USC Preview

It's a bounce back weekend for the Cardinal baseball team as they look to rebound from the Texas sweep when they host the Trojans in a three-game, non-conference series. USC is off to a fast start this year with a perfect 4-0 record against some strong competition as they feature one of the most dominant pitchers in the country. Here is a full series preview.

#22 USC (4-0)  at  #13 Stanford (7-5)

Friday - 5:00pm
Saturday - 1:00pm
Sunday - 1:00pm

The Stanford Cardinal and the USC Trojans get together this weekend at Sunken Diamond in their annual non-conference series.  The Cardinal are looking to get back on the winning track after getting swept at fourth-ranked Texas last week.  Stanford was in every contest, but found themselves on the losing end of all three games, 6-4, 8-7, and 5-4.  It was the Cardinal's second series loss of the season - both have come to top five teams on the road (CS Fullerton).

The 22nd ranked Trojans are off to a hot start with their only losses this season coming to the wet California weather.  Despite beginning their season three weeks ago, USC has only managed to play four games thanks to five other scheduled contests being postponed by rain.  When the Trojans have taken to the field, they've won every time out with a pair of weekend victories over then-nationally ranked Long Beach State and a couple of midweek wins over San Diego State and San Diego.  USC was supposed to play a three-game series versus #3 Cal State Fullerton last weekend, but only one portion of one game took place and thus the last completed game for the Trojans dates back to February 15th.


PROBABLE STARTING PITCHING MATCHUPS

Friday: USC- Zack Kalter (RHP; 1-0, 5.40)  vs.  Stanford- Mark Romanczuk (LHP; 2-2, 4.64)

Saturday: USC- Ian Kennedy (RHP; 1-0, 0.00)  vs.  Stanford- Jeff Gilmore (RHP; 2-1, 3.09)

Sunday: USC- TBA  vs.  Stanford- Nolan Gallagher (RHP; 0-1, 1.76)


WHO AND WHAT TO WATCH

* Ian Kennedy: The theme of this section of the preview will be the superstars of the respective teams.  The player to watch on the Trojans this weekend is their ace pitcher, sophomore right-hander Ian Kennedy.  Kennedy was a star from day one of his freshman campaign as he posted a 7-2 record with a 2.91 ERA last season - and that was on a team that finished well below .500.  He struck out a whopping 120 batters compared to just 31 walks in 92 2/3 innings.  Kennedy pitched for the US National Team last summer and led the Red, White, and Blue in strike outs as a starting pitcher with 40 (26 IP, 3.81 ERA).  He started this season with a bang tossing six quality innings with zero earned runs allowed in his first start versus Long Beach State two weeks ago - out dueling fellow Team USA pitcher Cesar Ramos.  Then last weekend, Kennedy allowed just two runs in seven innings at Cal State Fullerton.  He walked one and struck out ten and was handily beating another of his USA teammates, Ricky Romero, before the game was called because of rain (until the contest is completed the game stats will not appear in the overall season statistics).  Because that start last weekend came on Sunday, USC has elected to not push Kennedy too hard and thus he'll start on Saturday in this series - meaning no third straight tilt against a Team USA teammate (Romanczuk).  Kennedy is, without a doubt, one of the premier pitchers in the country.

* Jed Lowrie: Another superstar in this series, the Cardinal second baseman is enjoying an incredible beginning of the season.  While hitting a healthy .354, Lowrie has already blasted a remarkable seven home runs to go with 20 RBI through 12 games.  The Pac-10 Triple Crown winner a year ago, Lowrie is clearly one of the early candidates for the Golden Spikes Award.  He's homered in four consecutive games and is showing that he could match - or possibly even surpass - his amazing output of a year ago.

* Jeff Clement: Clement joined Kennedy and Stanford players Romanczuk, Lowrie, and John Mayberry, Jr. on the US National Team last summer.  He's in fact played for the Red, White, and Blue the previous two seasons and enters this his junior campaign as one of the top catchers in the country and near sure-fire first round draft pick.  Clement won Pac-10 Freshman of the Year honors in 2003 when he hit .298 with a whopping 21 home runs.  The batting average basically remained the same last season (.293), but the power production dropped considerably down to 10 roundtrippers.  A Preseason First Team All-American, Clement is looking to elevate his game to the next level this year before he heads out to the pro game.  Through four games, Clement has three hits in 13 at-bats (.231).


STANFORD NOTES

It's a bounce back weekend for the Cardinal as they try to rebound from the sweep at Texas.  Stanford didn't play poorly in the three games, but the Longhorns were able to come up with a couple more clutch hits and received an incredible weekend from their star hitter, Drew Stubbs (three homers including two of the inside-the-park variety).  The Cardinal find themselves out of the top ten in the national rankings for the first time since February of 2003 which was also the last time they were swept in a series (at Cal State Fullerton).  The road doesn't get much easier, for the time being, as yet another ranked opponent faces them in the Trojans.

Offensively, the two big bats in the middle of the lineup continue to lead the team.  In addition to Lowrie, Mayberry, Jr. is putting up big numbers with a .354 batting average to go with three home runs and 14 RBI.  Sophomore third baseman Adam Sorgi also continues to be a pleasant surprise at the plate with a .341 batting average - third on the team.  Sorgi has settled in nicely over at third base and has been one of Stanford's most consistent hitters since day one of the season.  Stanford is currently hitting .288 as a team while they've averaging 7.2 runs per game. 

On the mound, both Mark Romanczuk and Jeff Gilmore are looking to bounce back after difficult starts in Austin.  Romanczuk was roughed up to the tune of five runs (four earned) on nine hits in 3 1/3 innings.  Meanwhile, Gilmore had a little more success with six strike outs in 4 1/3 innings.  But he too allowed four earned runs on nine hits as each hurler was saddled with a loss.

Sunday starter Nolan Gallagher, however, continued his strong early season when he carried a one-hit shutout into the sixth inning last Sunday.  A couple runs in that sixth frame knocked Gallagher out of the game, but the freshman still has a sparkling 1.76 ERA in 15 1/3 innings. 

Probable Starting Lineup:
1. Michael Taylor, RF  (Fr., .239, 0 HR, 4 RBI)
2. John Hester, C  (Jr., .298, 0 HR, 14 RBI)
3. Jed Lowrie, 2B  (Jr., .354, 7 HR, 20 RBI)
4. John Mayberry, Jr., 1B  (Jr., .354, 3 HR, 14 RBI)
5. Chris Minaker, SS  (Jr., .298, 1 HR, 5 RBI)
6. Adam Sorgi, 3B  (So., .341, 1 HR, 8 RBI)
7. Chris Lewis, LF  (Jr., .267, 3 HR, 6 RBI)
8. Jim Rapoport, CF  (So., .250, 1 HR, 5 RBI)
9. Brendan Domaracki, DH  (Fr., .235, 0 HR, 1 RBI)

Fri- Mark Romanczuk, LHP  (Jr., 2-2, 4.64 ERA, 21.1 IP, 13 BB, 15 SO)
Sat- Jeff Gilmore, RHP  (Jr., 2-1, 3.09 ERA, 23.1 IP, 7 BB, 22 SO)
Sun- Nolan Gallagher, RHP  (Fr., 0-1, 1.76 ERA, 15.1 IP, 7 BB, 15 SO)

Notes: Taylor has four multi-hit games in a row batting .421 (8-for-19) during the streak ... Hester had a quiet weekend in Texas going 2-for-11, but he's still tied for second on the team in RBI with 14 ... Lowrie is on pace to hit 33 home runs during the regular season (and postseason statistics do count) ... Mayberry, Jr. is currently riding an eight-game hitting streak ... Sorgi is hitting .500 (11-for-22) in his last five games ... Rapoport is second on the team with four doubles (Hester has five) ... Domaracki earned considerable playing time at DH last weekend going 2-for-10 with an RBI ... Romanczuk has walked just four batters over his last two starts (after nine walks in his first two appearances) ... Gilmore leads the team with a .211 batting average against ... Gallagher has left with the lead in both of his starts, but has zero wins to show for it.



USC NOTES

The tradition-rich USC Trojans, proud owners of 12 national championships, have suffered through two straight losing seasons.  In 2003, the Trojans managed just a .500 record at 28-28 as they narrowly missed the NCAA Tournament.  They then reached rock bottom (or so it what seem) last spring when USC stumbled to a 24-32 overall mark - the worst record in head coach Mike Gillespie's 17 years.  The Trojans did play the nation's toughest schedule last year and have had their pitching staff victimized the past two seasons by transfers and injuries, but this brand of baseball was something USC fans, players, and coaches were certainly not used to.

Most people didn't know what to think about USC's team entering 2005.  There's a wealth of talent to go around and the Trojans look to have plenty of healthy arms, but that still only resulted in a preseason fifth place finish in the Pac-10.  It's still early, but those predictions may have to be revised as USC has burst out of the gate with a 4-0 record and have all the looks of a contender in the Pac-10.  Are they back?  It's way too early to say if the Trojans have returned to their form of four or five seasons ago when they were routinely making trips to the College World Series.  But the early returns seem to show that this USC team should be able to snap the string of seasons without an NCAA Tournament appearance at two.

The revitalized pitching staff, owners of a 2.75 ERA through four games, is led by the aforementioned Kennedy.  Tim Lincecum may have grabbed more of the headlines last season in the Pac-10 because of the team he played on, but it's hard to argue that Kennedy is most dominant pitcher in the conference.  Despite playing with a subpar offense and a terrible defense last season, the hard-throwing right-hander still went 7-2 a year ago with a 3.9-to-1 strike out-to-walk ratio.  Saturday's contest at Sunken Diamond should be a fun one with the two hottest starting pitchers on each team - Kennedy and Gilmore - facing off against each other.

A newcomer to the Trojans in Zack Kalter will get the nod on Friday evening.  Kalter is a junior right-hander who transferred from Pasadena Community College.  He's coming off a fantastic summer as he was named the top prospect in the New England Collegiate Baseball League.  Two weekends ago versus Long Beach State, Kalter allowed three runs on eight hits in four innings (no walks and three K's). 

The Sunday starter is still TBA for the Trojans, but one possibility is Brett Bannister.  Bannister had an outstanding freshman campaign way back in 2002 when he went 8-3 with a 3.56 ERA splitting time as a starter and a reliever.  But he's missed the last two seasons with arm injuries and is trying to regain that 2002 form.  Bannister has started both of USC's midweek games thus far and he's thrown well with three earned runs allowed in 6 1/3 innings. 

On the offensive side, the verdict is still out on the Trojans as to whether they can be anything more than an average Pac-10 hitting group.  Certainly Clement is expected to lead the way from behind the dish with his 31 career home runs.  Sophomore left fielder Cyle Hankerd is off to a hot start with six hits in his first 13 at-bats to lead the team with a .462 batting average.  Freshman second baseman and leadoff hitter Matt Cusick is looking like a bright prospect.  Cusick has USC's only home run so far this season while he's picked up six hits in his first 15 AB's.  As a group, the Trojans have scored 24 runs in their first four games.  They were getting handcuffed by Ricky Romero last Sunday (the lefty retired 11 in a row at one point) before a late-inning surge against the All-American gave USC the 7-2 lead. 

Clearly the pitching and defense are a lot better for USC this season.  The hitting has potential and if Clement returns to his freshman form, the Trojans will feature one of the most dangerous bats in the country.  It's a young, talented lineup that should improve as the season progresses.  A couple of wins over Long Beach State (granted, the Dirtbags were short-handed with two key hitters out of action) and a fairly sizable lead over Cal State Fullerton before the rain hit shows USC can compete against the best of the west.  Now their brutal schedule continues this weekend as they try to knock off the Cardinal.

Probable Starting Lineup:
1. Matt Cusick, 2B  (Fr., 6-for-15, 1 HR, 3 RBI)
2. Blake Sharpe, RF  (Jr., 5-for-17, 0 HR, 2 RBI)
3. Jeff Clement, C  (Jr., 3-for-13, 0 HR, 2 RBI)
4. Cyle Hankerd, LF  (So., 6-for-13, 0 HR, 4 RBI)
5. Billy Hart, 3B  (Jr., 3-for-13, 0 HR, 3 RBI)
6. Baron Frost, DH  (Jr., 2-for-12, 0 HR, 2 RBI)
7. Roberto Lopez, CF  (Fr., 4-for-10, 0 HR, 3 RBI)  or  Daniel Perales, CF  (So., 1-for-8, 0 HR, 0 RBI)
8. Lucas Duda, 1B  (Fr., 3-for-12, 0 HR, 1 RBI)
9. Hector Estrella, SS  (So., 2-for-12, 0 HR, 0 RBI)

Fri- Zack Kalter, RHP  (Jr., 1-0, 5.40 ERA, 5.0 IP, 1 BB, 5 SO)
Sat- Ian Kennedy, RHP  (So., 1-0, 0.00 ERA, 7.0 IP, 2 BB, 9 SO)
Sun- TBA

Notes: Cusick's home run was a walkoff blast in USC's last completed game on Feb. 15 vs. San Diego ... Sharpe was one of the more consistent hitters on the team last season finishing the year with a .316 average ... Clement hit 75 home runs during his high school career while playing in Iowa - the most ever in US high school baseball history ... Hankerd came on strong at the end of last season (hit .333 - second on the team) and looks to be carrying the momentum over into this year ... Hart led the team in hitting a year ago at .367 ... Duda is a big first baseman at 6'4", 220 lbs. and should be one of the better freshmen in the conference.

The Bootleg Top Stories