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USD Hoping New Commitment Will Give Program New Success : Baseball: Coach John Cunningham wants his team to fine-tune its attitude and do the little things that will turn the program into a winner again.

February 03, 1992|DAVE McKIBBEN | TIMES STAFF WRITER

SAN DIEGO — The numbers are not promising.

The University of San Diego baseball team finished fifth out of seven clubs in the West Coast Conference last year with an 11-24 record. The Toreros (21-34-2 overall) did not have a player on the All-Conference team and had only one player, Kevin Herde, on the second team. They finished sixth in hitting, fifth in pitching, and sixth in fielding.

So what gives USD Coach John Cunningham hope that this year will be different?

For one, Cunningham thinks his team wasn't all that bad last year.

"We lost 16 games last year by two runs or less against some of the best competition in the country," he said. "If we had won even half of them, we'd have had a pretty good record."

The reason they lost all those two-run games?

"It was a commitment to winning," said Cunningham, in his 29th season at USD.

A commitment that Cunningham said hasn't been there since 1987, the Toreros' last winning season.

"We've had a couple years where things kind of got away from us with injuries and things," Cunningham said. "Instead of picking up the pace, maybe we've just been complacent and said, 'What's the use?' "

Cunningham reminds his team before every practice that he won't put up with complacency this season.

"We're trying to fine-tune an attitude," he said. "We're trying to make the practices more competitive so when we get in a competitive situation we're better able to handle it. For years we had a reputation around here where if we were in a position to win, we found a way to win. I think we lost that the last couple of years and we need to get that back.

"That's doesn't mean hitting a home run in the bottom of the ninth. It means, with a runner on third base and the infield back and they're saying you can have a run if you hit a ground ball. You take advantage of hit. We weren't doing that. We weren't doing the little things."

Cunningham said his team must rely on doing the little things because, on paper, it usually doesn't match up with other WCC teams. USD offers only 12 scholarships, fewer than most WCC teams.

"We don't have as good of talent as a lot of the other clubs around, but that doesn't mean we can't play with them," he said. "It just means that commitment is something we have to work on to make up for that."

But Cunningham admits intangibles can mean only so much if his pitching doesn't come around. He is counting on two question marks, sophomores Sean Durbin and Chris Collins, to have big seasons.

Durbin (3-6, 6.17 earned-run average), who's set to be the Toreros' opening-day starter Tuesday at UC Irvine, is coming off summer elbow surgery. Collins (0-5, 4.29 ERA, six saves) was the Toreros' most valuable pitcher last season, but he broke his hand during an intramural football game in September and there is still some swelling in his hand.

Cunningham is also hoping for major contributions from Mike Saipe, a freshman from University City High, and Travis Burgus, a freshman from Capistrano Valley High.

Larry Williams, a freshman from Los Angeles Saint Bernard's, will start in center field and is expected to give the Toreros a threat on the basepaths.

"He can be an exciting-type player," Cunningham said. "He's got speed and we're short on that. How well he does against good pitching remains to be seen."

Williams said there is no need for Cunningham to be worried.

"I kind of think they're not sure how I'm going to react, but I've got confidence in myself," Williams said. "I can play at this level."

With the emergence of Williams in center, junior Tony Moeder has been moved from outfield to first base. Moeder hit .314 with five homers and 32 RBIs last season.

Herde, who was a designated hitter and pitcher last season, is being converted to catcher. He led the Toreros in homers (eight) and RBIs (48) last year.

Shortstop Chad Boyd said the new faces and position changes won't make a difference if the attitude doesn't change. Boyd, the Toreros' leading returning hitter with a .324 average, said he has already seen some signs that Cunningham's speeches are making a difference.

"I think the attitude is changing quite a bit here," he said. "People are overlooking their own individual glory. People seem more concerned with winning."

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