After a successful post-season run in 2022, CSUDH head baseball coach Tyler Wright has one main goal for the program entering the 2023 season. “Consistently being in the mix for a conference championship is the next step for us as a program.”
“Our goal is to make this three years in a row in which we are a competitive, top team in the in the conference,” he continues. “We’re looking to compete for a conference championship and a conference tournament each and every year going forward.”
Competing in the California Collegiate Athletic Association (CCAA), one of the top Division II conferences in the nation, doesn’t come easy. But Wright is confident that he has the team to do it.
2022 was a bit of a breakthrough season for the Toros. After an injury-plagued regular season that saw them finish sixth in the CCAA, the team went on a run in the conference tournament. They defeated national number 28 Chico State and number 10 Cal State Monterey Bay on their way to the championship round.
Although they were ultimately eliminated by Cal Poly Pomona, the tournament proved that the Toros could compete with the best of the CCAA. “It was a good year, something we can build on,” says Wright. “Hopefully, we continue to get better.”
Although the team did lose a few key players to graduation, they return several award-winning position players. Senior infielder Scott Ogrin set a new CSUDH single-season home run record in 2022, knocking 24 balls out of the park–including four during their tournament run. He was named the tournament’s co-MVP, and was recognized as a second-team All-American by the American Baseball Coaches Association at season’s end.
Another key returnee is junior centerfielder Eric Smelko, who won the CCAA Newcomer of the Year award in 2022, as well as being named to the First-Team All-CCAA squad. His season included a team-best 22-game hitting streak, and he led the team with a .357 batting average.
Most of the Toro’s question marks this season revolve around pitching. Having lost most of their top hurlers after last season, Wright has a staff largely comprised of first-year players or transfers. He’s looking for some of the young pitchers to step up once the season gets underway in earnest.
“We’ve had a really competitive fall,” he says. “Everybody threw pretty well, but nobody seemed completely unbeatable. We just need a few guys to step up and be big-time difference makers, but sometimes you don’t find that out until the games really matter.”
The Toros were picked to finish fourth in this season’s preseason coaches’ poll, and Wright says that they’ll be competing with the usual suspects for this year’s crown. “Cal Poly Pomona, Cal State Monterey Bay and Chico State have probably won 15 of the last conference championships,” he says. “We’re trying to break into that mold this year, to be up there with those established programs. They’re expected to be good again, and I’m sure they will be.”
Win or lose, Coach Wright is proud of the way his players reflect CSUDH’s students and mission. “We play very hard and our student-athletes are the same as every student here,” he says. “We’ve got a lot of first-generation student-athletes and a lot of kids that really work hard to be good at what they do. Our guys are working hard to represent the university the right way.”
The CSUDH baseball team opens their home schedule at 2:00 P.M. on Thursday, Feb. 9, against Concordia at Toro Field. They also play Concordia at 1:00 P.M. on Friday, Feb. 10, at Toro Field.