New season, new stadium, new era.
If the University of San Diego men’s baseball team ever needs a reminder of where it’s headed, they don’t have to look any further than the wall outside their locker rooms in the newly constructed Fowler Park. There, they will find a mural composition of pictures of former USD greats surrounding the words— “the road to Omaha…starts here.”
“It’s the pinnacle of what we do, our game, and our profession. Each team and each season is like a blank canvas, but the men on that wall have paved the way for what’s coming next,” Rich Hill, head coach in his fifteenth year with the Toreros, said. “I get chills just thinking about it–our road to Omaha, our mission that we are going to accomplish or die trying to accomplish.”
Hill has led the program to success over the past decade and a half, including five West Coast Conference (WCC) championship titles and seven NCAA Regional appearances. However, the Toreros have yet to reach Super Regionals—the final step in earning a spot in the Collegiate World Series held in Omaha, Nebraska each year.
With preseason polls in their favor, the men will take the first step in paving their new road when they host BYU in the first of a three game series to open conference play tonight, Thursday March 14, at 6 pm.
After sweeping the UNCW Wilmington Tournament and winning 11 out of 17 of their pre-conference games, the Toreros are ready to extend their preseason success into league play. Their record includes a 4-1 ratio against two of last year’s College World Series contestants (3-1 vs. Kent State, 1-0 vs. Stony Brook).
“We have a lot of confidence going into conference play,” preseason All-American pitcher Michael Wagner said. “The period prior to conference play is a time to figure out which guys are going to excel in each role, and I feel like that’s exactly what we did. If you look at the talent that’s coming into this program and the success we’ve had—the building blocks for our team to win it all are well established.”
The Toreros confidence that stems from a roster loaded with talent, starts with Kris Bryant, a three time All-American junior third baseman, who currently leads the nation in both home runs and walks. He completed the 2012 campaign with a .366 batting average, recording 17 doubles, three triples, and 14 home runs while batting 57 runners in.
Both Bryant and his teammate Wagner were named in the preseason watch list for the 2013 Golden Spikes Award. Wagner, a 6-4 junior right-handed pitcher paces the Toreros from the mound. In the previous season, he maintained a 2.58 ERA while setting both the USD and WCC saves record with 19 in a single season.
Junior right-hander Dylan Covey also offers experience on the mound. In 20 innings pitched, he’s made 19 strike-outs and has not allowed a single home run in over a year of pitching for the Toreros. Wagner and Covey are backed by a bullpen that is heavily weighted on the left hand side, with junior Max MacNabb, sophomore Max Homick, and freshman PJ Conlon.
Bryant and Andrew Daniel bring in another preseason accolade for the Toreros with their All-WCC team selections. Daniel is a sophomore infielder, who followed closely behind Bryant with 45 RBI last year, when he was named a freshman All-American.
Senior Dillon Haupt, the current nation leader in doubles (11), and sophomore Connor Joe have also provided strength in the Toreros lineup, batting .369 and .371 averages, respectively. Juniors Louie Lechich, who went 4-4 in the Toreros 11-3 victory over St. Louis on March 9, and Chris Woolley along with senior AJ Robinson have added to the Toreros offensive depth as well.
Looking ahead, the Toreros will face BYU in the WCC opener this weekend, and then play Gonzaga on the road for another three game series starting March 22.
“It’s all about preparation, effort, and execution on game day,” Hill said. “These guys are extremely prepared and I know they are going to work hard to win every inning. With this talent, this focus, and the energy in the dugout, I think we are going to win every game in the WCC, no doubt.”
2013 West Coast Conference Preseason Poll
|Team||# of first place votes||Points|
|University of San Diego||6||62|
Picked to win it: The University of San Diego has been selected to win the 2013 West Coast Conference (WCC) crown, earning six possible first place votes and 62 overall points in the preseason poll completed by the WCC’s nine head coaches. To put things into perspective, last year’s WCC champion Pepperdine earned two first place votes and 53 points. When asked how he feels about the expectations that come along with this prediction, Toreros head coach Rich Hill said “pressure and expectations are a figment of your mind…we’re just going to go out there and do what we do best, control what’s controllable.”