Baseball opens season fresh-faced

USC’s baseball team recruited eight freshman during the offseason to replace key stars who left during the 2022 MLB Draft. (Patrick Hannan | Daily Trojan)

After a 25-28 season which saw USC finish last in the Pac-12, the Trojans will look to new Head Coach Andy Stankiewicz to get them back to the College World Series for the first time since 2001. Despite having the sport’s most national championships with 12, the Trojans have struggled in the 21st century, with only two World Series appearances and 15 losing seasons in the Pac-12. 

The Trojans turn to Stankiewicz, who spent the last 11 years coaching Grand Canyon University. Stankiewicz, who is from California and played his college baseball at Pepperdine University, said he is honored to coach such a historic baseball program.

“[The thing about] the history of this program, it’s so rich and so strong [that] I want to be a part of it,” said Stankiewicz in an interview with The Daily Trojan. “I wanted to be a part of it when I lived here. This baseball program, it’s always been in my mind one of the best in the nation.”

At Grand Canyon, Stankiewicz had a record of 341-239-2 while he oversaw the program’s transition from the Pacific West Conference (Division II) to the Western Athletic Conference (Division I). He won the WAC Coach of the Year four times during his tenure and the WAC conference championship in 2021. He hopes to apply that experience to his tenure at USC.

“We got better at Grand Canyon when we got better and more competitive inside the program,” Stankiewicz said. “We’re gonna recruit players that are going to come in and want to take [a starter’s] job and the [starter’s] saying, ‘No I’m not losing my job’ … When every day at practice is a competition between your teammates and yourself, that is going to make our program even better.”

This attitude has passed onto the players, who notice differences in energy and intensity from the new coaching staff.

“Just the tempo and the energy everyone brings day to day, it’s been really electric and I’m excited to see that come out on the field,” said junior pitcher Jaden Agassi.

Senior infielder Nick Lopez has also noticed better, more well-run practices.

“The energy they bring is a lot different,” Lopez said. “I think that the practices are going way more smoothly, seem more professional and everything is way more fun.”

In the Pac-12 baseball preseason coaches poll, the Trojans were picked to finish second-to-last in the conference. Agassi described this selection as “bulletin board material,” which can motivate the squad going forward.

“Honestly, that’s awesome,” Agassi said. “It gives us that chip on our shoulder, and we’re ready to prove some people wrong.”

The Trojans lost key contributors, sophomore infielder D’Andre Smith, sophomore pitcher Matt Keating, redshirt sophomore outfielder Rhylan Thomas and redshirt sophomore outfielder Tyresse Turner, to the 2022 MLB Draft and lost other players to the transfer portal. The Trojans bring eight new freshmen to the team and a host of other transfers, leaving upperclassmen to help get the newer players accustomed to the program and its culture.

“One thing this coaching staff has really changed is [eliminating the idea of grades] there’s no freshmen, there’s no seniors,” Agassi said. “Everybody’s helping everybody and everybody wants to get better, and everyone has the same goal.”

The players are excited and ready to show the country that the team is much improved and better than last year. 

“I want to come out as a team and show everybody that we’re not a second-to-last placed team, even though last year we didn’t do well as a team,” Lopez said. “I want to come back as a team and to know that I was a part of the team, that we made a change and USC’s back to where it needs to be.”

The Trojans open up the season against Marist College Friday at 6:30 p.m. at Dedeaux Field.