San Diego

How the USD Toreros baseball team became a legitimate College World Series contender

San Diego has built one of the most balanced teams in the country

University of San Diego Baseball

The University of San Diego’s baseball team has won 29 of their last 32 games. Winning 90% of your games over a two-month period is almost unheard of in a game as random as baseball. After sweeping their way through the West Coast Conference Tournament the Toreros can take just a second to consider just how good they’ve become.

“I haven't really taken much time to think about the numbers of it but it kind of kind of goes along with our process and our motto, how we do things in our baseball program,” says Toreros head coach Brock Ungricht. “It's about sticking to the day-to-day details, whether it's practice, whether it's a game, whether it's a scrimmage, what have you. And I think our guys carry that torch and carry that process along. But you do kind of pinch yourself when you say 29 of 32. That is pretty impressive.”

When the NCAA Tournament regionals are announced on Monday morning USD is going to be a #2 seed and the team nobody wants to have to deal with (there is a small chance, with a national RPI of 19, that they can host a regional and they have put in a bid to do that). After missing out on a spot in the field of 64 last year they’ve turned into a legitimate threat to reach the College World Series.

That transformation started exactly one year ago on a street corner in Las Vegas.

“I'll take you back to May of 2023,” says Ungricht. “We went to the conference tournament and lost the first game, the play-in game. Everybody was devastated. A lot of those guys were on the 2022 WCC championship team. And when we left Las Vegas Ballpark, we're on the street and Jack Costello, Will Worthington, Angelo Peraza … those guys came up and said, ‘Coach, this isn't going to happen again. This we promise: this is not going to happen again. In the fall, we want you to push us. We want you to push us harder than we've ever been pushed before.’ When you have a player-led group like that you create that culture.”

Coach U did exactly what his players asked, installing rigorous workout and training programs. That sweat in the fall laid the foundation of what’s become a very dangerous ball club.

“The cool thing about it was we were able to get our student athletes to kind of push themselves past the limit that they never thought they could get to. I think with that, it puts them in position to be able to go, okay, when I'm in the ninth inning and I need to make a pitch here, I can rely on my training, I can rely on going through that adversity of … whether it's running up a hill, workouts in the weight room, pushing that little extra, putting themselves in that uncomfortable setting. And as a team it really bonded them this fall so that when they went out there on the field it kind of all came together.”

The last part of the equation was adding some pieces in the transfer portal. On offense the Toreros landed Jakob Christian from Point Loma Nazarene and Austin Smith from UC San Diego. They now bat 3-4 in the Toreros loaded lineup (top-35 in the nation in runs scored) and are both semi-finalists for the Dick Howser Trophy that goes to the best player in the country (and was won 11 years ago by USD superstar Kris Bryant).

But the real difference came on the mound. USD added five arms and it did not take them long to realize the coaching staff had brought in some dudes with real stuff.

“We knew it right away,” says Ungricht. “The first day we threw live at-bats in October our catcher, one of our leaders, Ariel Armas came running up to myself and Coach Florer (assistant coach Matt Florer) and was like, ‘That's a heck of a job recruiting man.’ He had chills on the back of his neck, his hair was standing up like, wow, we've got a STAFF this year.”

The Toreros are 11th in the country in team ERA so, yeah, they have a STAFF this year. But perhaps most importantly, they have a serious San Diego flavor. The roster is filled with 10 players from San Diego County, plus a couple more from nearby San Clemente. Ungricht is a Mission Bay High School alum who played for Tony Gwynn at San Diego State and got his first coaching job at Kearny High School.

He, perhaps better than anyone, understands how good ballplayers in America’s Finest City are and the importance of keeping them around.

“Absolutely. You know, being a local guy myself, being able to play in my own backyard, where you have your family and your friends, you have a sense of pride. San Diego is a unique place. It's a special place. All our uniforms have San Diego across the chest for a reason, because of the pride of the city and the town, but also the pride of the of the university. To be able to keep our local talent here at the University of San Diego is huge.”

Come NCAA Tournament time the Toreros will likely be making another road trip. They’ve been projected to regionals from Corvallis, OR, to Chapel Hill, NC, and few places in between. They may hail from San Diego, but they’re ready to go play anywhere.

“Our guys don't care. They'll get on a flight and, hey, let's go play in the east,” says Ungricht. “It's an opportunity. Our guys are so pumped, they're grateful for the opportunity, but they also know how good they are. They have that chip on their shoulder. They want to show the country that they can beat anybody.”

They get to prove that point starting Friday, May 31, when the NCAA Tournament begins.

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