Do you think that you know everything about the University of San Diego baseball team because of junior power-hitting third baseman Kris Bryant’s Golden Spikes Award-worthy season? His statistics, his nation-leading 31 home runs, 62 RBI, 78 runs scored and 62 walks in 58 games, are all impressive.
But Bryant, whose contributions to USD’s success have been well documented by the national media, is the first person to remind others that he’s not the sole reason as the Toreros prepare for the NCAA Los Angeles Regional, which begins Friday at UCLA’s Jackie Robinson Stadium.
“I’ve had a lot of moments this year, but guys such as Austin Green have been awesome, Connor Joe, Dillon Haupt and our pitchers, guys like PJ Conlon. Everyone is stepping up at the right time,” said Bryant (pictured, left), the co-West Coast Conference Player of the Year, earlier this week.
Bryant, who is expected to be a top-10 pick — many project him to be among the top three — in next week’s Major League Baseball Draft, is a great example of the formula that Coach Rich Hill, his staff and his teammates employ: stay focused on the present, not what’s ahead.
“I’m not even thinking about the draft,” said Bryant when asked his thoughts shortly after the Toreros learned they’d be in a regional with UCLA, San Diego State and USD’s first opponent, Cal Poly (39-17), at 2 p.m. on Friday. “This is my team right now, I want to play for my brothers out there. I’ve had a blast this year. It’s gone by so fast. I’m really trying to slow everything down and have a whole lot of fun.”
The fun for this year’s Toreros (35-23) went up significantly after last weekend’s strong performance at the West Coast Conference Tournament. After opening it with a win over BYU, USD lost a tough game to University of San Francisco, turned right around and eliminated BYU to get another shot at USF in the tournament title game.
This time, the Toreros defeated the Dons, 2-0, on the strength of a complete-game, three-hit shutout by freshman pitcher Troy Conyers, RBI singles by Andrew Daniel and Green and a defensive gem by A.J. Robinson in right field for the final out.
“Every game someone else does something big,” Robinson said. “You might not get a hit that day, but you make a play in the field that contributes to the win. Everyone on this team can do something.”
Conyers’ performance, which included a career-high nine strikeouts, and a strong dual effort the night before from Louie Lechich (6 2/3 innings pitched, 3 for 5 at the plate) in the elimination win over BYU, are solid building blocks for the Toreros entering NCAA Regional play.
“We talked (before the WCC title game) about letting the competition bring out the best in you,” Hill said. “It is in every one of those guys, it’s in every player on this team. This type of setting just brings out the best. I definitely feel there’s going to be another unsung hero in there somewhere.”
Conyers (pictured, right) said he relishes when he sees major-league pitchers deliver in big-game situations. And, while he gained confidence from his own standout performance, he also has the proper perspective.
“You have to knock yourself back down. It’s not like there’s no more work to be done. It hasn’t been that kind of season for me. I’ve battled arm injuries and confidence problems. I just need to keep working so that if I’m called on to start again, I’m ready.”
The WCC Tournament and its regional-like format, a new addition to the schedule this year, couldn’t have come at a better time. The Toreros have not won an NCAA Regional in seven previous appearances under Hill — they lost the 2008 Long Beach Regional title game against Fresno State — but last week’s performance surely bodes well when the Toreros play in Los Angeles.
“Absolutely it helps us,” Hill said. “It featured four regional-caliber teams and we fought our way back through the loser’s bracket to win a championship. That toughness, that kind of adversity, forges championships. I think this is really going to help us going into this week. Our guys are ready and confident.”
— Ryan T. Blystone
Tickets to the NCAA Los Angeles Regional games at Jackie Robinson Stadium are on sale. Fans can only purchase tickets online through UCLA’s Central Ticket Office. Fans can only purchase All-Session Reserved or All-Session General Admission packages right now. Single-game tickets aren’t available until Friday.