Baseball makes first postseason since 1997
THE SANTA CLARA
May 22, 2014
This time last year, the Santa Clara baseball team was hanging up their gear after a brutal 1-23 conference season. This year the Broncos are preparing for their first West Coast Conference playoff game after clinching a berth following their series win versus Saint Mary’s College last weekend.
In a dramatic program turnaround in just one hard-fought season, the Broncos have become serious WCC contenders, ending their season 16-11 as the No. 4 seed in the conference.
“We had our backs against the wall and needed to finish the season with two wins,” said sophomore infielder and outfielder Jose Vizcaino Jr. “We just kept grinding and clearly showed how much of a fight this team can put up by coming back and earning a spot in the playoffs.”
Santa Clara’s season came down to the three-game series against St. Mary’s. After dropping Friday’s game, the Broncos claimed Saturday’s. The squad then looked to finish strong.
Sunday’s must-win game also fell on Senior Day, where departing senior Broncos were honored for their time at Santa Clara. The game result couldn’t have been better scripted.
“We’ve come a long way since last year and I think our seniors have been a huge part of that,” said junior T.J. Braff. “We’ve struggled for a couple years now but I think they’ve done a great job of leading the team and we’ve finally been able to turn the season around.”
“We’ve come a long way since last year and I think our seniors have been a huge part of that”
Santa Clara opened the game with a huge home run by Vizcaino to put the Broncos on top early, but Santa Clara allowed five runs in the third and fourth innings to run a 5-1 deficit.
The team responded when it really counted, answering with five runs of their own in the fourth and fifth, including a three RBI double by senior Casey Munoz to put Santa Clara ahead.
After a run by St. Mary’s to tie the score in the seventh, the game came down to the bottom of the ninth inning where the Broncos needed just one run to win the game and push them into the post-season.
Braff came through with an RBI walkoff, bringing home senior Greg Harisis for the game-winning and playoff-berth-clinching 7-6 win.
“That walkoff was awesome for me, I’ve never been able to do that before,” said Braff. “I’m just glad I was able to come up in that spot and help the team but really everyone contributed this weekend.”
The Broncos are now on their way to the postseason for the first time since 1997. Instead of succumbing to the shadow of their less-than-stellar history and last year’s 1-23 conference record, the team used the experience to push them forward this season.
“I think our guys used last year as fuel to their fire,” said Assistant Coach Gabe Ribas. “The team showed up and did the work. It takes guts and heart after failing time and time again to be able to pick yourselves up. That says a lot about the character of this team.”
Their shaky past behind them, the team looks forward to this Thursday’s playoff game in Stockton, California against Pepperdine University.
“We’re just looking ahead at a whole new experience,” said Braff. “We haven’t been able to play this far in a while and we just want to play as a team and embrace the underdog role and see if we can do some good things in Stockton.”
Santa Clara will have a tough playoff schedule, facing the winner of the game between No. 2 seed Loyola Marymount University and No. 3 seed Gonzaga University if they pass the Waves.
“Being around baseball my entire life, I’ve learned that anything can happen in the playoffs,” said Vizcaino. “Right now, we are focused on not only getting prepared for these games, but also just staying relaxed and realizing we are the team that can upset (our competition).”
Coach Ribas also believes in the importance of their momentum.
“I’ll say this -— I wouldn’t want to be another coach in this tournament having to play us,” said Ribas. “With the toughness of our group, you better finish us off early because we’re going to stick with it.”
Sydney Sanchez is a sophomore accounting major.