While opening their season playing home games at College of San Mateo and traveling all over the country to take on nationally ranked foes, the USF baseball team struggled to find the consistency that marked last year’s historically successful season.
Still, despite all the distractions, the Dons remain in the hunt for a repeat trip to the postseason with an 18-17 record, including 2-4 in the ultra-competitive West Coast Conference, and they owe much of their success to one player — junior leadoff man Joey Railey, who has remained a constant in a season that has been anything but.
Railey has guided the Dons throughout their tumultuous 2007, leading the team in all the essential leadoff man categories — runs (25), hits (47), walks (16) and at-bats (136).
Embracing his role of setting the tone for his teammates, Railey is batting .348, while posting an impressive .438 on-base percentage. He is also the only Don to start all 35 games this season.
He is doing this all while learning a new position, as the Pittsburg native has switched from starting at third base in 2006 to second base this season. The transition has been a seamless one — Railey has just two errors this year.
"Joey is the glue for us," Dons coach Nino Giarratano. "He’s been there for us since Day 1 and he comes to play every game. He’s the team’s emotional leader as well. If he senses we may need to loosen up a bit, he’ll crack a few jokes. But if he thinks we need to focus, he’ll get everyone in that mind-set."
Railey and the Dons will certainly be focusing this weekend, when USF clashes with WCC-leading Pepperdine for a three-game stint starting today at Benedetti Diamond.
The Dons are the last WCC team to take a three-game series from the Waves, when they did so last April by winning two of three from Pepperdine down in Malibu. This year, Pepperdine enters the contest ranked in the top 10 in most polls.
"We feel confident that we can play with Pepperdine," Railey said. "It’s been a tough season with all the road games and not having a home field for a while. But now that we’re back playing at Benedetti, we feel like we have an advantage over anybody that comes in here."
For the Dons to be competitive against Pepperdine, Railey will have to find ways to get on base. Last weekend, against rival Santa Clara, Railey went 6-for-13 from the plate, scoring three times while driving in a run. Unfortunately, the Dons dropped two of three in that series, the second time they have dropped two of three in as many series to begin WCC play.
This weekend, Railey hopes to reverse that trend.
"I really believe we can turn everything around with a couple of wins against Pepperdine," Railey said. "Last year, we were kind of in this same position and we pulled off an eight-game winning streak. I think we can do the same thing this year starting with the Pepperdine series."