UC Davis senior baseball players Tino Lipson and Nick Lynch watched in awe the breakthrough exploits of their friends on the men’s basketball team this season.
So they had to ask: “Why not us?”
The Aggies’ basketball team posted its first winning Division I season with 25 wins, captured the Big West Conference regular-season title and reached the National Invitational Tournament.
“We hang out with those guys,” said Lipson, a second baseman. “They’re a blast. They had such a good season, so we’re trying to build on that. When it comes to Aggies’ athletics, we’re all one unit, one family.”
With UCD basketball stars Corey Hawkins, Tyler Les and Josh Ritchart watching from the stands Tuesday, the Aggies’ showcased another dominating all-around performance in walloping Saint Mary’s 11-2 in a nonconference game.
It was Aggies’ seventh consecutive win, 10th in the past 11 games and ran their record to 18-7-1 entering a four-game series starting Thursday in Hawaii.
UCD is showing potential to match or perhaps surpass the 2008 team that went 35-24 overall, 13-11 in the Big West and made the NCAA Regional playoffs in its first season in D-I. The Aggies haven’t had a winning season since.
Just as the basketball team was led by fifth-year seniors Les, Hawkins, Ritchart and Avery Johnson, the baseball team also is dominated by senior leaders. Lipson and Lynch and pitcher Raul Jacobson are fifth-year seniors, and the Aggies have nine seniors making key contributions.
“Every single one of them has bought into giving (baseball) a huge percentage of their focus,” said UCD coach Matt Vaughn. “Sometimes when you have a lot of seniors, you have a couple of guys starting to move on: ‘Where am I going to work next year, what am I going to do after I graduate.’ These guys are staying in the present. I think that’s why we started so well because they are keeping everyone else in it, too.”
The Aggies’ top six hitters – first baseman Lynch (.404, 20 RBIs), catcher Izaak Silva (.352, 18 RBIs), Lipson (.346, 15 RBIs), outfielder Austin March (.333, 13 RBIs), outfielder John Williams (.328, 10 RBIs) and outfielder Kevin Barker (.298, 17 stolen bases) – are seniors.
UCD is hitting .299 as a team and has continued to mash the ball even though Barker, their center fielder, leadoff hitter and returning All-Big West second-team selection, has missed the past five games because of a fractured finger.
Two of their top four starting pitchers, Jacobson (3-0, 2.44 ERA) and 6-foot-5 Spencer Koopmans (2-2, 4.50 ERA), also are seniors.
“There’s a lot of experience on the team,” said Lynch, the Big West hitting leader who had a school-record eight RBIs in a 10-4 win over Nevada earlier this season. “Guys are doing their jobs and executing. It’s a lot of fun to be a part of.”
Along with sophomore Orlando Razo (4-1, 2.50 ERA), redshirt junior Max Cordy (6-0, 4.28) from McClatchy High School and sophomore reliever Zach Stone (2-0, six saves, 0.00 ERA in 15 appearances), the Aggies have a team ERA of 3.22.
But the biggest impact for the Aggies may be on the basepaths. After stealing six bases against Saint Mary’s, the Aggies have stolen 71 bases (in 94 attempts) in 26 games, third nationally in D-I. Last year, they stole 38 bases in 59 games.
“We’re not only stealing bases but we’re taking the extra base on a base hit, anticipating a breaking ball and taking an extra base when the ball is in the dirt,” Vaughn said. “We spent a lot more time practicing that this fall. We’re basically playing with the same guys as last year, but we’re running a lot better.”
UCD opened Big West play last weekend by sweeping UC Riverside and will face a Hawaii team that is 0-3 in conference and 9-19 overall this weekend (it’s a four-game series but only the first three are conference games.
Entering this season, the Aggies were picked to finish last among the conference’s nine teams in the preseason coaches poll.
Lipson and Lynch remember as redshirt freshmen in 2012 when the Aggies started slowly in Big West play but won the last four series to finish 12-12. UCD won only 12 conference games in the next two seasons combined.
“We had good pitching that season, too, but we came out flat in our first two series, so by the time we got it together it was too late to make (an NCAA) regional,” said Lipson, who leads the Aggies with an 11-game hitting streak. “We’ve started this season hot from the get-go. Now it’s a matter of carrying it through.”
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