With all of the hype surrounding USC baseball’s hot start to the 2014 season — wait, what? Hype surrounding USC baseball? The team that’s had a .470 winning percentage in the last decade (and .407 in the last three years)?
Yes, as has been seemingly well-documented, the USC baseball team is off to a thrilling 7-1 start, with four walk-off wins to its name — three coming in extra innings. My esteemed colleague Nick Selbe gave you all the details on Tuesday regarding the team’s early successes, so I’m here to step back and give a bigger-picture look.
First, a cautionary tale: The 2012 USC baseball team started the season 7-0 and 12-3, climbing its way into the national rankings for the first time since 2007. That hot start included two consecutive home sweeps to open the season and a home win against a powerful Cal State Fullerton squad, all of which the Trojans have also accomplished this year.
That 2012 team ended up 23-32, going 11-29 the rest of the way with an incredibly dismal 1-15 stretch to finish the season.
Nothing was expected from that 2012 team, however, and their hot start was ultimately more surprising than their 10th-place finish in conference play that year.
But this 2014 team is supposed to be different. Not that they are supposed to end up in Omaha, but the consensus seems to be that the Trojan baseball team will experience its first winning season in nine years. A collapse akin to 2012 would indeed be shocking.
But why? What is different about this 2014 team, whose weekend rotation is exactly the same as 2013’s and whose starting lineup features six or seven of the same players as last year’s, which was technically the worst team USC has put on the field in close to 30 years?
I harp on that a lot, much to the annoyance of many, I’m sure. But it simply underscores how dramatic a turnaround is expected of the USC baseball program this year. On paper, the only difference is that last year’s freshmen are this year’s sophomores with a mere season of collegiate experience under their belt.
But the 2013 Trojans were not as bad as their record indicates. Twelve (that’s a full third) of their losses came by just one or two runs. I cannot possibly recall how many times the Trojans hung with a team that was probably more talented for seven or eight innings before finally succumbing, or how many games they could have won with just one timely hit.
In 2013, the Trojans developed a sense of resiliency that I had not seen in my previous two years covering other bad USC teams. But games aren’t won based on desire, and the fact of the matter was that USC couldn’t come through in the clutch.
But so far this year, the Trojans are getting those timely hits. Sure, it took them 11 innings in their first game of the season and 15 in their second, but the Trojans are doing what they failed to do throughout the 2013 campaign. The resiliency that emerged last year is back, and this time it is generating results.
Last Friday, USC scored two runs in the eighth inning and two in the ninth for a 4-3 win over North Dakota State. On Sunday, they completed a sweep of the Bison by scoring two to tie the game in the eighth and then won in the bottom of the 12th after surrendering a run in the top of the frame.
That can’t happen every game, of course, and on Tuesday USC suffered its first loss of the season to Long Beach State in a tight 2-1 game.
Still, the 7-1 start to USC’s 2014 campaign is obviously promising.
In 2012, the Trojans visited No. 6 North Carolina after a 7-1 start to their season, and they dropped the first two games before salvaging a win on Sunday.
This weekend, weather permitting, the Trojans will host the No. 17 Cal Poly Mustangs at Dedeaux Field. It’s still early, but we are going to find out soon how different these 2014 Trojans really are.
Nick Burton is a senior majoring in broadcast and digital journalism. His column, “Any Given Saturday,” runs Thursdays, ironically. To comment on this story, visit dailytrojan.com or email Nick at firstname.lastname@example.org.