SAN MARCOS — As the rain fell earlier this week, CSUSM’s new baseball head coach Matt Guiliano was monitoring the soggy field, hopeful the sun would soon come out.
“We just got to get those kids a few days of sun and they’ll be back out there,” he said.
Guiliano, who played ball at Valley Center High School and Palomar College, was brought on last summer as just the team’s second-ever head coach. Dennis Pugh, who had been with the team since its inception in 2007, retired following the 2016 season.
Last weekend, the Cougars opened up the 2017 season at home against San Diego Christian. But after four games, the new head coach said he still isn’t certain what the identity of his team is yet.
The first game, Guiliano said, they had a game plan, they stuck to it and won mightily 12-0. The second game, he said, they got away from the game plan. That ended up with their first loss of the season.
After another two wins against San Diego Christian, both in comeback fashion, the Cougars are off to a 3-1 start in their 2017 campaign.
“I don’t know if we’re just a slow starting team in a game and then we like to finish,” Guiliano said, “but my guys are scrappy, they stay after it, they stay focused in the game and they don’t give up on anything.”
But it’s early in the season — one that he thinks will be an interesting ride — as the ballplayers and staff get used to his style of play and coaching.
As for the style of his play, he’d like the program to become known for being aggressive and for being smart.
“We like to run the bases,” he said. “We like to put some pressure on the defense whenever we can.”
Against San Diego Christian, some of their baserunners might have been too aggressive, though, with three or four runners getting backpicked, he explained.
“That’s completely out of character for my teams,” Guiliano said.
But the base paths aren’t the only place where he wants the team to be aggressive. Pitchers, Guiliano said, will be attacking hitters, making them put the ball in play and letting the defense take care of the ball.
“I want to be fundamentally sound,” Guiliano said. “I want to be coached up and know the right way of going about things, and just from top to bottom, this whole program, just doing it the right way and being aggressive doing it.”
Guiliano spent the previous nine years as the head coach at the University of Sioux Falls, where he also helped their team transition from the NAIA to NCAA Division II — a transition the Cougars are undergoing now.
Despite the team not being eligible for post-season play with the college’s continuing transition, Guiliano said that that shouldn’t affect the players’ mentality towards the season.
“We’re still going out and competing every single day,” he said. “It’s not like we’re going out saying, ‘well this season’s a waste.’ Our guys are competing. Guys are competing for scholarships, playing time — everything.”
Under Pugh, the Cougars made their CCCA debut last year, finishing with a 23-25 record.
Guiliano knows the CCCA conference well, he said, adding that it was a tough conference filled with a lot of good baseball.
“The talent on the mound is really good, and CCCA is usually known for pitching and just being solid programs and not making mistakes.”
Still, as he manages from the dugout watching for what his team will become, he’s got two goals in mind: To win over the trust of the team and staff.
And the other?
“Our goal at the end of the year is, hopefully, being in a situation to give away our playoff spot,” Guiliano said.
The Cougars host Antelope Valley for a four-game series beginning Feb. 11 at 11 a.m.