For a team that has faced three ranked teams in three consecutive weekends, hosting an unranked opponent might sound like a welcome respite. But the USC baseball team isn’t counting on any breaks this weekend when it hosts Oregon in a three-game series at Dedeaux Field.
“Oregon can play,” said USC interim coach Frank Cruz. “They’ve been having a bit of a disappointing season, so we expect them to come out strong.”
It hasn’t quite been the season the Ducks (16-14, 1-5) were hoping for.
In just its third year as a Division-I program, Oregon entered the season ranked No. 14 in the country. The Ducks went 15-9 in nonconference play, but Pac-10 play has not been so kind to them.
They were swept by then-No. 5 Arizona State to start conference play, then dropped their first two games last weekend to Washington (10-20, 2-4). Oregon is currently mired in a five-game losing streak, during which it has scored only six runs.
“We know better than to take [Oregon] lightly,” Cruz said. “They can pitch right up there with anyone.”
The stage is certainly set for some old-fashioned pitchers duels this weekend, as it is the Ducks pitching that defines them.
Tonight’s starter, Tyler Anderson, is rated the No. 22 prospect in the country by Baseball America. The junior lefty is 4-1 with a 1.70 ERA in eight starts this year. Opponents are hitting just .193 against him, but perhaps most impressively, he has struck out 65 hitters in 85 and one-third innings while walking just 19.
It won’t get any easier for the Trojans (13-9, 4-5) on Saturday. Oregon starter Madison Boer has a 1.87 ERA, and an opponent’s batting average of just .199. Sunday’s starter Alex Keudell has an ERA of 3.00 and an opponent’s batting average of .230.
The Ducks pitching staff has an ERA of 2.83. They average more than one strikeout per inning and opponents are hitting just .225 against them.
“It should be fun,” said junior pitcher Andrew Triggs. “Both staffs are coming off some pretty decent weekends, and it’s always more fun to pitch in close games.”
Triggs went seven solid innings a week ago against Stanford, and the junior seems to be finding his rhythm.
Wood went eight-plus against the Cardinal, allowing just one unearned run while striking out eight in a dominating performance. Odom followed that up the next day with seven shutout innings, also fanning eight Stanford hitters.
Odom has been the Trojans’ best pitcher this year with an ERA of 3.06 and an opponent’s average of .202. The team will look to him as an anchor Sunday.
“He’s been like a rock this year,” Cruz said. “But seriously, he’s led by example. He’s been our most dependable pitcher and even when he’s not pitching, he’s still very involved in the game, helping people out.”
As is often the case in games featuring great pitchers, getting a lead early will be crucial, especially given the Trojans’ history. The Trojans are 10-4 when scoring first this season, and just 3-15 when conceding the first run.
“We battle back well,” Cruz said. “But obviously it’s easier if we just hop out in front.”
Tonight’s game begins at 6 p.m.