As the USC baseball team winds up for the new season starting this Friday against Coppin State, excitement and uncertainty is brewing in the air.
“Opening day is always special because it’s the start of a new season,” senior outfielder Corey Dempster said. “Everything resets, a new lineup, everything is new. You can’t compare it to last year, you can’t look forward to next year, all that matters is opening day.”
The Trojans lost 12 players from last year’s team in a record-breaking MLB Draft for USC. Former stars such as David Oppenheim and Jeremy Martinez, who provided excellent hitting and power, will need to be replaced with younger, more inexperienced bats. With a completely transformed lineup and pitching rotation that will likely evolve from game to game, freshman players will need to take on important roles.
“They’re going to have to come off the bench to do well,” Dempster said. “They’re not going to think they have a big impact, but later in the season it always rolls around to them.
“Definitely on the mound because our staff is so young, they’re going to have to step up in big spots. Get zeros, compete — that’s really all it’s about. Just go out there and give us a chance to win.”
Despite a very young and reshaped roster, USC does have some familiar faces on this year’s squad. In addition to Dempster, who batted .290 last year with 10 stolen bases, redshirt junior infielder Frankie Rios (.323 batting average) and junior infielder Adalberto Carrillo (seven home runs) return to strengthen the top of the order. In terms of pitching, only junior Mitch Hart and sophomore Marrick Crouse started more than two games last season, but the bullpen will be aided by the arrival of Brock Larson, a senior transfer from University of San Francisco who pitched to a 4.28 ERA last season.
“On the mound, I think whether it’s Mitch Hart or Brad Wegman or Marrick Crouse, we’re going to need those guys to really step up and be significant weekend starters in our league,” head coach Dan Hubbs said. “[And] you look at Adalberto Carrillo at third: He’s a plus defender at third and he has big, big power.”
Last season, the Trojans finished an even 28-28 overall and 15-15 in conference play. This year, the team aims to find more consistency on its journey to once again become a national powerhouse.
“We’ve started to put ’SC baseball back on the map, but I think this group is ready to make its mark,” Hubbs said. “They practice hard, they play hard and they’re going to play with a lot of energy and passion. I think it’ll be fun for students and fans to watch us play this year.”
The team’s path begins Friday against the Coppin State Eagles, a Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference team based in Baltimore. Last season, the Eagles finished 14-38, and they are four years removed from a 1-52 season. But regardless of the opposing team’s pedigree, the Trojans know that opening day will be special.
“Just the fact that we’re getting back out onto the field,” Hubbs said. “I think that if you’re a Trojan fan, these kids will give you a lot to be proud of, and you’ll like the way we play. The style of play — it’s going to be exciting. It’s always fun when you get the opportunity to see a bunch of new guys out there.”
USC kicks off its season on Friday, playing the first of a three-game set against the Eagles at Dedeaux Field. First pitch is scheduled for 6 p.m., and the series will wrap up with two weekend matinees, beginning at 2 p.m. on Saturday and 1 p.m. on Sunday.