Jan. 29, 1997

    USC Gets Early Start On PAC-10 Play

    THE TEAM--The No. 3-ranked USC baseball team (3-0), the 2-time defending Pacific-10 champion, will get a rare early start on Pacific-10 Southern Division Conference action this weekend when it hosts No. 7 Arizona State (2-1) in a 3-game conference series. The 2 teams will meet Friday (Jan. 31) at 3 p.m. (PST), Saturday (Feb. 1) at 1 p.m. (NOTE: the game will be televised live by Fox Sports West), and Sunday (Feb. 2) at 1 p.m. It's the earliest that the Trojans have started conference play.

    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 Sun Devils are No. 7 in Baseball America and No. 12 in Collegiate Baseball.

    ON THE TUBE--Saturday's (Feb. 1) game will be televised live by Fox Sports West, with Tom Kelly and former USC football-baseball star John Jackson doing the commentary.

    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, shortstop 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.

    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.

    COACH'S CORNER--In his 10th season as the Trojan head coach, Mike Gillespie has a 395-230-2 (.632) 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 has a 33-27 record against Arizona State in his career.

    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.

    EARLY OPENINGS--USC's Jan. 24 season opener was the earliest any Trojan baseball team has begun competition. The previous earliest was Jan. 26, 1991 against Cal Poly Pomona.

    OPENINGS, PT. 2--USC's Jan. 31 conference opener is the earliest any Trojan baseball team has begun Pacific-10 play. The previous earliest was Feb. 18 (twice: at Arizona State in 1994 and versus ASU at home in 1989).

    SCOUTING THE SUN DEVILS--Under third-year head coach Pat Murphy (387-158-1 in 9 years, 69-42 at ASU), the No. 7 Sun Devils (2-1) feature senior outfielder Jeff Cermak (.400, 1, 3) and junior outfielder Dan McKinley (.231, 0 3). On the mound, Arizona State will send out junior righthander Ben Byrd (1-0, 3.00 ERA), sophomore lefthander Ryan Mills (0-0, 3.00) and sophomore lefthander Phill Lowery (0-0, 5.40). The Sun Devils opened the 1997 season by winning 2 of 3 games over UC Santa Barbara last weekend (Jan. 24-26) at Tempe (Ariz.).

    THE SERIES--USC and Arizona State first met in 1961 and, since then, the Trojans trail in the series, 71-69. The Trojans won 4 of 6 games last year, including a 3-game series sweep at Dedeaux Field. In games at Dedeaux Field, the Trojans are 39-23.

    VS. ARIZONA STATE--Here's a look at how the Trojans have fared against Arizona State in their careers:

    BATTERS   G   AB   H   HR RBI   AVG
    Brown    12   10   1   0   2   .100
    DePippo   2    0   0   0   0   .000
    Ensberg   6   19   5   1   1   .263
    Gorr      2    5   0   0   0   .000
    Hanoian   3    9   1   0   0   .111
    Mirizzi   5   18   3   1   5   .167
    Ponchak   6   10   1   0   0   .100
    Rachels   8   26  10   0   3   .385
    Walbridge12   43  14   3   9   .326
    PITCHERS    G   IP      ER  SO  W-L SV  ERA
    Etherton    2   17.0    9   14  2-0 0   4.76
    Flores      7   39.7    14  32  3-1 0   3.18
    Henderson   5   18.0    12  12  1-1 0   6.00
    Krawczyk    4   5.7     1   6   1-0 1   1.59
    Penney      1   1.0     0   0   0-0 0   0.00
    Ponchak     4   6.3     3   5   0-1 1   4.27

    CONNECTIONS--USC has one player from Arizona: junior righthander Jack Krawczyk, who prepped at Scottsdale's Arcadia High...Arizona State has 10 players from California on its roster.

    STREAKIN'--Second baseman Wes Rachels has hit safely in all 3 games in 1997, going 4-for-9 (.444) with a home run and 4 RBI. He has reached base safely in 10 of 15 plate appearances (.667), including his first 7 plate appearances.

    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, who was 9-1 with a 3.50 ERA in 1996, went 6 innings in USC's opener against Cal State Los Angeles to get the win (he allowed one run on 3 hits and 1 walk while striking out 5).

    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). He went 5 innings against Cal State Los Angeles in his first start (he did not allow a run, scattered 2 hits and 2 walks, and struck out 8).

    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 candidate 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. He has appeared in 2 games this year, allowing only one hit and one unearned run.

    THIS 'N THAT--Junior second baseman Wes Rachels led off USC's first game in 1997 with a home run to left field. It was the second career home run for Rachels and his first at Dedeaux Field (his only other Trojan home run came in the 1995 College World Series). As Troy's leadoff hitter, Rachels reached base safely in his first 7 plate appearances of 1997 (spanning 2 games), getting 2 hits and 5 walks...Senior shortstop Marc Mirizzi was 4-for-5 with a double and 4 RBI in USC's season opener.

    FALL BASEBALL--This past fall (Oct. 4-6, 1996), USC participated in the ECL College Baseball Invitational, an exhibition tournament in Spokane (Wash.) that benefitted 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.

    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).

    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.