This Friday, the men’s baseball team will once again hit the diamond to kick off their 2020 season at home against the University of Washington. The three-game series against the Huskies will be the Lions' first since their dramatic NCAA regional series of games against then No. 1 UCLA that capped off last season.
The 2019 season proved to be one to remember for the Lions. Posting a record of 15-12 in West Coast Conference (WCC), LMU squeaked into the conference tournament as its fourth and final seed. In the first round of play, the Lions upset the No. 1 seed Brigham Young University by a score of 4-1. Then defeating St. Mary’s in both the semifinal and final of the tournament, LMU claimed a WCC championship. More than this, the program booked its first NCAA regionals appearance since 2000.
The Lions were then slated to play Baylor University in the first game of NCAA regionals. Behind the heroic pitching of Codie Paiva, LMU blew past Baylor and earned a matchup against No. 1 in the nation UCLA. The Lions dethroned the Bruins, beating them 3-2. However, in the following two regional matchups against the Pac-12 powerhouse, the Lions could not replicate another upset. They lost the pair of preceding games 6-1 and 6-3, respectively. The Lions' season would end with these losses. However, the 2019 season could be considered more than a success for the program.
Riding the hype of 2019, the baseball program is now looking to replicate last season’s high, but they will have to do it without the previous campaign’s head coach Jason Gill. Gill took the head coaching job for USC’s baseball team following the success he claimed at LMU. Even without their former coach, the Lions are still well oriented for success.
In the WCC preseason poll, LMU was picked to finish third among the 10 teams in the competition. LMU will square off against No. 1 Gonzaga and No. 2 BYU this season for the conference’s championship and a spot in the NCAA regionals.
LMU still has plenty of returning talent on the roster to lean on. Both infielder Trevin Esquerra and pitcher Nick Frasso were named to the All-WCC preseason team. In his junior season last year, Esquerra posted some impressive numbers, hitting .322 with 60 RBIs and 16 home runs. The slugger led the Lions in nearly every offensive category — including batting average, slugging percentage, RBIs, hits, doubles, home runs, at bats, and total bases. On top of this, he appeared in 59 games, emphasizing his durability. The Lions will certainly hope Esquerra can recreate these numbers and carry their offense once again this season.
The other half of LMU’s dynamic duo comes in the form of junior right-handed pitcher Nick Frasso. The multi-purpose pitcher had an overall earned run average last year of 2.22. He took the mound in 19 games overall, starting five of them. Crucially, Frasso recorded 10 saves for the Lions last season. This figure was good enough for the third most saves in the WCC. His mix of pitching utility will be vital to the Lions this upcoming season.
Another integral component to the Lions' performance in the upcoming season is Nathan Choate, who will be serving his first year as LMU's head coach. Choate already served on the program’s staff as an assistant coach, first hired in 2018 to specialize in pitching and recruiting. Under his guidance, the LMU pitching staff has excelled so far. The assistant lead the Lions' pitchers to earn the best ERA in the WCC, giving up an average of 3.5 runs per game.
The baseball team will play its first game in a three game series against the University of Washington this Friday, Feb. 14 at 6 p.m. at Page Stadium.