Trojan baseball begins three-game series at Rice
USC junior pitcher Andrew Triggs ended last season with a 2-7 record and an injury that sidelined him for nearly the final month of the season.
He will take the mound today at Rice University in Houston as the Trojans‚Äô top starter.
‚ÄúIt‚Äôs a total 180 from where I really expected to be,‚ÄĚ Triggs said. ‚ÄúI‚Äôm so pumped. It‚Äôs gonna be a blast.‚ÄĚ
The Trojans (3-1) open up a three-game weekend series today against No. 22 Rice at 2:30 p.m. It‚Äôs just another typical weekend against a ranked team for the Trojans, whose schedule includes nine teams currently in the top 25.
Don‚Äôt be deceived by the Owls‚Äô 2-3 record ‚ÄĒ two of those losses came last weekend to No. 8 Stanford. They lost to unranked Lamar on Tuesday and held off Texas State by one run Wednesday.
The Trojans certainly do not take those as a sign of weakness.
‚ÄúThey‚Äôre a good team, so they‚Äôre gonna be fired up,‚ÄĚ Triggs said. ‚ÄúThey‚Äôre gonna be ready to play. Don‚Äôt left records deceive you. It‚Äôs really early in the season, and they‚Äôre always one of those teams vying for a trip to Omaha.‚ÄĚ
There is no doubt about the talent the Owl‚Äôs possess.
Rice infielder Anthony Rendon could easily be the first overall pick in this year‚Äôs MLB draft.
‚ÄúWe‚Äôre gonna have to play our best to beat them,‚ÄĚ said USC coach Frank Cruz. ‚ÄúWe‚Äôll really have to be on top of it.‚ÄĚ
As pitching goes, the Trojans have it pretty good. On the mound Saturday will be junior Austin Wood, the No. 22-ranked junior prospect in the nation and a former fourth-round draft pick of the Tampa Bay Rays.
Senior Logan Odom will take the hill Sunday after keeping the Trojans in the game last Sunday against No. 24 North Carolina.
Cruz has a new goal for his pitching staff: three walks or less for the entire game.
‚ÄúPitchers throwing strikes and executing is big for us,‚ÄĚ Cruz said. ‚ÄúAgainst Riverside [on Tuesday] we used nine pitchers, and eight of them were pretty good.‚ÄĚ
Timely hitting is also something USC could improve upon, as well.
The Trojans have left a staggering 36 men on base in their first four games.
But Cruz has seen improvement, especially in ‚Äúsmall ball,‚ÄĚ moving runners up base-by-base, as opposed to waiting for the three-run homer.
‚ÄúThere was some execution [on Tuesday] that I really liked,‚ÄĚ Cruz said. ‚Äú[Our] situational hitting was good. Also, offensively, we had a higher number of base on balls than we did strikeouts yesterday. And we‚Äôre really trying to focus on that a lot right now.‚ÄĚ
There will be pressure on the middle of the Trojans lineup, particularly preseason All-American junior first baseman Ricky Oropesa, to match Rendon and the heart of the Rice order.
Oropesa exemplified situational hitting with a bases-loaded double with two outs and the count full last Sunday against North Carolina to tie the game.
‚Äú[Rendon] and Ricky [Oropesa] are two of the top hitters in the country,‚ÄĚ Cruz said. ‚ÄúIt will be a good series to feature the two of them.‚ÄĚ
Defense, meanwhile, is something the Trojans appear to have down. They have committed just one error in their four games so far.
Chalk that one up to freshman nerves, as the middle infield combination of freshman shortstop James Roberts and senior second baseman and captain Joe De Pinto is about as solid as they come.
‚Äú[De Pinto‚Äôs] given me a lot of pointers,‚ÄĚ Roberts said. ‚ÄúAs a freshman I‚Äôm not quite as consistent as seniors are, so he gets on me. He‚Äôs definitely improved my game.‚ÄĚ
Regardless of the outcome of its trip to Houston, the team insists that it can only stand to gain from the experience.
‚ÄúEarly season road trips like this weather you take a series or come up short it‚Äôs good for cohesiveness,‚ÄĚ Triggs said. ‚ÄúInstead of being around guys for four hours a day you‚Äôre around them for 24 hours a day. We already have good chemistry, but these kinds of trips only help. They‚Äôre a lot of fun.‚ÄĚ