Torero baseball update
NOAH HILTON | CONTRIBUTOR
It’s been a confusing season for the University of San Diego baseball team. Ranked among the top teams on the West Coast to begin the season, they have had an inexplicably underwhelming campaign so far. The team accustomed to excellence is now fighting to maintain a winning record.
However, one thing is certain about this year’s squad — they certainly don’t make things easy for themselves.
The obstacles began with their schedule. The Toreros opened the season against two perennial powerhouses in the Vanderbilt University Commodores, last year’s national runner-up, and the Oregon State University Beavers, a consistent participant in the College World Series in Omaha, NE.
While USD went a combined 0-5 against the two teams, the slate of match-ups should have also served as outstanding preparation for the conference schedule.
Head coach Rich Hill knew that if his team were to be considered among the nation’s elite, they would have to be able to compete with the big schools.
“If you want to be a millionaire,” Hill said. “You’ve got to hang out with millionaires.”
This spoke to the positives that can come from playing what is arguably one of the toughest schedules in the nation.
Unfortunately, that preparation has been undone by injuries to some of the team’s most vital stars. After watching sophomore shortstop Bryson Brigman struggle through a muscle strain early in the year, the team has been faced with junior slugger Ryan Kirby’s season ending prematurely with a devastating ACL tear. Prior to the injury, Kirby was one of the team’s premier offensive threats, carrying a .366 batting average that was accompanied by five home runs and a team-leading 29 runs batted in.
In his absence, budding MLB prospects Brigman and catcher Riley Adams will need to take on bigger roles in order for the team to continue its push for a spot in the conference tournament. Adams’ power bat has supplied five home runs and 26 RBI, while Brigman’s speed on the base paths — he leads the team by a wide margin with ten stolen bases — and solid glove work in the field have helped the Toreros on both sides of the ball.
Junior outfielders Hunter Mercado-Hood and Daniel Gardner, as well as freshman Kevin Collard, will be looked to for needed contributions in the outfield in order for USD to effectively recover from the loss of Kirby.
Early indicators are positive, to say the least. A loss to crosstown rival San Diego State University Aztecs certainly stings, but the team rebounded well to earn a series win over Santa Clara and finish off a week in which they averaged more than seven runs a game.
Yet the challenges are far from over, as over the next month the team will rack up the frequent flier miles by playing 10 straight road games. The month of April will close with trips to the University of San Francisco, University of Portland, and the University of the Pacific.
How the team performs in those match-ups will likely play a huge role in determining how far the team might advance once the postseason rolls around.
With a hole in the lineup needing to be filled and an upcoming slate of games that will take the team far away from the friendly confines of Fowler Park, the Torero’s road to a playoff berth will certainly be an uphill battle. However, with the core of the team still largely intact and their talent readily apparent, don’t count them out just yet.