Feb. 20, 1997

    USC Faces National, Local Competition in Long Beach Classic

    The Team--The No. 3-ranked USC baseball team (13-3 overall, 2-1 in Pacific-10 Southern Division play), winners of 5 in a row, will take part in the Beach Baseball Classic at Blair Field in Long Beach (Calif.) this weekend. The Trojans, who are 2-time defending Pac-10 champions, will open against Mississippi (4-1) on Friday (Feb. 21) at 3 p.m., then play Notre Dame (0-0) on Saturday (Feb. 22) at 7 p.m. and conclude with host Long Beach State (5-5) on Sunday (Feb. 23) at 4 p.m.

    The Rankings--USC is currently ranked No. 3 in Baseball America and No. 4 in Collegiate Baseball. In the pre-season polls, USC was listed 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).

    This Past Week--USC won 5 of 6 games this past week, winning 4 of 5 on the islands of Hawaii and then topping Cal State Northridge on Wednesday. The Trojans played without the services of 2 starters: catcher Jason Brown (who has been out 2 weeks following arthroscopic knee surgery) and second baseman Wes Rachels (whose father, Dr. Arthur Rachels, passed away on Saturday).

    In the opener against Hawaii, senior Robby Robinson went the distance and limited the Trojans to 8 hits while striking out 6 to hand USC a 9-3 loss. The Rainbows scored 5 runs in the eighth inning to break open a close ballgame. Randy Flores took the loss for the Trojans, his first of the year.

    Seth Etherton went 8 innings and equalled a career-best with 12 strikeouts to lead USC to a 4-3 win over Hawaii in the second game. Etherton allowed just one earned run on 5 hits and issued 2 intentional walks. Morgan Ensberg was 3-for-4 with 2 RBI for the Trojans.

    It was all USC in the finale as the Trojans pounded out 17 hits en route to the 12-4 victory. Greg Walbridge was 4-for-5 with a triple while Robb Gorr was 3-for-5 with 2 RBI. Scott Henderson picked up the win with 6 innings of work.

    USC then swept a doubleheader at Hawaii Hilo, winning the opener, 7-1 in 7 innings, and then capturing the second game 13-3 (pounding out a season-best 20 hits in that game). In that second game, Robb Gorr was 5-for-6 with 2 doubles and 3 RBI while Jeremy Freitas was 4-for-5 with 2 doubles, a triple and 4 RBI.

    USC won the game against Cal State Northridge in dramatic fashion, topping the Matadors, 8-7, on Morgan Ensberg's 2-run home run with one out in the ninth inning. Mike Weibling got the win in relief.

    The Series--USC is 3-0 against Mississippi, dating back to 1964 (a 3-2 Trojan win at the 1964 College World Series).

    USC and Notre Dame have met only once before with the Trojans posting a 4-3 victory in Los Angeles in 1961. The Trojans and the Irish have also met in an exhibition game: the Trojans won 8-1 on Oct. 22, 1989 in the Irish Fall Classic Baseball Series.

    USC holds a 56-21 lead in the series with Long Beach State that began in 1960. USC won 2 of 3 games against the 49ers this year after sweeping the 3-game series in 1996. The Trojans had won 6 straight before a 7-3 loss at Long Beach on Feb. 9.

    Coach's Corner--In his 10th season as the Trojan head coach, Mike Gillespie has a 405-233-2 (.634) 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). He picked up his 400th USC victory this season with Troy's 11-8 win over UC Santa Barbara on Feb. 11.

    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.

    Streakin'--Second baseman Wes Rachels has hit safely in all 10 games he has played this year, going 14-for-36 (.389) with a home run (a leadoff shot in the first inning of USC's season opener against Cal State Los Angeles) and 7 RBI.

    First baseman Greg Walbridge has an 8-game hitting streak, going 14-for-31 (.452) in that span.

    Statistically Speaking--USC has a .326 team batting average and a 3.73 team ERA. Opponents are hitting just .249 against Trojan pitchers. The Trojans have stolen 31-37 bases, led by Wes Rachels and Morgan Ensberg with 5 apiece. Opponents have stolen only 8 of 15 attempts. USC's leading hitters are outfielder Greg Hanoian (.415, 1 HR, 7 RBI) and second baseman-centerfielder Robb Gorr (.403, 1, team-leading 17). Gorr had an impressive 5-for-6 performance with 2 doubles and 3 RBI in the second game at Hawaii Hilo. Hanoian hit his first career home run at Hawaii Hilo. Jeremy Freitas also had a good day against the Vulcans, going 4-for-5 with 2 doubles, a triple, and 4 RBI. Eleven different pitchers have seen action in 1997. Sophomore righthander Steve Immel posted a career-best 9 strikeouts in 5.3 innings against UC Santa Barbara in USC's 11-8 win. USC's longest outing on the mound this year is 8 innings by junior Seth Etherton in USC's 4-3 win over Long Beach State and a 4-3 win at Hawaii (where he equalled a career-high 12 strikeouts, USC's best performance of the year).

    Fabulous Flores--Probably the most underrated pitcher in college baseball today, senior lefthander Randy Flores anchors what is considered one of the strongest pitching staffs in the nation. Flores, a College Baseball pre-season All-American third teamer, has had a stellar career at USC (36-5 in 4 seasons) and is on the verge of becoming USC's all-time winningest pitcher (his 36 wins are 4 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, is currently 3-1 with a 3.08 ERA, and opponents have a .221 batting average against him. He 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). He got the win over Long Beach State earlier this year, going 6.7 innings (one run, 6 hits, 2 walks, 7 strikeouts). His lone loss came in his last start at Hawaii, where he went allowed 4 runs on 6 hits and struck out 6 in 6.7 innings.

    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 3-0 with a 2.00 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). Earlier this year, he got the win over Long Beach State, going 8 innings and allowed 3 runs on 8 hits and a walk while striking out 2. In his most recent start at Hawaii, he went 8 innings and equalled his career-best with 12 strikeouts (he gave up one earned run on 5 hits while walking 2 batters intentionally).

    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 .393 with 14 RBI. He currently has an 8-game hitting streak, going 14-for-31 (.452). In the Arizona State series, he was 6-for-15 (.400) with 3 doubles and 3 RBI. He picked up 4 hits in 5 at-bats with a triple in the finale at Hawaii.

    Wonderful Wes--Junior second baseman Wes Rachels, who was named to the 1995 All-College World Series team as just a freshman, has hit safely in all 10 games he has played this year, going 14-for-36 (.389) with a home run (a leadoff shot in the first inning of USC's season opener against Cal State Los Angeles) and 7 RBI. It was his second career home run and his first at Dedeaux Field (his other came at the 1995 College World Series). Troy's leadoff hitter, Rachels has also walked 9 times and has a .522 on-base percentage. He reached base safely in his first 7 plate appearances of 1997 (spanning 2 games), getting 2 hits and 5 walks. He has missed USC's last 5 games following the death of his father (Dr. Arthur Rachels) last Saturday.

    New Kid On The Block--Freshman catcher Eric Munson is proving worthy of his pre-season accolades as one of the nation's top freshmen. He is hitting .333 with 4 doubles and 14 RBI, and he leads the team with 4 home runs and 14 walks. He hit 2 home runs in USC's 4-3 win over Long Beach State. Behind the plate, he has thrown out 7 of 12 baserunners (.583). He has hit safely in 11 of 16 games this year.

    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 8 games in 1997 and has 3 saves. Opponents are hitting .240 against him. Krawczyk, who earned All-Pac-10 honorable mention honors last year, has 18 career saves which rank No. 3 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 has 1 error in 82 total chances (.988) and has taken part in 11 double plays. Additionally, he's hitting .358 with 15 RBI, and he has struck out only 4 time in 77 plate appearances. He was 4-for-5 with a double and 4 RBI in USC's season opener and also went 4-for-5 with 3 RBI against UC Santa Barbara.

    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.

    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.

    Gillespie Victory Milestones
    No. 100 -- vs. Stanford (10-4) -- April 16, 1989
    No. 200 -- vs. Portland (3-0) -- February 21, 1992
    No. 300 -- vs. Washington State (8-0) -- February 2, 1995
    No. 400 -- vs. UCSB (11-8) -- February 11, 1997
    1997  USC  Trojans' Starting Lineup
    Returning starters bold faced (1997 statistics).
        C   Eric Munson, Fr., 6-3, 215 (.333, 4, 15)
        1B  Greg Walbridge, Sr., 6-2, 205 (.393, 0, 14)
        2B  Wes Rachels,So., 5-9, 175 (.389, 1, 7) 
        3B  Morgan Ensberg, Jr., 6-2, 200 (.306, 1, 8) 
        SS  Marc Mirizzi, Sr., 6-1, 185 (.358, 1, 15)
        LF  Greg Hanoian, So., 5-9, 170 (.415, 1, 7) OR
            Jeff DePippo, Jr., 5-7, 170 (.241, 0, 1)
        CF  Robb Gorr, So., 6-0, 180 (.403, 1, 17)
        RF  Jeremy Freitas, Jr., 6-3, 215 (.231, 0, 9) OR
            Brad Ticehurst, So., 6-1, 195 (.172, 0, 3)              
        DH  Brian Ponchak, Sr., 6-2, 205 (.235, 6, 13) OR
            Jeremy Freitas, Jr., 6-3, 215 (.231, 0, 9)      
        P   Randy Flores, Sr., 6-1, 180 (3-1, 3.08 ERA)
            Seth Etherton, Jr., 6-1, 195 (3-0, 2.00)
            Scott Henderson, Sr., 6-3, 195 (3-1, 5.68)