Pac-10 teams dreaming of Omaha
The Pacific 10 Conference has realigned itself by putting the northern teams of Washington, Washington State and Oregon State in the same conference as the southern teams of Arizona, Arizona State, Stanford, California, UCLA and Southern Cal. With Southern Cal the reigning national champs and Arizona State the reigning national runners-up, the conference again has some teams dreaming of a chance to play in Omaha, Neb., in the College World Series.
The teams are listed in their projected order of finish.
Head coach: Mark Marquess (895-467-5)
Last season: 42-14-1, 22-8 Pac-10; lost to Long Beach State 5-1 in the West Regional
Final national ranking: 6/9 10/9
This season: 15-6
When they play Arizona: March 26-28 in Tucson
All-time record against Arizona: 78-45
Top returning players: John Gall 1B, Josh Hochgesang 3B, Justin Wayne P
Top newcomers: Mike Gosling P, Andy Topham 2B/SS, Jason VanMeetren OF
Outlook: The Cardinal could be considered the front-runner to win the conference this season as they return all-time leading hitter Gall and senior Hochgesang, who was selected in the 17th round of the Major League Baseball amateur draft by the Florida Marlins. The outfield is loaded with talent as Joe Borchard, a freshman All-American a year ago and Edmund Muth return along with junior Nick Day. Also available for the outfield is freshman Jason VanMeetren, who was a fourth round selection by the Houston Astros as well as the Nevada high school player of the year.
"They are deep on the mound and with Muth, Borchard, Gall and Hochgesang returning, the production on offense is available. The production is not what they anticipated so far, but by the end of the year we know they will have the numbers," California assistant coach David Lawn said. "They are not getting a lot of production and they are still 15-6."
Arizona State Sun Devils
Head coach: Pat Murphy (Overall, 522-258-3) (ASU, 149-87)
Last season: 41-23, 18-11 Pac-10; lost to USC 21-14 in the College World Series title game
Final national ranking: 2/2 2/2
This season: 19-8
When they play Arizona: Already beat UA two out of three times in non-conference games. Play again May 14-16 at Tempe
All-time record against Arizona: 150-129
Top Returning Players: Andrew Beinbrink 3B, Casey Myers C, Willie Bloomquist SS
Top newcomers: Jon Switzer P, Trent Pratt C, Will Waldrip P
Outlook: The Sun Devils were national runners-up last year, losing to Southern Cal in the College World Series final 21-14. They did lose four starting pitchers to the MLB draft and half their infield, but Murphy has been able to replace two of those pitchers with freshman Switzer and Waldrip, a transfer from BYU. As for the infield, two All-Americans anchor the left side in Beinbrink and Bloomquist with senior Chip Gosewich, who is returning from shoulder surgery, at second base and Jeff Phelps, Kevin Tillman and Mitch Jones at first. The Sun Devils also have a new-look outfield this season.
"I don't care what the expectations are around the country. I have always aspired to be the best here," Murphy said. "It is all about being the best you can be, and I think we can be pretty damn good."
Head coach: Ken Knutson (226-132)
Last season: 41-17, 17-7 Pac-10; lost to Texas A&M 6-4 in the Central Regional
Final national ranking: 17/13 17/19
This season: 8-4
When they play Arizona: April 1-3 in Tucson
All-time record against Arizona: 1-0
Top returning players: Ed Erickson 1B, Jeff Heaverlo P, Dominic Woody C
Top newcomers: Todd Linden 1B, Brian Barton P/OF
Outlook: This year could be considered a rebuilding year for the Huskies, the two-time defending Pac-10 champions, since they lost most of their top players from last year. The one thing that could lead UW out of that rebuilding category and into the contending category is their pitching staff, where they return all four pitchers who started at least 10 games last year.
"Washington has an outstanding pitching staff," Washington State head coach Steve Farrington said. "They did lose a bulk of their team defensively and offensively to the draft. Those were big losses for them, but their pitching staff is back with all starters with experience."
The Huskies had a hole to fill at catcher after the loss of Ryan Bundy, one of the nation's top defensive catchers, and Woody has stepped up, hitting over .400 through the first 12 games. Erickson (14 HR in '98) returns at first base, but the questions are on the left side of the infield as they have sophomores and freshmen battling for positions. The Huskies are loaded with outfielders, including Kyle Woods (14 HR in '98) and Nick Stefonick, an all-Pac-10 north selection a year ago.
Southern California Trojans
Head coach: Mike Gillespie (483-267-2)
Last season: 49-17, 21-9 Pac-10; defeated ASU 21-14 in the College World Series title game
Final national ranking: 1/1 1/1
This season: 7-13
When they play Arizona: March 19-21 in Los Angeles
All-time record against Arizona: 83-64-1
Top returning players: Eric Munson C, Jason Lane OF/P, Rick Currier P
Top newcomers: Barry Zito P, Steve Smythe P, Justin Lehr P
Outlook: The defending national champions are off to a slow start this season, but look at the Pac-10 as the start of a second season.
"It is definitely a second season for us and we hope we can pick it up," Gillespie said. "We would like to believe that we will play better in the coming four weeks than in the past four weeks."
USC returns All-American Munson behind the plate to take control of a young, but talented pitching staff consisting of a lot of newcomers.
"If we are going to be a factor those people (the pitchers) have to do it," Gillespie said. "If we are going to have any chance to compete, they have to perform."
Head coach: Gary Adams (Overall 985-712-121) (UCLA, 797-643-7)
Last season: 24-33, 11-19 Pac-10
Final national ranking: none
This season: 13-13
When they play Arizona: March 12-14 in Tucson
All-time record against Arizona: 88-89-1
Top returning players: Garrett Atkins 1B, Chase Utley, Jon Brandt P
Top newcomers: Josh Karp P, Randall Shelley 3B, Brian Strelitz P
Outlook: The Bruins have already defeated Southern Cal two times out of three this season. They have a young team with many key players being sophomores or freshmen. The three, four, five spots in the lineup are solidified by Atkins, Utley and Billy Scott, who are a "very physical threesome" according to USC head coach Mike Gillespie. Brandt and highly-touted freshman Karp, who turned down $2 million from the Atlanta Braves to become a Bruin, have locked up the first two spots in the pitching rotation with the third spot yet to be determined.
"They are a young, talented and high-ceiling team. They have a chance to be real good, but it is just a matter of time when they will be," Gillespie said. "They are good enough now to be a factor and I think they have a chance to finish in the top four."
Head coach: Jerry Stitt (81-57)
Last season: (33-23, 12-18 Pac-10)
Final national ranking: none
This season: 16-8
Top returning players: Keoni DeRenne SS, Rafell Jones OF, Erik Torres 3B
Top newcomers: Shelley Duncan RF/P, Ben Diggins P/DH, Dennis Anderson C
Outlook: The Wildcats started the season off on a high note by winning their first 13 games, but since then they have fallen on hard times, losing eight of their last 11 including two losses each to Arizona State and Tulane. Sophomore DeRenne is the only returning starter for Arizona, but Duncan, Diggins and Kenny Huff, along with Anderson and Torres, have been able to keep the Wildcats afloat this season.
"They are talented as hell," Arizona State head coach Pat Murphy said. "They are a good ballclub, but I don't pay too much attention to what they are doing because I have enough to do here. They deserved to be in the tournament the past two years, but never got the chance. This year is the same because they have a ton of guys who can play."
Washington State Cougars
Head coach: Steve Farrington (92-131)
Last season: 25-24, 12-12 Pac-10
Final national ranking: none
This season: 10-3
When they play Arizona: April 16-18 in Pullman, Wash.
All-time record against Arizona: 2-6
Top returning players: Wade Perrish P, Shawn Stevenson SS, Jason Grove RF
Top newcomers: Dave Ferrara 3B, Matt O'Brien P, Tyson Thompson P/DH
Outlook: The Cougars return six starters from last year and they look to improve with experience. Parrish, who was 8-3 with a 4.93 ERA last year, returns as the anchor of a young pitching staff. Stevenson provides some power at the plate which is not ordinarily seen from a shortstop and Grove also has a lot of pop in his bat. Farrington has slowly been putting together a respectable program in Pullman during his four years, and this year may be the season he reaps the benefits.
"This ballclub is in its third year together with most of the players back," he said. "Last year we took strides towards respectability, and this year we are more of an experienced club."
Oregon State Beavers
Head coach: Pat Casey (Overall, 298-178-4) (OSU, 130-66-4)
Last season: 35-14-1, 15-9 Pac-10
Final national ranking: none
This season: 9-10
When they play Arizona: April 9-11 in Tucson
All-time record against Arizona: 6-8
Top Returning Players: Joe Gerber 1B/P, Drew Hedges LF, Rob Colley OF
Top newcomers: Tim Dryden 1B/3B, K.C Rumrey OF/P, Pat Versluis P
Outlook: The Beavers unveil the new Goss Stadium at Coleman Field when they open the Pac-10 season against Southern Cal this weekend. They are currently hitting .272 as a team with opponents hitting .292 against their pitching staff, which has holes to fill after the departures of most of its starters and bullpen closer. After finishing second in the North last year, they have lost eight seniors and one junior to the draft. They do return 14 lettermen, including five everyday players who have the potential to form the nucleus of a potent lineup. Colley, Gerber and Hedges all caught fire at the end of last year, but for the Beavers to have a chance in the conference, they will have to do it for the entire season this year.
"We've obviously got a tremendous challenge with losing the people we lost," head coach Pat Casey said earlier this season in an Oregon State baseball media release. "We've got to believe in what we're doing, how we're doing it and what the results can be."
California Golden Bears
Head coach: Bob Milano (661-613-4)
Last season: 22-32, 5-24 Pac-10
Final national ranking: none
This season: 7-15
When they play Arizona: April 30-May 2 at Berkeley, Calif.
All-time record against Arizona: 51-77
Top Returning Players: Xavier Nady INF, Mike Tonis C, Jon Shirley P
Top newcomers: Trevor Hutchinson P, Dave Cash P, Jason Williams SS
Outlook: Last year Cal was rebuilding as it took home only five conference wins in 29 games. This year the Bears hope the rebuilding has worked and they are ready to compete in the Pac-10. They did have a setback early in the season when Milano had triple-bypass surgery, but he is now back in uniform to start the conference schedule. Assistant coach David Lawn took over in his absence.
"They played very hard throughout the period," Lawn said. "Initially there was a little numbness felt in the program, a sense of a void that wasn't being filled, but they got over it. It put us in a little funk, but in terms of effort, it was still good."
The Bears are led by Tonis and Nady, whom Lawn called "the big dog." For the Bears to compete, Tonis and Nady need to be productive at the plate and Shirley needs to perform on the mound. Williams, a transfer after being named a freshman All-American at Missouri last season, has to be more consistent.