January 20, 1997
No. 3 USC Opens Season Jan. 24 Against Cal State L.A.
FIRST PITCH - The No. 3-ranked USC baseball team, the 2-time defending Pacific-10 champion, will get an early jump on the 1997 college baseball season when it opens a 58-game regular season schedule with a 2-game series against Cal State Los Angeles at Dedeaux Field. The series will begin Friday (Jan. 24) at 3 p.m. (that's the earliest any Trojan baseball team has begun a season) and conclude on Sunday (Jan. 26) at noon. The Trojans will then host Loyola Marymount, under first-year head coach Frank Cruz (a USC assistant from 1993-96), on Tuesday (Jan. 28) at 3 p.m.
THE RANKINGS - In the pre-season polls, USC is ranked No. 3 by Baseball America and No. 6 by Collegiate Baseball...The Trojans were tabbed by the conference coaches to win the Southern Division title (the third time in the past 4 years that USC has been picked to win the league).
THE NUMBERS GAME - USC returns 17 lettermen, including 4 starting position players and 3 starting pitchers, off the 1996 team that finished 44-16-1 overall and 24-6 in the Pacific-10 Southern Division for a second consecutive title. Among Troy's returners are 1996 All-American second teamer and 1996 Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year Seth Etherton, 1996 All-Pac-10 pitcher Randy Flores, 1996 All-Pac-10 first baseman Greg Walbridge, and a quartet of 1996 All-Pac-10 honorable mention picks: third baseman Morgan Ensberg, shorstop Marc Mirizzi, pitcher Scott Henderson, and relief pitcher Jack Krawczyk, who led the league in saves in 1996. The Trojans have 6 newcomers to the team. Troy lost 10 lettermen from last year, including 5 impact players: 1996 All-American outfielder Jacque Jones (a 1996 Olympian), 1996 All-American second team outfielder Jeff Inglin, 1996 All-Pac-10 catcher Chad Moeller, 1996 All-Pac-10 honorable mention infielder Ryan Stromsborg and 1996 All-Pac-10 honorable mention designated hitter Paul Cruz.
TROJAN TRADITION - No other university can match the collegiate baseball tradition of USC. Troy has captured an unprecedented 11 NCAA championships (no other school has more than 5), 36 conference titles and 18 College World Series appearances (tied for third-most in the nation). Trojan players have been named first team All-American 36 times, and more than 70 former players have gone on to play in the major leagues, including such stars as Tom Seaver, Fred Lynn, Ron Fairly, Randy Johnson, Mark McGwire and Bret Boone.
COACH'S CORNER - In his 10th season as the Trojan head coach, Mike Gillespie has a 392-230-2 (.629) career record and has led USC to 3 conference titles (1991-95-96), 8 trips to the NCAA Regionals in 10 years (reaching the Regional finals 6 times), and a trip to the 1995 College World Series (where the Trojans finished as the nation's runner-up). He has been named the Pac-10 Coach of the Year 3 times (1991-95-96) and was also honored as the 1996 West Region Coach of the Year by the American Baseball Coaches Association. He was also selected as one of the assistant coaches for the 1997 USA Baseball Team. Gillespie was the leftfielder for the 1961 USC team that won the national championship (his 1960 team finished as the College World Series runner-up).
GILLESPIE GABS - (On expectations for the 1997 season) "We're obviously pleased with the success our program has enjoyed. Reaching the College World Series' final game 2 years ago and then winning the league title again last year despite all expectations (USC was predicted to finish fifth in the pre-season coaches' poll) were good accomplishments for us. But we now face a formidable challenge in our efforts to 'three-peat' the conference championship and earn a return trip to Omaha."
(On the 1997 Trojans) "This team may lack the offensive power and speed that our previous 2 teams had, but we'll have outstanding quality in our pitching staff, solid defense in the infield and a lineup that features a lot of tough outs. I am very excited about this pitching staff. Our staff from the conference championship team returns almost intact. Hopefully, we'll see the progress made by the young guys like Steve Immel, Craig Jones, Jason Saenz and Mike Penney who are a year older and a year better. Our biggest concern is finding someone who will step forward as a lefthanded spot reliever."
(On USC's 1997 schedule) "Once again we will play a very difficult schedule against some of the better teams in the country. Our league is as strong as it has ever been but we believe we have an exciting team that will compete for its third straight Pac-10 title and maybe finish as one of the nation's best."
SIX-PAC POWERHOUSE - No Pac-10 Southern Division team has been more successful in the 1990s than USC. The Trojans have won 131 games in that span (Stanford is second with 129) with an unmatched 3 conference titles.
POWERHOUSE, PT. 2 - USC's 24 wins in conference action last year are the most league wins by any Trojan team in history. That 24-6 mark by USC is also the best conference record by any team since Stanford went 24-6 in 1990.
POWERHOUSE, PT. 3 - Troy last won consecutive conference crowns in 1977-78 (the only other team to win back-to-back league crowns since the Six-Pac was formed in 1979 was Arizona State in 1981-82). The last time USC won more than 2 conference titles in a row was when the Trojans won 6 straight from 1970-75.
TOUGH SCHEDULE - USC once again boasts one of the nation's toughest schedules: Troy plays 39 of 58 games against teams ranked in the pre-season polls, including 20 games against teams ranked in the Top 10. In addition, the Trojans will play 33 of their 58 games on the road.
FOR OPENERS - USC is an impressive 37-9-1 (.798) in season-opening games (dating back to 1950). In last year's opener, USC topped Loyola Marymount, 11-5, at Dedeaux Field. In openers at home, USC has a 33-8-1 (.798) mark.
EARLY OPENINGS - USC's Jan. 24 opener is the earliest any Trojan baseball team has begun competition. The previous earliest was Jan. 26, 1991 against Cal Poly Pomona.
FALL BASEBALL - This past fall (Oct. 4-6, 1996), USC participated in the ECL College Baseball Invitational, an exhibition tournament in Spokane (Wash.) that benefited the Spokane Child Abuse and Neglect Prevention Center. The Trojans won the 4-team tournament with victories over Washington (6-1), host Gonzaga (9-6) and Oregon State (11-5). The 3 games do not count in USC's 1997 record since it was a fall exhibition tournament.
SCOUTING THE GOLDEN EAGLES - Under 14-year head coach John Herbold, Cal State Los Angeles features sophomore first baseman Jay Gibbons (a team-leading .350 in 1996) and junior third baseman Jesse Joyce (.330). On the mound, the Golden Eagles return sophomore righthander Jeff Verplancke (4-3, 4.02 ERA) and senior righthander Brad Guy (3-8, 5.63). Cal State L.A. posted a 26-29 record last year.
SCOUTING THE LIONS - Under first-year head coach Frank Cruz (who was a USC assistant from 1993-96), Loyola Marymount returns sophomore infielder Curt Fiore (.348 in 1996) and righthanded pitchers Sandor Demosthenes (8-4, 5.11 ERA) and Jason Hueth (3-7, 6.69) off a team that was 22-38 last year. Senior outfielder Benny Craig, a transfer from UCLA, should also be an impact player for the Lions.
CONNECTIONS - Loyola Marymount head coach Frank Cruz was USC's hitting coach for the past 4 seasons (1993-96)...Trojan senior shortstop Marc Mirizzi played his first 2 seasons at Loyola Marymount (1994-95), where he was a 1994 Collegiate Baseball Freshman All-American.
A LOOK BACK - USC, ranked as high as No. 9 in last year's pre-season polls but picked by the coaches to finish fifth in the conference standings, began the 1996 season winning 5 of its first 8 games. Despite a starting lineup that featured just 4 returning starters, the Trojans captured the Gator Slugfest tournament (defeating Florida, Oklahoma State and The Citadel) and finished second at the Anaheim Hilton tournament (topping Florida State and Oklahoma before losing to host Cal State Fullerton).
With the start of league play, the surprising Trojans took 2 of 3 from Arizona and swept Stanford and Arizona State. USC then struggled briefly (losing 4 of its next 7 games, including 2 to crosstown rival UCLA) but rebounded to put together an 11-game conference winning streak. The Trojans clinched their second consecutive Southern Division title on April 27 at Arizona State.
USC then hosted the Pacific-10 Championships and defeated Washington in 2 of 3 games to capture its second consecutive conference title. Ranked as the No. 1 seed at the Central II Regional in Lubbock (Tex.), the Trojans fell shy of a return trip to the College World Series, losing to Oklahoma State in the regional finals. USC ended the year with a 44-16-1 record and No. 7 final ranking in Baseball America (No. 9 in Collegiate Baseball).
FABULOUS FLORES - Probably the most underrated pitcher in college baseball today, senior lefthander Randy Flores returns to anchor a strong Trojan pitching staff. Flores, a College Baseball pre-season All-American third teamer, has had a stellar career at USC (33-5 with a 2.88 ERA in 3 seasons) and is on the verge of becoming USC's all-time winningest pitcher (his 33 wins are 7 shy of leader Bruce Gardner's 40). The 1995 Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year and an All-Pac-10 first team pick in both 1994 and 1996, he could be the first pitcher ever to earn 4-time all-conference honors. Flores was 9-1 with a 3.50 ERA in 1996.
STELLAR SETH - Junior Seth Etherton, the 1996 Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year and 1996 All-American second teamer, has established himself as one of the nation's finest righthanded pitchers and is a candidate for 1997 All-American honors. Etherton was USC's winningest pitcher last year at 12-3 and he had a 3.94 ERA. He was 10-0 with a 2.93 ERA in Pac-10 games, notching a victory in every conference start (the last pitcher to do so was Arizona's Scott Erickson in 1989).
WALLY'S WORLD - Senior Greg Walbridge, a 1996 All-Pac-10 first teamer and USC's Most Hustle and Spirit Award winner, returns for his third season as Troy's starting first baseman. Walbridge, who has a .342 career batting average, is a candidae for post-season honors.
KRAFTY KRAWCZYK - Junior righthander Jack Krawczyk was the Pac-10's top relief pitcher in 1996 with a league-leading 12 saves (No. 4 on USC's single-season list). Krawczyk, who earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention honors last year, was 4-1 with a 4.55 ERA. His 15 career saves rank No. 4 on Troy's all-time list.