“Life’s a Pitch” is a column by Elizabeth Islas about collegiate and professional sports.
In this edition of Life’s a Pitch, the column’s name is more relevant than ever before.
For professional athletes, the coronavirus pandemic has halted seasons. But for college athletes, seasons were canceled, never to be made up again.
Sports are something I have dedicated my career to and it’s quite weird to have nothing to report on. As a sports fan, having sports cease to exist is unprecedented. No news on the hottest player of the week. No top plays. For nearly two weeks the sports world has halted, and who knows for how much longer.
Of course, this struggle is minuscule compared to what those impacted by the fatal disease are going through. In no way do I want to diminish what the health care workers, first responders, those affected and the rest of the world are going through during this difficult and unprecedented time.
Even with all of the national and global effects of COVID-19 on the sports world, my mind has still been focused on the USC community and the teams whose seasons were abruptly cut short.
Ever since the cancellation of the 2019-20 season, I have been thinking about how the USC baseball team could have really made waves.
The Trojans got a new head coach in Jason Gill after a poor 2019 season. Sure, they may not have been ready to go to the College World Series, but I wouldn’t have counted them out of making the NCAA’s Top 25 list and being in contention for the Pac-12 baseball title. It was supposed to be a season of redemption.
Last week, Coach Gill spoke with USC Athletics to talk about the promising season that ended so abruptly.
"I'm proud of this group and what we were able to do in 15 games,” Coach Gill said. “We were learning and getting better, I really saw improvement after each game."
It won’t do me (or you) any favors dwelling on what could have been, but my point is there was so much to look forward to, and things were just barely getting started. The Trojans didn’t even begin conference play.
One of the best weekends the Trojans had this season was during the Southern California College Baseball Classic. Moved from Dodger Stadium to Dedeaux Field this year, USC was able to defeat then-No. 2 ranked TCU and defending College World Series champions Vanderbilt. Though they weren’t able to complete a weekend sweep after falling to rival UCLA on the last day, the two previous wins showed the Trojans’ program was on the upswing.
Individually, many players lost what could have been the best seasons of their careers.
Ben Wanger is a right-handed pitcher and first baseman graduate transfer student whose bat was hot during the 15 games.. His top game came against Cal State Fullerton on Feb. 25 when he collected four hits—including three doubles—and three RBIs. Wanger also looked good on the mound, making six relief appearances, allowing six hits, one unearned run and striking out eight batters.
Gus Culpo, a right-handed pitcher, had his senior season cut short. He was getting a more established role on the team after appearing in only six games last season. The Orange Coast College transfer also lost his former baseball coach John Altobelli in a helicopter crash in late January.
John Beller is a junior left-hander who was having a very impressive campaign. He held a 1.12 ERA over four appearances and 24 innings, giving up 10 hits, four runs (three earned) and notching an impressive 25 strikeouts. He also had the best record on the team, boasting an undefeated 3-0 start. There’s no doubt Beller would have made great achievements this season given his great start.
Although the NCAA announced all spring sport athletes will be awarded one more year of eligibility, this season is one the players will never get back. Can Beller recreate his momentum one year from now? Will Wanger and Culpo decide to come back to USC for their last remaining year of eligibility? These are all questions we won’t have answers to for a while.
But one thing is for sure: the Trojans definitely improved from last year. And that should be considered a winning season in the record books.
“Life’s a Pitch” runs every other Monday.