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College Baseball / Bob Cuomo : For Stanford’s Mark Davis, a Year Makes a Difference

If there was a comeback player of the year award in college baseball, one of the leading candidates this season would be Mark Davis, Stanford’s junior center fielder. Consider:

--His batting average is .410 (32 for 78), with 6 home runs, 23 runs, 22 runs batted in and 9 stolen bases in 22 games.

--He has hit safely in 14 of the last 16 games, during which his average is .482 (27 for 56).

--In six Pacific 10 Southern Division games, he is hitting .579 (11-19), has scored 11 runs, driven in 10 and stolen 3 bases.

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Davis would like to forget his sophomore season. In 63 games, 51 as a starter, his batting average was .231, with just 5 homers and 36 RBIs.

This followed a terrific freshman year when he started all 59 games and batted .310 with 10 homers and 5 triples, scored 70 runs, drove in 43 runs, stole 21 bases in 21 attempts and did not make an error.

Davis, whose brother, Mike, plays right field for the Oakland A’s. says he doesn’t like to call what transpired last season the sophomore jinx. He prefers to think of it as just one of those prolonged slumps that every hitter experiences from time to time.

“I’m not happy about last year. Things just didn’t go right for me,” he said Sunday at Jackie Robinson Stadium before getting three hits, including a long home run to right, and driving in two runs to help the Cardinal beat UCLA.

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“But I never really got down on myself. I still played good defense (only two errors). You shouldn’t let anything affect the other parts of your game. Really, I look at it as a character builder.”

Stanford Coach Mark Marquess said that Davis was a valuable member of the team despite his batting average.

“For some reason, he never was comfortable at the plate last year. But he still played very good defense, and he was third on the team in RBIs (actually fourth), so he still helped us. Even though he’s not hitting, Mark can beat you other ways.”

Davis, naturally, is quite happy with his numbers this season, but he said the best is yet to come.

“I’m swinging the bat pretty well, and I’m hitting the ball harder now,” he said. “Early in the season some of my hits weren’t that solid. But I’m still not in my groove yet. I think I can hit better...”

Davis was selected on the fifth round by the St. Louis Cardinals in the 1982 summer draft following an outstanding senior year at Hoover High in San Diego, but he chose to attend Stanford when he was offered only $35,000 to sign.

“I have no regrets,” he said. “I wasn’t ready for pro ball then. I’m happy I came here. Playing in college has helped me. I’m mentally tougher, more mature and much stronger physically. And the coaches have taught me to be competitive.”

Being a junior, Davis is eligible for this summer’s draft. He said he’d like to sign “but everything has to be right...The key thing is the money. But I have to keep hitting and have a good year, so I can get picked high.

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“Yes, I do want to sign, but I don’t want to think about that now. We have a game today that’s important, and I have the rest of the season to play. That comes first.”

Mark Marquess answered the question before a reporter finished asking it. “No way...I certainly didn’t think we’d be where we’re at now,” he said before Stanford completed a sweep of its three-game series with UCLA to improve its Pac-10 Southern Division record to 6-0 and its overall record to 18-4.

“I thought we’d have a strong, competitive team, but I never expected us to start like this. Not in this league...(But) you take wins when you can get them. This team does what it has to do to win. When we haven’t pitched well, we’ve won with hitting, and when we haven’t hit, our pitching has won for us.”

Baseball Notes

Stanford got three strong, complete-game pitching performances in sweeping UCLA, 5-2, 3-2 and 9-0. Sophomore right-hander Rob Wassenaar, senior left-hander Jeff Ballard and freshman right-hander Jack McDowell combined to limit the Bruins to 17 hits, 13 of them singles, while yielding only six walks and striking out 19...McDowell was particularly impressive in Sunday’s shutout. He gave up four singles, walked one (with one out in the ninth inning) and struck out seven. Only one Bruin advanced to second base, that being Sean Berry, who reached first on an error to start the ninth, then stole second. McDowell, last year’s Southern Section 4-A Player of the Year at Notre Dame of Sherman Oaks, entered the game with a 5.18 earned-run average, having allowed 34 hits and 21 runs (19 earned) in 33 innings. The victory raised his record to 4-2 and lowered his ERA to 4.07. The walk was his 15th, and he has 35 strikeouts...UCLA had been shut out only twice at Jackie Robinson Stadium since the park was built in 1981. USC did it last season, 2-0 and 5-0...The Bruins were 12-0-1 at home before the Stanford series. ...Now 5-4 in the Pac-10 Southern Division and 16-9-1 overall, UCLA opens a three-game series with Arizona State Thursday night at Tempe. The Sun Devils, 1-5 and 9-19, lost two of three to California last weekend. Their 16-6 victory Sunday snapped a five-game losing streak. It was only their fourth win in 20 games.

USC, 2-4 in Pac-10 play and 13-12 overall after losing two of three to Arizona at Tucson, is at Stanford for three games starting Friday. USC’s team ERA took a beating at Arizona and is 5.33. The Trojans have a respectable .291 batting average. Sophomore shortstop Al Villasenor leads the club at .471. Right fielder Jeff Wetherby is hitting .430 with 7 homers and 29 RBIs...Pepperdine, the preseason pick win the Est Coast Athletic Conference title, started league play by winning two of three games from the University of San Diego at San Diego. Scott Marrett had another fine outing in the series opener, pitching a four-hitter as the Waves won, 4-2. The junior right-hander is 4- with an 0.75 ERA, and in 36 innings has walked only seven while striking out 26. Chris Johnson, the Waves’ senior first baseman has a .397 average, 6 homers and 2 RBIs. He has hit safely in 19 of 20 games. Pepperdine, 14-5-1 overall, opens a three-game conference series with the University of San Francisco Friday at Malibu...Loyola Marymount, 9-12 after starting the season 0-6, begins its WCAC schedule this weekend with a three-game series against St. Mary’s at Moraga. Billy Bean, the Lions’ junior right fielder, has hit safely in 12 of the last 13 games. In that span, he is 23 for 45 (.511). For the season, his average is .397.


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