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Countdown to Opening Day: San Diego Toreros

Feb. 20, 2009

After reaching the Long Beach Regional championship game and setting a program-record 44 wins a year ago, the Toreros are locked, loaded and ready to make their inaugural trip to Omaha.

San Diego head coach Rich Hill has the Toreros not only focused on winning its third consecutive West Coast Conference championship, and fifth in the last seven years, but also on winning a national championship.

"I think we have the ingredients to win not only another WCC championship, but a national championship as well," stated Hill. "It is our teams goal to be playing in Omaha at seasons end for a national championship."

In a nutshell, the 2009 Toreros will feature a young but talented batting order, a typically solid San Diego defense and one of the nation's best pitching staff's. An always heavyweight non-conference schedule should help prepare the Toreros for the rigors of a West Coast Conference slate.

Pitching

In addition to being named to this year's Blake Wallace Award watch list, Griffin was named a first team preseason All-American by the NCBWA


The 2009 Toreros will again feature one the nations best pitching staff's headlined by Team USA member and preseason All-American closer AJ Griffin. Griffin set the program single-season record for saves this past season with 14, set the career save record with 25 and won a gold medal with Team USA over the summer.

"We feel really good about having a lead in a game, because we have a guy like AJ Griffin who can come in and close things out for us," said Hill.

Anchoring down the Toreros starting rotation will be sophomore right-hander Kyle Blair, who is coming off a season in which he set he freshman strikeout record with 99 and posted an 8-4 record. Blair also could appear as a designated hitter for the Toreros this season, as the coaching staff has been impressed with Blair's bat during the fall.

USD's Saturday pitcher to begin the year will be sophomore lefty Sammy Solis. Solis had a solid freshmen campaign with the Toreros by recording a 3-1 record with a 3.83 ERA in 17 appearances including seven starts. He ended up striking out 42 batters in only 49.1 innings of work. He also allowed only 12 walks on the year. He skyrocketed up many charts with an outstanding summer with the Chatham A's of the Cape Cod Baseball League where he only went 3-2 with a 2.41 ERA in seven appearances with six starts. He only allowed seven walks in his 37.1 innings on the mound with 32 strikeouts.

On Sunday's, the Toreros will look to junior right-hander Matt Thomson. In 2008, Thomson spent the season mostly in the bullpen making 16 appearances with one start. He was able to go 2-1 with a 3.86 ERA including two saves. Thomson then spent the 2008 summer in the Cape Cod League playing for the Orleans Cardinals where he showed his true value. He had a perfect record of 4-0 with an ERA of 1.66. He ended up starting six games while making 12 appearances for a total of 48.2 innings. He was named to the CCBL All-Star game and to the 2008 All-Cape Cod League Team.

"Starting pitching will again be the strength of our team with Sammy Solis, Kyle Blair and Matt Thomson, all three of them had outstanding summers in the Cape, and we are excited about what they can do for us this season," said Hill.

The return of fifth-year starter Matt Couch also has the Torero coaching staff excited. Couch, who is on pace to make a return for the Toreros mid season, will figure into the Torero starting/relief duties. Couch is a two-time All-WCC performer and is expected to be the x-factor for the Toreros.

Relief pitching for USD is also deep for coach Hill, as sophomore Darrin Campbell makes his return on the mound as a possible set-up pitcher or mid-week starter. Campbell posted a 1-0 record with a 4.01 ERA and 18 strikeouts in 24.2 innings of work this past season.

"I think Darrin Campbell has a chance to be special. He just hasn't had the opportunity to pitch because of injuries," stated Hill.

A newcomer who could see time as a starter as well is freshman Chris Jensen, who comes to the Toreros from Mesquite High School in Gilbert, Ariz. Jensen posted a 7-3 record with a 3.22 ERA, was named first-team All-Region and helped lead his team to the state championships as a senior and as a junior he posted a 8-3 record with a 1.90 ERA and earned an Arizona Republic Honorable Mention.

Another new face for the Toreros who has a chance at making an impact is Orange Coast College transfer Matt Hauser. Hauser comes to the Toreros after a record setting career at OCC, where he left the school as the all-time career appearance leader with 42, is ranked tied 10th in school history in career wins with 12. He finished the 2008 season with a team-best 2.82 ERA.

"I think Matt Hauser will be a guy who surprises some people," stated Hill. "He has a strong arm and throws in the low 90's. If he gets a little more consistent in terms of location, he has a chance to be special too."

More guys who could also make an impact are senior Scott DeNault, junior transfer Tyler Fick and freshman Paul Sewald.

DeNault, a four-year member of the Torero bullpen, is coming off a season in which he posted a 3.18 ERA in seven appearances.

Fick, a transfer from Cuesta College, comes to San Diego after two first-team All-League distinctions and a two-year record of 14-6 with a 3.01 ERA at Cuesta College.

Sewald comes to the Toreros after a stand-out career at Bishop Gorman High School in Las Vegas, Nev. He helped lead his team to three consecutive Nevada State 4A championships and as a senior he posted a 7-0 record with a 1.57 ERA en route to a first-team All-State distinction.

Infield

SR 1B Jose Valerio will be looked at to provide offense as he was third on the team in hitting at .336


The Torero infield will look familiar to San Diego fans as senior Jose Valerio will return at first base after hitting .336 last season and taking home an All-WCC honorable mention. Valerio, who became USD's everyday first baseman midway through the 2008 season, recorded 50 hits, nine doubles, five home runs and 26 RBI as a junior.

Backing up Valerio at first base will be senior Michael Lugo. In 2008, Lugo made a career-high 13 appearances for the Toreros and hit .333 with four hits and two RBI.

The new face to San Diego's infield will be sophomore Zach Walters, who was used sparingly as a freshman, but has impressed the coaching staff during the fall and has earned the starting nod at second base. In his freshman season, Walters hit .265 with 18 hits, four doubles, one home run and 13 RBI.

"Zach Walters is an extremely gifted athlete and is getting better at the mental part of the game, which can really separate himself from the others," said Hill.

Behind Walters at second could either be sophomore Anthony Strazzara or Sacramento City College transfer Chris Engell. As a freshman, Strazzara hit .278 with 22 hits, four doubles and 15 RBI. Engell comes to the Toreros after hitting .364 with 47 hits, two home runs en route to a first-team All-Conference selection in 2008. Strazzara could also be used as a DH for the Toreros this season as well.

At shortstop, USD will welcome back senior Sean Nicol who is poised for a stand-out senior campaign after posting solid numbers as a junior with a .313 batting average, 72 hits, 13 doubles and 27 RBI.

At the hot corner, USD welcomes back its power hitter in preseason All-American sophomore Victor Sanchez, who set the new freshman record for home runs with 12. Overall, Sanchez hit .268 with 58 hits, 12 doubles and 47 RBI.

"Victor has really bulked up over the summer and in the off season," said Hill. "I think he is ready to have a monster year. He has lightning on his bat and has worked on some holes in his swing and really progressed through the fall."

Behind the plate, junior Nick McCoy has earned the starting nod from the coaching staff. Last year, McCoy became Brian Matusz's personal catcher midway through the season, and he made the most of his playing opportunity hitting .224 with 22 hits, five doubles and 12 RBI.

Backing up McCoy could be a battle between junior Steven Chatwood, freshman Zach Kometani, Austin Green and Cuesta College transfer Brian Farris. Chatwood made three starts last season and played in eight games, while recording one hit for the Toreros in limited action. Chatwood could also see time in the DH role as well.

Kometani comes to the Toreros from Honolulu, where he was a stand-out on the Punahou baseball team. He helped lead his team to three consecutive state championships and was a two-time first-team All-Honolulu Advertiser selection. As a junior he hit .380 with 17 RBI and as a senior he hit .320 with 15 RBI.

Green comes to San Diego from nearby Patrick Henry High School, and was a 43rd round selection by the Houston Astros in the 2008 MLB draft. Green hit .444, had 13 doubles, five home runs and 27 RBI en rout to a first-team All-Eastern League and first-team All-CIF distinction during his senior season. He could also see time in the Torero outfield as well.

"Austin has as good an arm as anyone I have ever coached in my 22 years, from behind the plate and from right field," said Hill. "I look for him to be a good defensive replacement early on and he could win a starting spot also."

Farris played two years at Cuesta College and as a sophomore he hit .340 with 12 doubles and 40 RBI, helped lead his team to the 2008 Western State Conference North championship, and helped lead his team to the Super Regionals.

Outfield
USD's outfield will feature the team's leading hitter from last year in right-fielder James Meador, who hit .374, with 80 hits, 16 doubles, three triples, six home runs and 57 RBI, n route to a first-team All-WCC honor.

In centerfield, the speedster Kevin Muno will make his return after swiping a team-leading 21 bases last year and hitting .326 with 79 hits, 12 doubles, three triples, four home runs and 29 RBI.

At left field, USD will welcome freshman Brian Harr, who comes to the Toreros after a stand-out career at nearby Grossmont High School where he helped lead the team to four CIF championships and earned three first-team All-league distinctions.

"Brian is a very talented utility player from Grossmont High. He can steal a base, hit a home run and play a bunch of different positions for us. I think he is a very valuable asset to the team," stated Hill.

Other newcomers who could see time in the outfield include Orange Coast College transfer Mike Ferraro, and freshmen Jon Hotta and Chase Yost.

Ferro comes to the Toreros after a stand-out career at Orange Coast College, where he helped lead his team to two consecutive Southern California Super Regional appearances. As a sophomore he hit .331 with 44 RBI en route to earning an All-Orange Empire Conference selection.

Hotta comes to the Toreros from nearby Oceanside High School, where he was a two-time All-Avocado League performer. As a senior he hit .360 and had 24 stolen bases, while helping his team reach the CIF finals.

Yost comes to the Toreros from Solvang, Calif. While playing at Santa Ynez High School, Yost was named first-team All-CIF as a senior after hitting .384 with 11 doubles, two triples, eight home runs, 20 stolen bases, and 26 RBI.