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December 12, 2007

Conference Previews: West Coast

The West Coast Conference needs to make a statement.

San Diego put together an impressive regular season campaign in 2007, but stumbled in the postseason. Pepperdine suffered the same fate, while Gonzaga failed to reach the postseason.

As the 2008 season nears, San Diego carries the torch.

The Toreros have the nation's best weekend rotation and an outstanding closer. However, the offense must rise to the occasion without several key contributors from last year's team.

Santa Clara could be a pleasant surprise with a deep pitching staff, while San Francisco hopes to rebound from last season.

We preview the WCC.

Rivals.com's West Coast Conference Preview
Predicted order of finish Preseason all-conference
1. San Diego
2. Pepperdine
3. Santa Clara
4. Gonzaga
5. San Francisco
6. Loyola Marymount
7. Portland
8. St. Mary's
1B. Ryan Wiegand, Gonzaga
2B. Joey Railey, San Francisco
3B. Gabe Alcantar, Santa Clara
SS. Chase d'Arnaud, Pepperdine
OF. Donald Brown, Pepperdine
OF. Angelo Songco, Loyola Marymount
OF. Shawn Wayt, Gonzaga
C. Tommy Medica, Santa Clara
SP. Brian Matusz, San Diego
SP. Josh Romanski, San Diego
SP. Matt Couch, San Diego
RP. AJ Griffin, San Diego
DH. Mitchell Bialosky, San Francisco
West Coast Conference breakdown
Team on the rise
Santa Clara
In his six seasons at Santa Clara, coach Mark O'Brien has had a vision of turning the Broncos into consistent winners. The 2008 season could start a new and improved trend. The Broncos finished the 2007 campaign with a less than stellar 27-29 record. They also failed to impress in WCC play, ending the year in a tie for fourth with a 9-12 record. Though recent history suggests Santa Clara will continue to struggle, the Broncos should be in great shape with pitchers Matt Wickswat, Donald Brandt and Nate Garcia leading the charge. Relievers Steve Kalush and Alex Rivers are also coming off impressive campaigns. While the offense is in good shape with catcher Tommy Medica as the headliner, the pitching staff could guide this team to the NCAA Tournament. A good year would get critics off O'Brien's back.
Coach on the rise
Rich Hill
In his first eight seasons at San Diego, coach Rich Hill spent much of his time trying to turn the Toreros into a national power. He succeeded in 2007 his ninth season. Despite getting knocked out of the NCAA Tournament in the Regional round, the Toreros still put together an impressive regular season campaign. In addition to earning a national seed, the Toreros compiled an overall record of 43-18. They also finished the year with an 18-3 conference mark three games ahead of second place Gonzaga. With last season serving as a confidence builder, the Toreros hope to take the next step in 2008. USD certainly has the pitching staff to go the distance.
Best pitcher
Brian Matusz
As the Toreros put together a memorable campaign last season, they were led by one of the nation's best weekend rotations. Josh Romanski and Matt Couch were outstanding, but talented left-hander Brian Matusz led the charge. As a sophomore, Matusz went 10-3 with a 2.85 ERA in 123 innings of work. He also struck out 163 and walked 37, while opponents hit him at a .214 clip. Matusz also threw one complete game in a team-leading 18 starts. With the Toreros hoping to accomplish more in 2008, Matusz and the pitching staff must once again rise to the occasion.
Best hitter
Ryan Wiegand
The Bulldogs might be more known on the hardwood, but the college baseball community is starting to take notice of Mark Machtolf's team specifically first baseman Ryan Wiegand. Wiegand and the Bulldogs had a 2007 season to remember. The team went 33-25 and finished an impressive 15-6 in conference play. Wiegand was one of the team's leading hitters. As a sophomore last season, he batted .338 with six homers and 45 RBIs. He also slugged .486 and had a .425 on-base percentage. Additionally, the junior ended the year with a team-high 34 walks, 14 doubles and 105 total bases. Wiegand will once again be a key player.
Kendall's analysis
This is the year to make a move if you're San Diego. After putting together an impressive regular season campaign last season, the Toreros were a postseason disappointment. Now they have something to prove. Brian Matusz, Josh Romanski and Matt Couch formulate the nation's best weekend rotation, while sophomore AJ Griffin is a premier closer. The Toreros are in great shape on the mound, but the offense must rise to the occasion with Logan Gelbrich and others paving the way. Pepperdine has the tough job of replacing former ace pitcher Barry Enright, but Steve Rodriguez is hoping Brett Hunter and Robert Dickmann rise to the occasion. The offense should be in good shape with Donald Brown and Chase d'Arnaud leading the charge. Even without a few key players from last year's team, Gonzaga hopes to take the next step with a postseason berth. Santa Clara could be the biggest surprise. The Broncos have a deep pitching staff and a serviceable lineup with Tommy Medica and Gabe Alcantar leading the way. San Francisco is another team that could surprise.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.