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Sports : Quickly Becoming King of the Hill : Baseball: El Rancho High grad Flores sets sights on 1996 Olympics after standout freshman season at USC.

July 28, 1994|GARY KLEIN | SPECIAL TO THE TIMES

Randy Flores had a modest goal last summer when he decided to begin his college baseball career as a walk-on pitcher at USC.

Flores, a 5-foot-11, 151-pound left-hander from Pico Rivera, was determined to make the traveling squad at a school that has won a record 11 NCAA championships. A year later, with that goal and then some achieved, he has begun a bid to make the country's ultimate amateur traveling team--the one that will participate in the 1996 Summer Olympics.

Flores, 19, was one of six soon-to-be-sophomores who were invited to join the U.S. National Team, which is playing a 39-game schedule this summer in preparation for the World Championships Aug. 3-14 in Nicaragua. The six young players are expected to form the nucleus of the Olympic squad that will compete for the gold medal in Atlanta in 1996.

"Getting a chance to possibly play in the Olympics is something you imagine you would like do, but it's not something I can say I expected," Flores said by phone from Team USA's training center in Millington, Tenn. "A lot is going to depend on how I do the next two seasons at USC and how I do next summer. It's an incredible opportunity for me, so I'm just going to try and take advantage of it."

If his first season at USC is any indication, Flores is likely to make the most of his chance.

Flores arrived at USC otherwise unheralded after going 8-3 with a 1.12 earned-run average during his senior year at El Rancho High. The numbers were good, but no one was expecting him to step right into the Trojans' starting rotation, let alone become of one of the nation's top pitchers.

Flores, however, demonstrated uncanny control and poise and quickly established himself as the team's ace. He went on to have the best season ever by a USC freshman pitcher, finishing 11-1 with a 1.66 ERA with 26 walks and 63 strikeouts in 103 innings. He was selected All-Pacific 10 Conference by the leagues coaches and was named Freshman All-American by several national publications.

A week after the Trojans were eliminated by Louisiana State in the final of the South Regional at Baton Rouge, La., Flores reported to Millington for Team USA tryouts.

"Timing has a lot to do with the opportunities that you get," Flores said. "I was a freshman who had a good season and, of course, I'm left-handed. That is always a factor."

Flores entered the week with a 1-0 record and 3.42 ERA in eight appearances for a U.S. National Team that was 17-7 and 12-0 at home. Flores had walked nine and struck out 13 in 23 2/3 innings. His best game came against Chinese-Taipei, when he gave up one run and six hits in seven innings to earn the victory.

"The main thing about pitching here and pitching in college is that different countries have different approaches," Flores said. "Japan has a lot of slap hitters--all they want to do is punch the ball somewhere. You can't throw as much breaking stuff because that's all they see at home and they're used to it.

"The Koreans just take their hacks. Every team is different so you have to be ready to adjust."

Although he has been pitching competitively since January and traveling extensively this summer with Team USA, Flores expects to take only a few weeks off after the world championships before beginning preparations for his sophomore season.

"If I were starting every fifth day, I'd think more about taking time off," Flores said. "We do enough to stay sharp, but not enough to really get tired.

"Through my experiences here, I realized that I have a lot of things to work on before the season starts at USC."

Flores is hopeful of leading USC to Omaha for its first College World Series berth since 1978. He is one of several veteran players the Trojans will have back next season.

"The questions always revolve around how the new recruits are going to do," Flores said. "But there's a lot of reasons to be excited about how we'll do next season.

"I know I'm not going to have to really fight for a spot, but you're still out there to prove that last year wasn't a fluke, that there is no sophomore jinx. There are a lot of things I've learned and improved on this summer, and I think it's going to help me have another good year."

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