ORANGE, Calif. - It may be better to be lucky than good, but in the case of the Chapman University baseball team there's no doubt the "good" has outweighed the luck, despite what a modest Tom Tereschuk says.
When asked why his teams have consistently been able to perform at their highest level when the stakes are the greatest (i.e. winning six regional championships in seven years and three top-three national finishes in his first nine seasons), Tereschuk credits…wait for it…luck.
"I honestly don't know. Luck, I guess," says the skipper of one of the most successful Division III programs over the past decade. Once or twice? That may be a tad lucky. But seven West Region titles in nine years? If that's just good fortune then Tereschuk has won the lottery.
"When we get to the postseason, that's the time to enjoy it, have fun and play with confidence," says Tereschuk who at 319-103 (.756) is the winningest coach in Chapman baseball history. "I try not to make it any bigger than what they've been doing all season long."
That approach paid dividends once again last May when the underdog Panthers upset a top-seeded Linfield College (Ore.) team in the regional finals and kept that going into the national championship game where they lost to Marietta College (Ohio), placing second in the nation.
As far as Chapman was concerned, the West Region crown had returned to its rightful owner after one year in Linfield's possession. If the Wildcats' 2010 regional title wasn't a sign there might be a changing of the guard after five straight title runs by the Panthers, they made a statement by taking three in a four-game series against Chapman last April.
"Linfield was really strong. We just flat got beat (in that series)," says Tereschuk. "But we knew we were capable of getting them, especially when it came down to that one (regional championship) game."
With their ascension back to the top of the West Region, expectations are once again high for the Panthers who are ranked No. 2 by D3Baseball.com in its national preseason poll. Chapman will benefit from a veteran pitching staff as it returns six of seven pitchers from last year's staff that threw at least 23 innings in 2011.
The hand's-down ace of the staff will once again be junior RHP Brian Rauh. The two-time ABCA All-American and West Region Pitcher of the Year is unbeaten in his career at 22-0 with a 2.01 ERA. Last year he led all of Division III with 133 strikeouts in 113.2 innings and tossed seven complete games. However, Tereschuk is careful not to place too lofty of expectations on his stud right-hander.
"He's not Superman," says Tereschuk. "No one expects him to be perfect, nor to do it by himself. But what we can count on is to get the same consistent effort from him every time out. He's a great competitor with outstanding stuff."
The way Chapman's schedule plays out, Tereschuk will need pitching depth to use a fourth starter in a number of series this season; yet another advantage the Panthers have on the eve of their opener.
"We have a lot of quality arms;" says Tereschuk, "Guys who are going to contribute a lot and compete for starts and bullpen innings."
Among those is a pair of right-handers who combined to go 12-6 in 20 starts for the Panthers last season: junior RHP Christian Maietta (6-3, 3.21 ERA, 2 CG) and junior RHP Travis McGee (6-3, 4.50 ERA, 58 K). Both showed flashes of brilliance, including some clutch postseason performances and will be leaned on to at least equal the 145 innings they combined for last year.
Senior LHP Ben Levitt (29.2 IP, 2-1, two saves), junior RHP Kevin Osaki (26.2 IP, 0.68 ERA, 26 K), junior RHP Kyle Tachibana (23 IP, 3-2, five saves, 2.35 ERA) and sophomore RHP/UT Taber Watson (transfer from College of Marin) provide Chapman with many options and experience.
Stats can be deceiving if you look at Chapman's team batting average of .292 last season – a 16-year low – as 2011 was the first year NCAA implemented its strictest legislation against bats and saw a considerable decline in offensive production nationwide.
"The new bat rules made a huge impact last season," says Tereschuk. "But it's to our benefit as a program that generally has good pitching, athletes that make plays on defense, and an offense with an emphasis on execution and fundamentals."
Numbers aside, the Panthers return seven of their nine everyday starters from last year, including a number of youngsters that gained invaluable experience in the lineup and off the bench.
Among the "seasoned" sophomores returning this spring are leadoff man OF Adam Velez (.309 BA, 10 2B, 26 R), 1B Mark Saatzer (.317 BA, 34 RBI) and SS Troy Newman (.378 OBP, 30 R). Sophomores OF Connor Battaglia (.304 BA, 4 2B, 10 RBI) and IF Adam Coggan (.236 BA, 3 2B, 11 R) are also in line for a bulk of playing time after coming off the bench as rookies.
"Parr is a huge on-base guy and his numbers across the board are very strong," says Tereschuk about his middle-of-the-order guy. The junior led Chapman with a .467 slugging percentage and 23 extra-base hits, including 16 doubles. He also finished with a .431 on-base percentage and was among the national leaders in walks (40).
Piro's numbers resembled those of Parr in terms of batting (.293), runs (34), doubles (12) and RBI (25) while totaling 17 extra-base hits. And Surnbrock put up solid power numbers, also with 17 extra-base hits, including five home runs, 28 RBI and a .484 slugging percentage. Senior Steve Greenberg will serve as the Panthers' primary DH after batting .291 with 30 runs and 20 RBI in his first year at Chapman.
Behind the plate, Tereschuk will go with freshman C Matt Gandy (Foothill HS) to manage one of the best pitching staffs in the nation. It's a move Tereschuk admits is "putting a lot on (Gandy) in his freshman year. But there is no doubt he's going to develop into an outstanding catcher for us."
The Chapman skipper calls this year's schedule the most challenging yet as the Panthers are slated to face four of the top-25 teams in the nation in No. 3 Kean (N.J.), No. 4 Linfield, No. 20 Redlands and No. 22 Trinity (Texas).
Besides Linfield, the Panthers will host series against two more of the top programs in the Northwest Conference: old playoff rivals George Fox (Ore.) and Pacific Lutheran (Wash.).
As challenges go, Chapman's defense of the West Region crown will once again offer plenty. But no doubt the Panthers are ready for another run and equipped with talent…if not, maybe a little luck.
by Doug Aiken
Sports Information Director