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Baseball Ranked No. 5 by Rivals.com

Jan. 28, 2008

SAN DIEGO, Calif. - USD has been ranked No. 5 in rivals.com's preseason top-25 poll. Below is a story from rivals.com's Kendall Rogers.

Cut San Diego some slack ... for now.

The Toreros put together a memorable regular season campaign last year, but were promptly eliminated from the NCAA Tournament with heartbreaking losses to Fresno State and Minnesota.

Hoping to avenge that postseason performance, the Toreros enter 2008 with a chip on their shoulder.

San Diego has the nation's best weekend rotation.

Junior left-handers Brian Matusz and Josh Romanski are outstanding, while senior right-hander Matt Couch is coming off an impressive campaign.

While the pitching staff is in great shape, the offense has something to prove with Logan Gelbrich, Kevin Hansen and Sean Nicol leading the charge.

The Toreros have some important holes to fill. But unlike last season, they will know what to expect when the NCAA Tournament approaches.

Offense

If USD has an area of concern, it's the offense.

The Toreros must replace three of their top four hitters, but welcome back Josh Romanski.

In addition to his duties as a pitcher, Romanski is a key hitter. In 2007, he batted .335 with three homers and 30 RBIs. He also slugged .438 and had a .402 on-base percentage. Additionally, he hit 10 doubles and had a pair of triples.

Logan Gelbrich, Sean Nicol and Kevin Hansen must rise to the occasion this season, while James Meador is eager to perform in an enhanced role.

Freshmen Anthony Strazzara, Zach Walters, Victor Sanchez and Steve Kaupang are also in the mix, while Vanderbilt transfer Ryan Davis expects a good year.

Davis batted .309 with a home run and 26 RBIs with the Commodores last season. He also slugged .390 and had a .369 on-base percentage.

Starting pitching

It's certainly debatable but we believe the Toreros have the nation's best weekend rotation with juniors Brian Matusz and Josh Romanski, and senior Matt Couch leading the charge.

Matusz is the most highly touted of the three. He went 10-3 with a 2.85 ERA in 123 innings of work last season. He also struck out 163 and walked 37, while opponents hit him at a .214 clip.

Romanski is a two-way asset. As a pitcher last season, he went 9-1 with a 3.05 ERA in 112 innings of work. He also struck out 92 and walked 24, while opponents hit him at a .221 clip.

Couch might be the third starter, but is coming off an impressive campaign. The senior went 9-2 with a 3.60 ERA in 100 innings of work last season. He also struck out 69 and walked 21, while opponents hit .258.

Freshman Kyle Blair and sophomore Matt Thompson will be the midweek starters.

Bullpen

Thanks to an outstanding weekend rotation the San Diego bullpen probably doesn't receive the accolades it deserves.

Sophomore right-hander AJ Griffin and junior left-hander Ricardo Pecina headline the bullpen.

Griffin was a premier closer in his first season at USD. He tallied 11 saves and had a 2.70 ERA in 63 1/3 innings of work. He also struck out 65 and walked 23, while opponents hit him at a .212 clip.

Pecina made 19 appearances last season and had a 3.86 ERA in 60 2/3 innings of work. He also struck out 41 and walked 26, while opponents hit .273 off him.

The Toreros will also look to true freshmen Sammy Solis and Nick Ousman, and redshirt freshman Darrin Campbell to log significant innings.

Ousman went 9-1 with a 0.36 ERA as a high school senior, while Solis had a successful high school career.

Outlook with postseason forecastSan Diego might have the most to prove this season. The Toreros put together an impressive regular season campaign in 2007, but had nothing to show for it after a dismal Regional performance. Hoping to get back in good graces with some, the Toreros enter the spring with arguably the nation's best pitching staff. No team can match San Diego's weekend rotation consisting of Brian Matusz, Josh Romanski and Matt Couch. However, the offense leaves something to be desired. Logan Gelbrich, Sean Nicol and Kevin Hansen must rise to the occasion if USD plans on getting to Omaha. Even with a questionable offense, this team has the guns on the mound to go the distance. Can the Toreros learn from last season's postseason blunder? We'll soon find out.

Shoes to Fill

San Diego will have a tough time replacing Jordan Abruzzo, Shane Buschini and Justin Snyder.

The Toreros hit .314 as a team last season, and the talented trio was an integral piece to the puzzle.

Buschini is the toughest loss. He batted .348 with 13 homers and 58 RBIs last season. He also slugged .626 and had a .442 on-base percentage. Additionally, he finished the year with 20 doubles and two triples.

Abruzzo was also a power producer. He hit .332 with eight homers and 59 RBIs last season. He also slugged .492 and had a .396 on-base percentage.

Last but not least, Snyder was the team's leading hitter last season. He hit .352 with four homers and 36 RBIs. He also had a .433 on-base percentage.

Must Step Up

The Toreros have the tough chore of replacing Jordan Abruzzo, Shane Buschini and Justin Snyder, among others. As a result, the returning offensive players must rise to the occasion.

Seniors Logan Gelbrich and Kevin Hansen headline the list.

Gelbrich hit .316 with four homers and 38 RBIs last season. He also slugged .448 and had a .399 on-base percentage. Additionally, he hit 16 doubles.

Hansen had an identical .316 batting average, but ended the year with a .373 on-base percentage.

Also keep an eye on junior shortstop Sean Nicol and sophomore first baseman James Meador.

Nicol batted .300 with five homers and 30 RBIs last season, while Meador hit .215 with 8 RBIs in just 26 games and 65 at bats.

Impact Newcomer

With the departures of several key position players, the Toreros need immediate contributions from their newcomers.Outfielder Anthony Strazzara, Steve Kaupang and Victor Sanchez highlight the talented list.

Strazzara is slated to start in the outfield and hit .435 as a high school senior last season. Kaupang is the designated hitter and hit .400 with five homers his high school senior season.

Third baseman Victor Sanchez might be the most highly touted newcomer in the lineup. Sanchez was drafted by the Chicago Cubs last June, but chose to attend college. As a high school senior, he hit .402 with three homers and 30 RBIs.

Freshman right-hander Kyle Blair is a guy to watch on the mound. Blair was drafted in the fifth round of last year's MLB Draft by the Dodgers, but chose to attend school. As a high school senior, he went 9-2 with a 0.31 ERA. He also struck out 147 batters.

Kendall Rogers is the college baseball editor for Rivals.com. He can be reached at rogersk@yahoo-inc.com.