Fresh off playing the No. 2 team in the country, USC baseball knows the road to its eventual goal doesn’t get much easier.
The Trojans (14-8) travel to Irvine, Calif., Wednesday to take on UC Irvine (14-8), a team that just missed qualifying for the College World Series in 2011 after losing a heartbreaker to top-ranked Virginia in a super regional playoff.
“We know UC Irvine is a team on the rise and we know how good they are,” USC coach Frank Cruz said. “They pitch well, they hit well and they play defense well. We can’t let up one bit.”
USC lost a heartbreaker of its own in the first game of Sunday’s doubleheader with Stanford, but Cruz pointed to the team’s 8-4 win in the series finale as evidence that the team has moved past the dismay of the defeat.
“We’re way past that now,” Cruz said. “I thought it would be a good test for our team to see how we responded to a loss like that, and I was proud of how we did it. We came right back out the very next day and took a game from one of the best teams in the country. Now we just keep moving forward.”
USC could use a momentum-building win over UCI before hitting the meat of its conference schedule. The Trojans are 14-8 overall, but just 1-3 in the Pac-12 to begin the year.
The latter statistic does not, however, reflect the performance of the pitching staff. Starting seniors Andrew Triggs and Ben Mount are 2-3 and 1-3, respectively, but each has a strikeout-to-walk ratio of at least 3:1, with Triggs’ sitting at a pristine 6:1. Meanwhile, freshman left-hander Stephen Tarpley has radically improved his control, posting 40 strikeouts and just nine walks thus far in 2012.
“A lot of [the pitchers’ success] has to do with limiting their workload to a certain extent,” Cruz said.
“One hundred pitches is kind of the bench mark that we like to go by. There’s obviously some leeway, but I think the guys’ arms are still strong because we’re not overworking them.”
Cruz said that Wednesday’s starter against UCI, senior pitcher Brandon Garcia, has a slightly shorter leash because of his presence in the batting lineup on days when he is not throwing. That doesn’t mean Cruz has any less confidence in him, though.
“Brandon’s done a nice job as our middle-of-the-week guy,” Cruz said. “We tend to be a bit more careful with him but for the most part he’s given us what we need in between weekend series. Going up against a good team like Irvine, I’m confident he’ll give us what we need.”
The bats have also been assets for the Trojans, who are hitting .304 as a team. Senior first baseman Matt Foat has set the pace, recording 34 hits in 81 at-bats.
“We’re swinging it well, but we can’t get complacent,” Cruz said. “Not only against Irvine but the rest of our schedule, too. As long as we keep putting up the at-bats we’re putting up, I think we’ll be okay.”
First pitch is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. on Wednesday at UC Irvine.