The 2018 Saint Mary's baseball team will be one of the deepest the Gaels have had during Head Coach Eric Valenzuela's tenure
The Saint Mary's baseball team's 2018 schedule includes 11 games versus 2017 Regional Teams
The Saint Mary's baseball team hosted its first full team practice of 2018 on Jan. 26, 2018, at Louis Guisto Field.
Valenzuela led the Gaels to their first-ever West Coast Conference regular season title in 2016 and followed it up with the program's first-ever WCC Tournament championship and the first trip to an NCAA Regional. He was named the 2016 WCC Coach of the Year after leading the Gaels to series victories in eight of nine WCC series, as well as wins over five eventual NCAA Tournament teams. Saint Mary's had an All-American (Corbin Burnes) and six all-WCC players in 2016, including three first team honorees. Four players were drafted in the 2016 MLB Draft, matching the most in program history. It was the first time four SMC players went in the top-20 rounds, with three going in the top-10 for the first time since 2012.
It was a remarkable turnaround engineered by Valenzuela in just three years after arriving on campus in 2013. After a 16-39 first season in 2014, Valenzuela lifted the Gaels to their first back-to-back .500-or-better seasons in seven years with a 28-27 record in 2015 and a 33-25 mark in 2016 In his three years with the program he has coached two All-Americans (Burnes, Zach Kirtley), 13 all-WCC selections (five first-team) and seven MLB Draft picks (five selected in top-20 rounds).
In his first year as a collegiate head coach, Valenzuela led a transitioning group of Gaels to a 16-39 record. The Gaels made significant inroads away from the scoreboard, instilling a culture of hard work and dedication.
On the field, Saint Mary's did have its share of memorable moments in Valenzuela's first year, beating then-No. 9 Cal State Fullerton 6-0 in Fullerton and scoring a late inning comeback win at Santa Clara on the final weekend of the season.
That work behind the scenes began to pay off in 2015 as, in only his second season, Valenzuela led the Gaels to a 28-27 record and their first winning season since 2009. A series win at San Diego State on the last weekend of the regular season clinched the winning campaign, only the third for Saint Mary's since 1991, but it was a hot start that really got the Gaels going as they went 17-8 to begin the year in the program's best 25-game opening stretch since 1977.
Valenzuela inherited a Saint Mary's program that began playing baseball in the late 1800s and has produced players like Major League Baseball Hall of Famer and Boston Red Sox legend Harry Hooper. Saint Mary's is a charter member of the West Coast Conference, which formed in 1952. And, in 2012, the school ushered in a new era of Gaels baseball with the opening of the new Louis Guisto Field.
Valenzuela returned to Moraga for his first head coaching job in the same place that his coaching career started. He served two seasons as an assistant at Saint Mary's from 2002-03, and filled a variety of roles for head coach John Baptista. While at Saint Mary's he coached third base, managed team recruiting efforts, directed the team's strength and conditioning program and coordinated the team's youth camps and clinics.
After leaving Saint Mary's, Valenzuela has gone on to become one of the nation's premier assistant coaches, both on and off the field.
For the four seasons before becoming SMC's head coach, Valenzuela served as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator for head coach Tony Gwynn at San Diego State. As an Aztec, Valenzuela has compiled two recruiting classes (2010 and 2011) ranked in the Top 25 nationally by Baseball America. In 2013, his San Diego State pitching staff led the Mountain West Conference in numerous statistical categories, helping the Aztecs to their first MWC Tournament title since 2000 and their first NCAA Tournament appearance in four years. Also in 2013, the program reached its highest team grade point average ever, and 16 players earned distinction as scholar athletes.
Before joining Gwynn at San Diego State, Valenzuela spent six seasons across town as pitching coach and recruiting coordinator at the University of San Diego. During his tenure, he helped the Toreros reach the NCAA Tournament three times, win two West Coast Conference regular season championships and earn a program-best 44 wins in 2008.
At San Diego, his strength as a recruiter also began to take shape. The Toreros' 2006 class was ranked in Baseball America's Dandy Dozen, and the publication ranked the 2007 class as the No. 1 incoming group in the nation. Valenzuela also showed his ability to develop pitching, as three of his hurlers earned All-American status in 2007-08 and Brian Matusz was named WCC Pitcher of the Year in 2008 before he was drafted No.4 overall in the MLB first-year player draft. Three of Valenzuela's pitchers (Matusz, Josh Romanski and A.J. Griffin) were named to Team USA.
A native of Covina, Calif., Valenzuela was an All-American performer at Bishop Amat High School. He would begin his collegiate career at Arizona State, and was a member of the Sun Devils' 1998 team that reached the College World Series. He eventually transferred to Pepperdine, and in 2001 served as a team captain as the Waves went 42-18 and won the WCC title. Valenzuela graduated from Pepperdine in 2001 with a bachelor of arts degree in criminal justice.
Valenzuela comes from an athletic family, as his father, Victor, was an assistant boxing coach for the United States in the 1984 Los Angeles Olympics. He continues to train boxers at the Duarte Boxing Club in Duarte, Calif. Valenzuela's sister, Nichole, was also an accomplished softball player at San Diego from 2005-08. Valenzuela and his wife Betty have three children, daughter Catalina Esmie and twin sons Benjamin Evan and Noah Matthew.
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