Spartans One Win Shy of Breaking School Record!

"It's an attitude," coach Sam Piraro said. "We won't get out of the way." A blue-collar flavor permeates this team, which has a 42-15 record.

One statistic defines San Jose State baseball: Spartan batters have been hit by pitches 104 times this season.

"It's an attitude," coach Sam Piraro said. "We won't get out of the way."

A blue-collar flavor permeates this team, which has sacrificed glamour for a 42-15 record. Getting plunked is the ultimate example.

"We don't give ground," second baseman Gabe Lopez said. "Sometimes you have to stick your elbow in there."

Lopez, the team leader in batting average (.369) and steals (20 in 22 attempts), personifies the Spartans.

"He is afraid of nobody, and that includes the coaches," Piraro said, "Yet he is very respectful of the game and of everyone. He listens to every word."

Of the 32 players on the team, 19 are from the Bay Area, and nine of them are from San Jose. Neither famous nor flashy, these players are not about to be intimidated. A fastball in the ribs? Where do I sign up?

Stanford has been hit by pitches just 54 times, and San Jose State pitchers have hit 36 opposing batters. Major-leaguers might duck out of the way, but the Spartans are willing to stick their nose in there -- literally.

"We don't want to get out of the way," said catcher Adam Shorsher, the team's home-run leader with 13. "We're not afraid to get hit. It's a free base, and the next guy might get a homer."

Shorsher chuckles about getting hit twice against Louisiana Tech, with one of those wayward pitches smashing into his ear flap. "It just made a lot of noise," Shorsher said. "I was fine."

The 104 hit batsmen presumably leads all of Division I baseball, although the NCAA does not keep track of that statistic during the season. Right now, it would be the sixth highest single-season total ever, and, with three regular-season games and probably a few postseason games remaining, the Spartans could approach the single-season record of 125 set by Nevada in 1997.

It might be the only way for San Jose State to get recognition. The Spartans are one shy of the school record for victories, and they have won nine of 10 games against Bay Area foes. The lone local loss was a 5-4 defeat at Stanford after the Spartans had taken a 4-1 lead into the eighth inning. That loss was avenged rather nicely with a 12-0 shellacking of the Cardinal two weeks ago.

Yet the Spartans are ranked just 23rd by Baseball America, unranked by Collegiate Baseball and still are not assured of a berth in the NCAA playoffs.

"We're the most underrated team in the country," Shorsher said.

They were unheralded when they reached the College World Series two years ago, and Shorsher, the only current starter from that team, thinks this team has more ability.

"The 2000 team was definitely not as talented or as senior-laden as this team," he said. "But the 2000 team may have been a tighter group of guys. This is a much better offensive club and has better pitching depth."

Of late, the pitching stars have been Jahseam George, a transfer from Brigham Young who shut out then-No. 2 Rice in sweltering Houston last weekend, and freshman Matt Durkin, who is 10-2 with a 2.45 ERA.

"Sometimes when they pitch I don't do anything but watch," Piraro said. "I feel like I'm cheating. I'm thinking, 'Is this how it is for (Stanford coach Mark) Marquess?' "

Piraro figures Durkin, who attended Willow Glen High School in San Jose, could be a first-round draft pick in a couple of years. He already has major- league poise. "I don't know if he has any sweat glands," Piraro said.

Nobody on this team seems particularly bothered by anything. The Spartans are second nationally in fielding percentage and 23rd in ERA. They just seem to do the things needed to win -- even if it means standing in front of a 90- mph fastball.

Credit Story Content-Jake Curtis, SF Chronicle Staff Writer.


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