dream job.
And he is taking full advantage.
Vaughn has his team poised and playing hard, something that can be difficult for a first-year coach to accomplish. Most importantly, however, Vaughn has managed his team in perfect strategic fashion.
Without a true power-hitter in the order (UC Davis has yet to tally a single home run this season), Vaughn has been aggressive on the base-paths — manufacturing runs and taking advantage of his team’s speed.
And that’s just the type of management an underdog team like UC Davis needs.
After losing key pieces like Scott Lyman and Joe Biagini to the professional ranks last season, critics predicted that UC Davis would struggle in 2012, and the team was ranked eighth out of the nine teams in the Big West Conference preseason poll.
But the Aggie have exploded out of the gates, surprising nearly everyone.
With multiple series against nationally ranked opponents and a conference schedule that always proves to be a challenge, UC Davis will have a chance to turn a few heads with big-time upsets this season.
Possibly the most enticing part of this Aggie team, however, is that — if the season so far is any indication — this team will be playing close games all year.
UC Davis has gone to extra-innings in three of its first eight games, including Friday’s 16-inning win over Cal State Bakersfield and the still unfinished game against San Jose State that will go at least 12-innings.
And not only are the Aggies playing in close games, but they are finding ways to win in dramatic fashion.
Saturday UC Davis entered the top of the ninth against CSU Bakersfield trailing 5-1, only to stage a dramatic comeback — scoring five runs in the final inning to pull off a dramatic 6-5 victory.
It’s been a bizarre way to open the season, but the Aggies are learning how to win close games –– and with a solid mix of veterans and young players that’s a good skill to have.
So fasten your seatbelts, because this is going to be a nail-biting season for baseball fans.
And even if you’re not a baseball fan, this is a hard team not to root for.
TREVOR CRAMER can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.