Feb. 5, 1997

    No. 3 USC Resumes Non-Conference Play

    THE TEAM - The No. 3-ranked USC baseball team (5-1 overall, 2-1 in Pac-10 Southern Division play), winners of 2 games last weekend against rival Arizona State in an unusually early conference start, now returns to non-conference action for the next 3 weeks. First up for the Trojans, who are 2-time defending Pacific-10 champions, is a 3-game series with No. 11 Long Beach State (1-2), beginning Friday (Feb. 7) at 7 p.m. at Blair Field in Long Beach, continuing Saturday (Feb. 8) at 1 p.m. at Dedeaux Field, and concluding Sunday (Feb. 9) at Blair Field at 1 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).

    Long Beach State is ranked No. 11 by Collegiate Baseball and No. 23 by Baseball America in the pre-season polls.

    LAST WEEKEND - In the earliest start to the Pac-10 Conference season ever, USC won 2 of 3 games against rival Arizona State last weekend at Dedeaux Field. In the opener, Randy Flores went 7 innings and limited the Sun Devils to 6 hits to capture the win. Eric Munson's 2-run home run highlighted a Trojan 7-run fourth inning. The win extended USC's win streak over the Sun Devils in games at Dedeaux Field to 8.

    In the second game, pitcher Ryan Bradley pitched 3 scoreless innings of relief and hit a ninth-inning grand slam to break a 3-3 tie and lead the Sun Devils to a 7-3 victory over USC. It was ASU's first win at Dedeaux Field since 1994.

    In the finale, Scott Henderson went 6 innings (retiring 9 in a row) to get his second win of the young season and Robb Gorr was 3-for-4 with a home run and 2 RBI to lead USC to a 9-6 victory. Marc Mirizzi also homered for the Trojans.

    COACH'S CORNER - In his 10th season as the Trojan head coach, Mike Gillespie has a 397-231-2 (.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).

    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.

    SCOUTING THE 49ERS - Under head coach Dave Snow (328-171 in his ninth year), Long Beach State's features a strong pitching staff, led by a pair of junior righthanders: All-American Rocky Biddle (1-0, 5.40 ERA) and Marcus Jones (0-1, 6.43). Other standout players include outfielder Chuck Lopez (.364, 0 HR, 2 RBI) and shortstop Lateef Vaughn (.333). The 49ers opened the 1997 season last weekend at Fresno State, losing 2 of 3 games (2-7, 6-3, 6-7).

    THE SERIES - USC holds a 54-20 lead in the series with Long Beach State that began in 1960. USC won all 3 games with the 49ers last year (9-5 and 10-6 at Dedeaux Field, 12-2 at Blair Field). The Trojans have 4 straight over Long Beach State and 7 of the last 8.

    CONNECTIONS - Trojan first baseman Greg Walbridge prepped at Long Beach's Millikan High and then played one season (1994) at Long Beach City College. Long Beach State athletic director Bill Shumard served as a USC assistant athletic director from 1988 to 1990.

    STREAKIN' - Second baseman Wes Rachels has a 5-game hitting streak, going 6-for-16 (.375) with a home run and 5 RBI. Troy's leadoff hitter, he has also walked 6 times.

    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 (35-5 in 4 seasons) and is on the verge of becoming USC's all-time winningest pitcher (his 35 wins are 5 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) and then led USC to a 12-3 victory over Arizona State in the conference opener (he allowed 3 runs on 6 hits and 2 walks while striking out one in 7 innings). On the year, he is 2-0 with a 2.77 ERA and opponents have a .191 batting average against him.

    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). On the year, he is 1-0 with a 1.64 ERA. 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) and did not get a decision against Arizona State (6 innings, 8 hits, 3 runs, 1 walk, 6 strikeouts).

    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 came into the season with a .342 career batting average, is currently hitting .348 with 6 RBI. In the Arizona State series, he was 6-for-15 (.400) with 3 doubles and 3 RBI.

    KRAFTY KRAWCZYK - Junior righthander Jack Krawczyk, the Pac-10's top relief pitcher in 1996 with a league-leading 12 saves (No. 4 on USC's single-season list), has appeared in 4 games in 1997 and has one save with a 2.45 ERA. Krawczyk, who earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention honors last year, has 16 career saves which rank No. 3 (tied with Jason Garner) on Troy's all-time list.

    MAKING HIS MARK - There may not be a more exciting defensive player in college baseball than senior shortstop Marc Mirizzi. Mirizzi, who made several dazzling defensive plays against Arizona State (he is currently errorless in 39 total chances). Additionally, he's hitting a USC-second-best .458 with a home run and 7 RBI.

    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.

    INJURY REPORT - Senior catcher Jason Brown will be out 3-4 weeks following surgery on his left knee to repair a torn meniscus.

    SIX-PAC POWERHOUSE - No Pac-10 Southern Division team has been more successful in the 1990s than USC. The Trojans have won 133 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.

    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.

    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.

    1997 USC Trojans' Starting Lineup
    (1997 statistics)
    C   Eric Munson, Fr., 6-3, 215     (.294, 1, 6)
    1B  Greg Walbridge, Sr., 6-2, 205  (.348, 0, 6)
    2B  Wes Rachels,So., 5-9, 175      (.375, 1, 5) 
    3B  Morgan Ensberg, Jr., 6-2, 200  (.167, 0, 2) 
    SS  Marc Mirizzi, Sr., 6-1, 185    (.458, 1, 7)
    LF  Jeremy Freitas, Jr., 6-3, 215  (.231, 0, 0) OR
        Jeff DePippo, Jr., 5-7, 170    (.300, 0, 0)
    CF  Robb Gorr, So., 6-0, 180       (.333, 1, 8) OR
        Greg Hanoian, So., 5-9, 170    (.500, 0, 2)
    RF  Brad Ticehurst, So., 6-1, 195  (.222, 0, 3)              
    DH  Brian Ponchak, Sr., 6-2, 205   (.222, 1, 3)       
    P   Randy Flores, Sr., 6-1, 180    (2-0, 2.77 ERA)
        Seth Etherton, Jr., 6-1, 195   (1-0, 1.64)
        Scott Henderson, Sr., 6-3, 195 (2-0, 2.45)