Baseball

    Jan. 26, 1998

    No. 5 USC Baseball Kicks off 1998 Season Versus Long Beach State

    FIRST PITCH - The No. 5-ranked USC baseball team, in search of its third conference title and second College World Series trip in the past 4 years, opens a 56-game regular season schedule with a 3-game series against always-tough Long Beach State. The 1998 season-opening series begins at Dedeaux Field on Friday (Jan. 30) at 3 p.m., continues Saturday (Jan.31) at Long Beach's Blair Field at 1 p.m. and concludes on Sunday (Feb. 1) at Dedeaux Field at 1 p.m.

    CELEBRATE IN '98 - The 1998 season marks the 50th anniversary of USC baseball's first-ever national championship team (1948). Troy also will commemorate 3 other NCAA championship anniversaries this year: 40th (1958), 30th (1968) and 20th (1978). These 4 national championship teams will be honored at Dedeaux Field in upcoming weekends.

    THE RANKINGS - In the pre-season polls, USC is ranked No. 5 by Baseball America and The Sporting News and No. 6 by Collegiate Baseball. The Trojans were tabbed by the conference coaches to finish third in the Pac-10 Southern Division (Stanford and Arizona State were No. 1 and 2, respectively).

    THE NUMBERS GAME - USC returns 17 lettermen, including 6 starting position players and 1 starting pitcher, off the 1997 team that finished 42-20 overall and 17-13 in the Pacific-10 Southern Division (for third place). Leading Troy's returners are 3 1997 All-Pac-10 first team selections: senior RHP Seth Etherton, a 1998 Collegiate Baseball pre-season All-American first team pick who was the 1996 Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year, sophomore C Eric Munson, a 1998 consensus pre-season All-American first teamer who was named The Sporting News' 1997 Freshman of the Year, and senior 2B Wes Rachels. Also back are senior 3B Morgan Ensberg, senior RHP Jack Krawczyk, the Pac-10's save leader for the past 2 seasons, a trio of junior OFs (Robb Gorr, Greg Hanoian and Brad Ticehurst), and 3 junior RHPs (Steve Immel, Craig Jones, Mike Penney). The Trojans have 12 newcomers to the team, including 3 junior college transfers. Troy lost 7 lettermen from last year, including 3-time All-Pac-10 LHP Randy Flores, who is USC's all-time winningest pitcher with 42 career victories, 1997 All-Pac-10 SS Marc Mirizzi, 2-year starting RHP Scott Henderson and 3-year starting 1B Greg Walbridge.

    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 (second-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, Bret Boone and Jeff Cirillo.

    SIX-PAC POWERHOUSE IN THE 90's - No Pac-10 Southern Division team has been more successful in the 1990s than USC. Here's a look at Trojan baseball during the current decade compared to other Pac- 10 Southern Division opponents:

    - USC has the best winning percentage (.655);
    - USC is tops (tied with Stanford) for most wins (150);
    - USC is the only school with 40 or more wins six times in this decade, including the last four;
    - USC is the only school to have finished with a Top 10 ranking in six of the past eight years;
    - USC has captured a league-best three conference championships (tied with Stanford);
    - USC has reached the NCAA playoffs a league-leading seven times (tied with Stanford)
    - and advanced to the regional finals in six of those years (including the last five);
    - And, finally, USC is the only Pac-10 team to reach the College World Series championship game in the 1990s.

    COACH'S CORNER - Entering his 12th season as the Trojan head coach, Mike Gillespie has a 434-250-2 (.634) career record and has led USC to 3 conference titles (1991-95-96), 9 trips to the NCAA Regionals in 11 years (reaching the Regional finals 7 times), and a trip to the 1995 College World Series (where Troy 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 served as one of the assistant coaches for the 1997 USA Baseball Team. Gillespie was a 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 1998 season): "We have every reason to believe that we will be an outstanding team this year. We have a great blend of experienced players as well as new faces. We have tremendous depth in both pitchers and position players. The defense will again be solid. Offensively, we have tough outs with legitimate power from top to bottom in our lineup. We just need a couple of pitchers to step up and take over the vacant starting spots. "This team is a very complete one in all aspects of the game with players who are experienced as well as confident. Additionally, we have a nucleus of players (Seth Etherton, Wes Rachels, Jack Krawczyk, Jeff DePippo and Morgan Ensberg) who have been through the pressure-filled road to the College World Series before (in 1995). Because of them, we have a good chance to compete for another conference title as well as the national championship."

    TOUGH SCHEDULE - USC once again boasts one of the nation's most competitive schedules. Troy plays 36 of 56 games against teams ranked in the pre-season polls, including 14 games against teams ranked in the Top 10. In addition, USC's conference--the Pac-10 Southern Division--is ranked the second-toughest league in the nation (by Baseball America).

    FOR OPENERS - USC is an impressive 38-9-1 (.802) in season-opening games (dating back to 1950). In last year's opener, USC topped Cal State Los Angeles, 17-4, in the first game of a doubleheader at Dedeaux Field.

    TERRIFIC 2,000 - USC needs just 7 more wins against collegiate opponents to reach the 2,000-win plateau in the school's history. Troy currently has a 1993-953-17 collegiate record.

    PITCHING ROTATION -USC's starting pitching rotation for this weekend's season-opening series is as follows: senior RHP Seth Etherton (10-2, 2.96 ERA in 1997) on Friday, junior RHP Mike Penney (1-0, 5.05) on Saturday and junior LHP Jason Saenz (0-0, 8.36) on Sunday. Long Beach State has announced the following rotation: junior LHP Mike Gallo (0-1, 10.97) on Friday, freshman RHP Jason Berni (Rancho Bernardo HS) on Saturday and junior RHP Caleb Balbuena (Cuesta JC) on Sunday.

    SCOUTING THE 49ers - Under 10th year head coach Dave Snow (367-194-3), Long Beach State returns 12 lettermen (including 3 starters) off a 1997 team that was 39-26 overall and 22-8 in Big West action (for first place). The 49ers, ranked No. 26 by Collegiate Baseball, feature 3 returning outfielders: juniors Paul Day (.348, 5 HR, 42 RBI in 1997) and Chuck Lopez (.290, 2, 34) and senior Jaron Madison (.304, 0, 18) along with 2 exciting newcomers--OF Termel Sledge, a transfer from Cal State Northridge, and RHP Caleb Balbuena, a transfer from Cuesta (Calif.) Community College.

    THE SERIES - USC holds a 57-21 lead in the series with Long Beach State (dating back to 1960). Last year, the Trojans won 3 of 4 contests: 6-1 at Blair Field, 4-3 at Dedeaux Field, 7-1 at Blair Field (the lone loss was 7-3 at Blair Field). Troy is 10-3 against the 49ers since 1995.

    A LOOK BACK - USC began the 1997 season winning 7 of its first 8 games (including 2 of 3 over Arizona State in January in the earliest start to conference action ever). The Trojans were then bit by the injury/illness bug, losing catcher Jason Brown for 19 games (knee surgery) and second baseman Wes Rachels (death of his father) for 8 games. Despite a thin lineup, Troy won 10 of the next 12 non-conference games, including a season-best 9-game winning streak.

    USC returned to conference action and hit a roadblock as it was swept at Stanford in the 3-game series. The Trojans rebounded to win 5 of their next 6 league games and 9 of 12, despite losing first baseman Greg Walbridge for 3 games (perforated eardrum) and outfielder Greg Hanoian for the remainder of the season (shoulder surgery). After a late-season slump in which Troy lost 6 of 8 games, USC finished strong, winning 8 of its last 10 games to finish 17-13 in league play for third place and 39-18 overall.

    Following the regular season, the Trojans headed for the South II Regional in Tuscaloosa (Ala.), where Troy reached the final game, losing to host and eventual national champion runner-up Alabama, 9-8, in 10 innings.

    SUPER SETH - Senior RHP Seth Etherton, a 1998 Collegiate Baseball pre-season All-American first teamer, has established himself as one of college baseball's finest starting pitchers. Etherton, a 1997 All- Pac-10 first team pick who was the 1996 Pac-10 Pitcher of the Year, returns for his third season as a starter after rejecting a contract offer from the St. Louis Cardinals (he was a ninth-round pick in the 1997 draft). He was 10-2 with a team-leading 2.96 ERA and 106 strikeouts last year.

    WORTHY WES - A steady and experienced player, senior 2B Wes Rachels once again will anchor the Trojan infield in 1998. Rachels, who hit .364 with 41 RBI last year, achieved 1997 All-Pac-10 first team and USC MVP honors. He reached base in all but 2 of the 53 games he played last year and hit safely in all but 8.

    MARVELOUS MUNSON - He's just a sophomore but there's little doubt that Eric Munson is the top collegiate catcher in the nation. A consensus 1998 pre-season All-American, he's the only catcher selected to the Collegiate Baseball, Baseball America and The Sporting News first teams. And he's the only sophomore named to all 3 pre-season teams. Munson, who was named The Sporting News' Freshman of the Year last year, was selected to the 1997 All-Pac-10 first team after hitting .336 with a team-leading 13 home runs and 50 RBI as just a freshman.

    KRAFTY KRAWCZYK - One of the nation's top relief pitchers the past 2 seasons and USC's career save leader (26, tied with Brian Nichols), senior RHP Jack Krawczyk again heads up Troy's bullpen in 1998. A 1998 Collegiate Baseball pre-season All-American second team pick, he was 2-3 with a 3.20 ERA and 11 saves last year. Krawczyk is 10-6 with a 3.92 ERA in 3 seasons at USC, and his 80 appearances rank No. 7 (tied with Jeff Cirillo) on Troy's career list, just 20 shy of leader Phil Kendall (100).

    JUNIOR ACHIEVEMENT - USC's talented junior class will have an opportunity to make an immediate impact in 1998. Last year's starting center fielder, Robb Gorr (.347, 6 HR, 52 RBI) will take over at first base for the graduated 3-year starter Greg Walbridge. Junior outfielders Greg Hanoian (.429, 1, 30), who missed the final 26 games of the 1997 season after separating his shoulder, and Brad Ticehurst (.328, 4, 18) will take over as starters in center field and right field, respectively. And an exciting quartet of pitchers should see plenty of action on the mound: RHP Steve Immel (7-4, 4.33), RHP Craig Jones (1-1, 4.37), RHP Mike Penney (1-0, 5.05) and LHP Jason Saenz (0-0, 8.36). Both Penney and Saenz are schedule to start this weekend while Jones or Immel will start against UC Santa Barbara on Tuesday (Feb. 3).

    NEW KIDS ON THE BLOCK - Although USC features an experienced team in 1998, several new faces are expected to see action in their first seasons at USC. Junior Dominic Correa, a transfer from Sacramento (Calif.) City College, and freshman Seth Davidson, from University High in San Diego (Calif.), will battle will sophomore Kevin Schultz, 1997 reserve, for the starting shortstop position. Another transfer, junior Jason Lane of Santa Rosa (Calif.) Junior College, will see playing time as both a designated hitter and lefthanded reliever as well as a reserve at first base and in the outfield. And, with the loss of 2 starting pitchers from last season (career win leader Randy Flores and Scott Henderson), several freshmen could see action on the mound for the Trojans in 1998: RHP Rik Currier (Capistrano Valley High), RHP Tanner Eriksen (Fullard High in Fresno, Calif.), RHP Shaun Kramer (Diamond Bar High) and LHP Ronald Flores (El Rancho High in Pico Rivera, Calif.), Randy's younger brother.

    ON THE WEB - The USC athletic department has an official "home page" on the World Wide Web, featuring current and historical information about Trojan sports. Enter http://www.usctrojans.com for access.