USC: Cal Poly

Baseball: USC takes two out of three from Cal Poly

February, 21, 2010
2/21/10
10:33
PM PT
USC baseball's season-opening series in San Luis Obispo was "very successful," coach Chad Kreuter said Sunday.

The Trojans managed victories on both Friday and Sunday over Cal Poly, despite falling behind early in each game.

Friday, starting hurler Andrew Triggs gave up three quick runs in the first inning, putting USC in a deep hole. But the Trojans fought back slowly but surely, taking the lead on a bases-loaded walk by senior outfielder Mike O'Neill in the fifth inning and never relinquishing it.

And Sunday, sophomore infielder Ricky Oropesa broke a 4-4 tie with a solo home run to lead off the ninth inning, opening the floodgates in what would become a 9-4 victory for the Trojans.

'There are some big hits within this club,” Kreuter said by phone on the team's long, loud bus ride home from San Luis Obispo. “There are some guys with extraordinary talent that are capable of stepping up at any time.”

Asked if he expected the standout performances of newcomers Matt Foat and Matt Hart, who combined for a .462 average, 12 hits and 7 RBI over the weekend, Kreuter laughed.

“That’s good recruiting,” he said. “We recruited those guys to come in to be immediate contributors and replace some of the guys we lost in the draft.”

"We're really excited about both Matts."

USC did lose six players to the draft after last season, including shortstop Grant Green and catcher/pitcher Robert Stock. But while many analysts predicted the Trojans would experience a drop-off from their 28-28 record in 2009, Kreuter disagrees.

Kreuter, in his fourth season at USC, feels like he's assembled something this year he hadn't in years prior: a team with a collective identity.

Whether that identity results in anything remains to be seen — but in the meantime, "there’s a lot of character and a lot of fight in our ballclub," Kreuter said.

USC has a packed schedule in the coming week. A home game against Loyola Marymount comes Tuesday, an exhibition against the Japanese Rikkyo University is Wednesday, and big games against Oklahoma State and Vanderbilt are scheduled for Friday and Saturday.

And there's the all-important Sunday game against UCLA.

Kreuter said the plan is to approach the three weekend games as one series, and thus play accordingly.

"We want to get two of them," he said. "Or even three."

Notes: Two players with Trojan connections had memorable debuts over the weekend. Kreuter's son, the freshman Cade, hit a key two-run homer in the eighth inning of Sunday's game to give the Trojans a 4-3 lead, and catcher Richard Stock — also a freshman and the younger brother of Robert — hit the first pitch he saw in college "roughly 500 feet" for a home run in a pinch-hit appearance Saturday...Sunday's game against UCLA will be held at 2 p.m. at Dodger Stadium as part of the inaugural Dodgertown Classic.

Baseball season begins today

February, 19, 2010
2/19/10
3:07
PM PT
For USC, that is.

The Trojans open up their 2010 season with a three-game series with Cal Poly that begins today in San Luis Obispo.

On the mound for USC tonight is sophomore right-hander Andrew Triggs, who earned Pac-10 Honorable Mention honors a year ago after a recording a 3.95 ERA in 10 starts. Triggs had several dominating starts in 2009 before struggling a bit late in conference play. He'll be relied upon by head coach Chad Kreuter as the Friday starter week-in and week-out.

From the looks of things (read: from the mind of Kreuter) it appears there will be less lineup turnover on this year's team. Last season, he altered his starting nine on almost a daily basis. This season, he says more positions will be set in stone — or something a little closer to it.

And, he's got more leadership, he says.

"We have a conglomerate of leaders," said Kreuter, in his fourth-year as the program's head coach. "We have a variety of guys ready to lead us on and off the field."

One of those Kreuter spotlighted is senior Mike O'Neill, who will start everyday in center field and hit leadoff. Filling out the outfield, sophomore Alex Sherrod will play right, and Garret Houts, Alex Glenn, and Brandon Garcia will share left field after Kreuter's intended starter, transfer Mike Greco, broke his hand this week in intrasquads.

The infield will see marquee hitter Ricky Oropesa at first base, in all likelihood hitting third. Joe De Pintowill start regularly, primarily at second base, and could hit near the top of the order. The shortstop will be juco transfer Taylor Wrenn, the subject of a miraculous recovery from mononucleosis, bronchitis, and a severe allergic reaction to antibiotics used to treat those viruses.

The process cost him 17 pounds and "almost cost him his life," Kreuter said.

"He's gonna get the nod to go on Friday," Kreuter added. "'He's not at full strength right now, but he's getting up there, obviously,"

At catcher will be a combination of senior Keith Castilloand sophomore Kevin Roundtree. Think of Castilloas the hit-first, field-second player; Roundtree's the opposite.

Kreuter said he'll start Castillo this weekend.

"We feel he's gonna swing the bat and give us good defense behind the plate," Kreuter said. "The ability to catch the balls of a couple of our guys is the question mark."

A likely problem with the USC batting order, Kreuter admits, is the lack of protection for Oropesa. The coach was counting on Greco to hit cleanup and back up Oropesa, but he'll now resort to a sort of makeshift middle of the order.

"One of the things we can do with Ricky — if teams do start pitching around him — we'll move him up in the lineup, maybe even lead him off," Kreuter said. "And you don't want to pitch around the lead-off hitter."

Kreuter mentioned the case of former Trojan catcher Jeff Clement, who hit first in his junior season at USC to rave reviews. "Plus you get an extra at-bat every game," Kreuter noted.

Behind Triggs in the rotation are sophomore Chad Smith and senior Kevin Couture, both right handers. They combined to make 13 starts last season. Smith posted a 3.40 ERA; Couture's was a middling 5.66, but he bounced back to record a 3.86 in Cape Cod play last summer.

"The first three guys out of the chute are gonna be real strong starters," Kreuter said.

The bullpen will be a rag-tag mix of pitchers — typical for college baseball. But the anchors will be two transfers, Brett Williams and Shuhei Fujiya.

Williams posted a remarkable 1.97 ERA at an area junior college last season. Fujiya saved nine games for Northern Iowa with a 3.97

Kreuter expects Fujiya to be his closer but wouldn't confirm it Thursday.

"Right now I'd say the probability is really high that he would be," he said. "But we might just go with the hot hand."

First pitch comes at 6 p.m. tonight, assuming rain doesn't play a factor in the start time.

Notes: Cal Poly has had six winning seasons in the last seven years and made the NCAA Regionals in 2009, but USC leads the all-time series with the Mustangs by a 17-4 margin...Glenn, a freshman, posted on Twitter just before 1 p.m. "Game @ 6 vs Cal Poly. LETS GET IT!"...Greg Zebrack, an outfielder who started USC's season opener a year ago as a true freshman, was cut from the team during the fall. Also not returning from the 2009 season is third baseman Billy Pinkerton, among others.

Preparing for UCLA

February, 10, 2010
2/10/10
7:05
PM PT
On the horizon for USC this week is a Valentine's Day date with rival UCLA Sunday night at the Galen Center.

And never mind that UCLA forward Tyler Honeycutt told the Los Angeles Times this week that the Bruins were "going to try to show that we can play with them," because the Trojans don't agree with his sentiment.

They are not the favorites, they say.

"We certainly know we're not going to win by 20 points — if we win," USC coach Kevin O'Neill said after his team's brief practice Wednesday. "It's going to be a down-to-the-wire game. They're playing a lot better since the first time we played them."

And O'Neill doesn't need reminding USC has never beaten UCLA at home since the Galen Center opened in 2006.

"That's one of our goals," O'Neill said.

The consensus in practice — from players and coaches alike — was that USC's 67-46 over the Bruins at Pauley Pavilion last month was an anomaly.

"They are a good team," guard Dwight Lewis said. "We just caught them out on a bad night, and we know they're going to come out here and try to give us a good whupping Sunday night."

Lewis said the crowd would be a factor. The Trojans haven't sold out a home game this season, and while tickets are still available for the 7 p.m. contest, it's expected to be a near sellout.

"It gets you motivated," he said. "You play harder, play off the crowd."

O'Neill agreed.

"This game will be decided by who has the most energy for a long period of time," he said.

Notes: Lewis, guard Marcus Simmons and forward Leonard Washingtonare all New Orleans Saints fans, from the state of Louisiana. O'Neill predicted after his news conference Saturday the Colts would win. The first-year coach said he has taken a lot of heat for the pick since. ... The men's game isn't the only USC-UCLA battle this weekend. The women are matching up Sunday at 11 a.m., and after USC coach Michael Cooper's comments the last timethe schools played, the rivalry has been turned up a notch. ... USC women's golf also beat UCLA in the Northrop Grumman Invitational, held in Palos Verdes, that finished today. The Women of Troy outshot the top-ranked Bruins by 21 strokes.

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