Just 12 days ago, the USF baseball team was coming off a heart-breaking one-run setback to defending national champ Oregon State, the final defeat of a five-game losing streak thatfeatured only 12 runs from the Dons’ anemic offense.
In dire need of victories and offense, the Dons returned to Benedetti Diamond in search of answers.
They found some in Luke Sommer.
The Dons’ junior right fielder carried the team on his back during a five-game winning streak (broken Tuesday in a 10-5 loss at Nevada), helping USF climb above .500 as it enters West Coast Conference play this weekend at Loyola Marymount (11-18-1).
Since the Dons dropped to 9-12 after their March 18 loss to Oregon State, Sommer, who bats third in the lineup, has hit .333 with two home runs, six RBIs and eight runs scored, helping USF win five of six games and score 49 runs in that span to improve their record to 14-13.
For the year, Sommer leads the team in home runs with five and at-bats with 105, and is second on the team with 19 RBIs, 16 runs and five doubles. His recent hot streak was recognized by the West Coast Conference, which named him co-Player of the Week on Monday.
"It’s nice to get the appreciation, but it was more important to get the wins," said Sommer, who is batting .257 for the year. "I think I was just able to get a little bit more reps and I relaxed at the plate. Right now, I’m seeing the ball really well and I’ve been able to put some balls in play for us."
The Dons face a pivotal test this weekend against Loyola Marymount in the WCC season opener as USF looks to defend its first conference title in school history.
After capturing the WCC championship and picking up a historic win over Nebraska in last year’s NCAA regionals, the Dons packed their nonconference schedule with nationally recognized opponents. The tough opposition resulted in a number of close losses, but Sommer believes the games made them more mentally prepared for conference play.
"I think our preparation will be a lot better for conference games," said Sommer, who is from Canby, Ore. "We were traveling a lot during our nonconference schedule, playing a lot of really good teams. We didn’t necessarily get the wins we wanted, but I think we came away really ready for conference play."
Despite their early season struggles, the Dons enter the WCC as one of the favorites in a conference that is gaining national attention for its ever-improving level of competition. To fight off nationally ranked teams such as No. 12 Pepperdine and No. 20 San Diego, the Dons will need the continued elevated play of Sommers, something his coach already expects out of him.
"His work ethic is just outstanding, it’s just who he is as a person," USF coach Nino Giarratano said. "He works every day on his game and it’s really starting to show. We look for him to be a run producer for us and he’s certainly stepped up this past week. Luke started the season off a little slow, but he’s pretty hot now."