USC hopes woes end in Berkeley

USC baseball has been a team defined by streaks. The Trojans started off the year 3-9, then appeared to turn it around, winning five of six. Now, however, the Trojans are back on a slide, and doing whatever they can to change things up, including practice at 5 a.m. Wednesday.

Slump· In USC’s recent slide, the Trojans have hit just .242. Junior first baseman Ricky Oropesa, however, had five RBIs Sunday against UCLA. - Mannat Saini | Daily Trojan

“It wasn’t about making them get up early and run,” coach Frank Cruz said. “It wasn’t about punishment. It was just about changing things up at practice.”

Added Cruz, “They needed a little kick, a little extra [motivation].”

The Trojans will need their kick in Berkeley, Calif. today when they face off against No. 13 California, the fifth team the Trojans (9-16, 1-2) have faced this year that was either ranked when they played or is ranked currently. That’s 11 games against top-25 teams, with three more coming up this weekend against the Golden Bears (17-5).

It’s a bad time for the Trojans to be struggling, as they enter the thick of Pac-10 play.

“We might be pushing a bit,” conceded sophomore outfielder J.R. Aguirre.

USC comes into this weekend series having lost five of six and has been shut out in two of its last three games. In the Trojans’ last six games, the Trojans are hitting .242 and have scored just 23 runs, less than four-per-game. Take away a nine run outburst against Louisville, and that’s 2.8 runs-per-game.

Add that to Cal’s pitching, which hasn’t allowed an earned run in six of its last seven games and posted a 0.42 ERA over that stretch, and it doesn’t look good for the Trojans.

The Bears have a lot to play for. The Cal Athletic Department announced in September plans to cut the baseball program, among others, as a cost-cutting measure. Although there is a large-scale fundraising movement to save the program in progress, there is a chance this is the final year of Cal baseball, and it seems the team is determined to make it a memorable one.

The Bears started out the season ranked No. 17, and after a 6-4 start have won 11 of their last 12. Three of their losses have come at the hands of No. 3 Oklahoma, No. 8 Stanford and No. 22 Connecticut by a combined total of five runs. They beat a No. 18 Rice team that swept the Trojans earlier in the year, and currently sit atop the Pac-10 after sweeping Washington State last weekend.

And being on top of the Pac-10 is no easy feat.

“This is just about as strong as I’ve ever seen the conference, top to bottom,” Cruz said. “There are no weekends off.”

Eight Pac-10 teams have been ranked at some point this year. Six are currently ranked, with No. 5 Arizona State leading the pack. Stanford, Cal, Arizona, Oregon State and UCLA also sit in the top-25, and Oregon and Washington have each been ranked at some point as well.

The Trojans will face all those teams this year. Up next, it’s the Bears.

Just another weekend in the Pac-10.