Ryan Stromsborg expected opportunities to come his way, but not the one that presented itself 11 games into USC's baseball season.
Stromsborg, a redshirt freshman eager to win a starting position, was slated to play second base for the Trojans at Dedeaux Field against the University of San Diego on Feb. 17. But during pregame drills, Trojan shortstop Gabe Alvarez, who last week was selected by the San Diego Padres in the second round of the amateur draft, injured a muscle in his back.
USC Coach Mike Gillespie turned to Stromsborg.
"All of a sudden, he says, 'You're leading off and playing short,' " said Stromsborg, who graduated from Notre Dame High. "I didn't have any time to think about it or get nervous because we were getting ready to take the field.
"But one minute I'm playing second, with a throw to first that my mom could make, and the next I'm over at short. I had a couple of balls hit to me in the first inning and that helped me get adjusted quickly."
Stromsborg's ability to adjust to just about any situation has helped him carve a niche at USC. He played well defensively for 12 games in Alvarez's absence and established himself as a versatile and valuable performer by starting games at second base, shortstop and third base for a Trojan team that is one victory away from playing for its first national championship since 1978.
Stromsborg, for example, was utilized as a pinch-runner and played third base in the ninth inning of Wednesday night's 7-5 College World Series victory over Miami.
USC advanced to an elimination game against the Hurricanes on Friday. The winner of that game will play Cal State Fullerton or Tennessee for the championship on Saturday.
"I never know if I'm going to be in the game when we're 10 runs ahead, 10 runs behind, or one run ahead like we were tonight when I went in," said Stromsborg, who also was a late-inning defensive replacement in Tuesday's victory over Florida State.
"The important thing is to be ready when you are called upon. I have to be ready for any situation."
Stromsborg is batting .223 with six doubles and 12 runs batted in. He has yet to make a plate appearance in the World Series, but figures to continue playing a role, however small, as the Trojans continue their quest for a championship.
USC has won three games in a row since losing to Miami in its opener last Friday.
"I'm not worried about anything other than helping us win," said Stromsborg, who will play for the Chatham A's in the Cape Cod League this summer. "Coming back like we have is just the ending of what was natural for us this season.
"It wouldn't be a miracle if we win the whole thing. When we're in situations like this, we play our best."