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COLLEGE BASEBALL 88 : University of San Diego : USD’s Team, Coach Gaining Recognition : Toreros Open Baseball Season Against Irvine in Cunningham Stadium

It took John Cunningham 25 years and 549 career coaching victories to get a stadium named after him, something University of San Diego officials took care of this year by renaming the school’s baseball field Cunningham Baseball Stadium.

Like its coach, the USD baseball team has toiled in relative obscurity for many seasons, overshadowed by that other college baseball team in town--the one often nationally ranked--San Diego State.

Last year, the Toreros had their best season in eight years of Division I baseball, with a 31-23-1 record that included a regular-season victory over San Diego State.

Now the team itself may not be far behind the coach in receiving recognition. Cunningham’s team will open its season today at 2 p.m. at home against UC Irvine.

And the Toreros could be quite successful. Six starters who hit over .300 a year ago return.

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“As I long as I don’t screw anything up, we should be in good shape,” Cunningham said.

By batting Mark Trafton, Sean Baron and Dave Rolls third, fourth and fifth each game, Cunningham figures to get off to a good start.

Trafton had 51 RBIs last year, and Baron, batting fourth behind him, drove in 56 and hit 16 home runs. It marked the first time that USD has had two players drive in 50 or more runs in the same season. Rolls had 34 RBIs last season and 13 extra-base hits.

Chris Bwy (.368 average last season), Chuck Graham (.352) and Andy Roberts (.326) also return.

“This is a season I’m looking forward to with a great deal of anticipation,” Cunningham said. “We’re as well-equipped offensively as we have ever been.”

There are question marks, however, not the least of which is how well five of the six returning starters will respond to new positions.

Baron will return to first base, but Trafton is moving from left field to right field, Rolls from left field to catcher, Graham from catcher to left field, Roberts from third to second base, and Bwy from second base to shortstop.

“These players all have the talent to play these new positions,” Cunningham said. “It’s going to take them time to get used to the new positions, but in the long run, it’s going to help our team.”

Cunningham has six pitchers with at least one year of varsity experience, only one of whom is a senior. That’s reliever Mark Manor, who formerly was a forward for the Toreros’ basketball team.

Louis Skertich (a sophomore left-hander who is scheduled to start today), right-hander Mike Newby (a transfer from Mt. San Jacinto Community College) and junior left-hander Tony Battilega are expected to be Cunningham’s starters. Skertich was 6-3 last year despite a 5.70 earned-run average, and Battilega was 3-2 with a 5.11 ERA.

USD’s schedule, which is tougher than it has been in recent years, includes UCLA (here Friday), San Diego State (twice) and Cal State Fullerton. Those games precede the West Coast Athletic Conference season, which will include games against nationally ranked Pepperdine and Loyola Marymount.

“I still think we have a good shot at being quite successful this season,” Cunningham said. “On paper, we have the makings of a pretty fine team.”


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