USC baseball quickly learning how to win under Andy Stankiewicz
USC didn’t win its second Pac-12 series until the first week of May last year. The Trojans, who finished last in the conference standings last year, only won two series against Pac-12 foes all season. First-year head coach Andy Stankiewicz is already 2-for-2 in series wins this season.
It shouldn’t be a shock knowing what Stankiewicz built at Grand Canyon, transforming the program into a formidable Division I mid-major. USC hasn’t been to the NCAA Tournament since 2015, and there’s still plenty of season left, but there’s plenty to be optimistic about the Trojans a month into the season.
The Trojans opened the conference slate with a series win over preseason favorite and reigning Pac-12 champion Stanford. It was the first series win over the Cardinal since that 2015 season when USC won 39 games. And it was quite the turnaround because last season the Trojans were swept and outscored 41-9 in the final series of the season at Sunken Diamond.
There are no huge stats that showcase USC’s success but they have grinded out games and are learning how to win.
“I am hoping the confidence is building, that they’re starting to believe in themselves,” Stankiewicz told USC Athletics. “Even if we’re down we have to figure out a way to get on base, figure out ways to stop the bleeding…It’s a maturity process and development process in our program. Someone needs to make a big pitch or a big play to stop the bleeding, that’s something we need to work on going forward. More than anything else these guys are getting excited about playing together.”
The pitching hasn’t been stellar for USC but the Trojans have also had to play two doubleheaders in their Pac-12 series, thus messing with the rotation. Nevertheless, a bright spot on the mound in conference play has been sophomore Fisher Johnson. The righty has come in relief and thrown six combined scoreless innings in the series finales against Stanford and Cal.
He has been a guy who has embraced the idea of stopping the bleeding. The Golden Bears got out to a three-run lead before Johnson shut them down for three innings while the Trojans pulled ahead.
Garrett Clarke, Josh Blum and Caden Connolly have all been efficient relievers as well. Each has appeared in at least three games and kept a sub-3.00 ERA.
As for the offense, it’s been a few new faces that have shined. Freshman Austin Overn has found a home at the top of the lineup, and for good reason. The former California State Athlete of the Year came into this week leading the nation with eight triples. He also leads the Trojans with a .312 batting average while adding six doubles and six stolen bases.
Cole Gabrielson only played six games for the Trojans last year after coming in from College of San Mateo. He has established himself as an everyday starter and has crushed seven homers, which puts him in a tie with others atop the conference.
The Trojans have set themselves up well with the first two series wins. They now face Washington State and Utah, the two other teams picked to finish in the bottom three of the conference, meaning USC could open the year with four Pac-12 series wins if they keep the ball rolling.
Nevertheless, Stankiewicz has his team believing in him and what he wants to do.