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Baseball enters 2016 season seeking redemption

first_imgAs the baseball team prepares to open its season this Friday, the loss to eventual national champion Virginia in the NCAA Regional Final still lingers. Yet, that extra-inning loss in Lake Elsinore has only provided more motivation for a talented Trojan roster.“The preparation [for 2016] began in the summer when we lost to Virginia,” junior catcher Jeremy Martinez said. “Everyone is going to remember that feeling.”The Trojans’ 24 returning players got to work over the summer and through the fall, and now, Martinez said the team was chomping at the bit to finally start the season.“A lot of guys came back in shape, a lot stronger, and a lot of pitchers came up with better velocity,” Martinez said. “So I think the preparation is there. Now it’s just time to showcase all that hard work.”Martinez is one member of a strong nucleus of players returning for the Trojans in 2016. Although USC will undoubtedly miss stalwarts such as Bobby Stahel, Garrett Stubbs and Dante Flores, who combined to account for over a third of USC’s hits in 2015, there is a wealth of returning talent both in the batting order and on the mound. Senior infielder AJ Ramirez and senior outfielder Timmy Robinson paced the team in home runs last year, swatting nine and seven, respectively. Pitching-wise, senior Marc Huberman earned six wins in 2015, while senior Kyle Davis tallied six saves (both figures led the team). In fact, two picks from the summer’s MLB First Year Player Draft return to USC this season, including Davis (29th round, Blue Jays). Senior pitcher Brent Wheatley was selected by the Oakland A’s in the 17th round.But regardless of how much talent the Trojans lost, or how much talent is returning, head coach Dan Hubbs simply wants his players to push themselves to improve.“They don’t have to replace those numbers,” Hubbs said. “They just have to continue to get better. All these guys are going to get more and more opportunities. We need them to be able to just do their thing.”Hubbs was also very happy with the less experienced players he called on to step up in place of the graduated and professional Trojans.“We think there’s a lot of talent there,” he said. “Whether they’re guys who were in the program who are now getting a bigger opportunity or the guys that are just coming in the program as freshmen.”USC looks forward to a tough schedule in 2016. The Trojans face long road trips for series at TCU, Oregon, Washington State and Arizona State, while Cal and Oregon State highlight this season’s home series. They will also compete in the annual Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic, taking on Oklahoma and Mississippi State at Dedeaux Field before battling archrival and defending Pac-12 champion UCLA at Chavez Ravine.The Trojans play nine of their first 11 games at home, including their first two games in the Classic, in series against North Dakota, Korean Baseball Organization franchise NC Dinos, and Wake Forest.USC was ranked No. 12 in the nation in this year’s D1 Baseball preseason rankings — the first time in a decade that the school has cracked the top 25 to start the year. Ask around the team, however, and there is very little fanfare or self-congratulation regarding the achievement.“We were unranked for the first three years, and then we’re ranked now,” Davis said. “I guess that’s kind of cool, but it really doesn’t mean much till the end of the year.”Hubbs agreed with his veteran pitcher. After all, his program has the most national championships in NCAA history.“The expectation at a place like USC is that you’re competing for a national title each and every year,” Hubbs said.Hubbs, who signed a multi-year deal over the offseason after an impressive first three years at the helm, was excited to see his team take the field in 2016.“As long as we play our game and do what we’re capable of doing, then I don’t think it matters who we play,” Hubbs said.For now, however, the team’s focus is squarely on its season opening series against North Dakota, which starts on Friday at Dedeaux Field. Kyle Davis will toe the rubber for the Trojans on Opening Day, and first pitch will be at 6 p.m.last_img read more

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