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University of San Diego right-fielder Shane Buschini was named the West Coast Conference Player of the Year, which may not mean much to you since college baseball doesn’t have the following of football or basketball.

But since the Toreros (41-15) are ranked No. 5 in the nation, think of it this way: Buschini is that college football player named conference Player of the Year on the eve of a major bowl game or college basketball player honored on the eve of the NCAA tournament.

Buschini got the news Wednesday as the Toreros, the WCC regular-season champions, prepared for Friday’s opener in the WCC tournament that is the best-of-three series against Gonzaga (32-23) at Cunningham Stadium.

In football and basketball, such honors usually go to the high-profile recruit that lived up to expectations. But sometimes a guy from them middle of his recruiting class breaks out later in his career and overtakes the high profile players.

That’s another comparison that makes it easier to understand what Buschini accomplished this year. He wasn’t a major recruit in high school and had to come back for his senior year after a disappointing junior season (baseball players are eligible for the draft after their junior year).

“He was a little raw in high school, but we felt he would come on later in his career,” USD coach Rich Hill said. “He’s 6-foot-5, 220 pounds, he can throw and he can run. If he was as polished as he is now, he would have been a seven-figure guy coming out of high school. He’s got a great future.”

Buschini, who played at California High in San Ramon, batted .352 to lead the Toreros, hit 13 home runs to lead the WCC and knocked in 55 RBIs (second in the WCC) in 56 games. He hit .418 in WCC games.

“I wasn’t completely devoted to baseball in high school,” said Buschini, who also played football, water polo and soccer. “But I developed my game here through the coaching staff and university.”

If Buschini had enjoyed his breakthrough seasons as a junior, he would have signed after the draft and wouldn’t be here to enjoy the Toreros’ post-season.

As the regular-season WCC champions with a high national ranking, USD is a lock to advance to the NCAA regionals next weekend. The regionals are followed by the Super Regionals and then College World Series in Omaha, Neb.

“Hopefully this is just the beginning of our post-season,” Buschini said. “We hope we’ll still be going for another four weeks.”

TOM SHANAHAN

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