No. 6 USC will attempt to brush off a disappointing loss to No. 13 UC Santa Barbara on Tuesday as it hosts No. 9 UCLA in a crosstown rival showdown.
The Trojans will enter this weekend’s match after falling 2-1 to UCSB in a game characterized by well-hit balls falling the wrong way. Redshirt junior Bobby Stahel went 2-for-4 at the plate and scored the only Trojan run of the game in the bottom of the eighth inning on a wild pitch.
USC and UCLA met earlier this season at the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic, in which the Trojans won 8-4 in the final game of the weekend. Eight of nine Trojans in the starting lineup had a hit in the victory, with five having multihit outings.
Currently, the Trojans hold a 25-7 overall record, 15-3 at home and 7-2 in the Pac-12, good for third place. The Bruins have a 23-6 overall record, an 8-1 record on the road and a 10-2 record in the Pac-12. The Bruins are in first place in the Pac-12, though the Bruins have played one more series than the Trojans.
Looking more closely at UCLA, the team is led by redshirt junior Kevin Kramer, who holds a .387 batting average, as well as three other players hitting well above .300.
Defensively, the Bruin bullpen is one of the toughest in the conference, led by senior David Berg and sophomore Grant Dyer, with a 1.21 ERA and a 1.61 ERA, respectively.
USC head coach Dan Hubbs believes that strong offensive starts remain key this weekend to combat the talented UCLA bullpen.
“If we can get the lead through the first six or seven innings, that will be really key for us,” Hubbs said. “The way Dyer and Berg have been pitching at the end of games, they’ve been really tough on teams and shutting it down. That’s something we want to focus on — getting aggressive early, getting on the board early and forcing them to have to come back, as opposed to us needing to come back. We want to have the lead and have them trying to force a comeback and trying to do different things.”
In terms of statistics, the Trojans have a team batting average of .305, while the Bruins maintain a .286 batting average. Also, USC has a 2.70 team ERA as opposed to UCLA’s 2.22.
Hubbs feels that both teams match up well, but the Trojans could have the advantage.
“I think we’ll have a bit of an edge because we’re pretty offensive and can throw strikes,” Hubbs said. “We’re two good teams with two good pitching staffs and two good offenses, so I think it’s gonna come down to who makes a big pitch and who makes a clutch hit in a big spot. Like anything in our conference, that’s what it comes down to. We’re confident that we match up well against them. We’ve played them tough in the past couple of years, so we just have to continue to do that.”
Now more than halfway through the season, this weekend could prove to be significant and relevant in addition to the automatic rivalry associated with this series, as both UCLA and USC want to emerge on top and move on to postseason play.
“Both teams are in the top 20, and that’s kind of what predicts postseason bursts, so I think putting yourself in a position not only for finishing first in league but being able to host a regional or possibly be a national-type seed,” Hubbs said. “I think all those things, when you’re playing another team that’s at the top in the country, come in to play when you’re making decisions.”
In spite of the mounting pressures, Hubbs feels that if the Trojans play clean baseball both offensively and defensively, they will be in a good position to win.
“We just need to be able to mix pitches and get ahead in the count, and if we can do that, I think we’ll be in good shape,” Hubbs said. “I think we need to pitch well against them and not make mistakes. Their pitching staff is really good, and when you play a really good staff you have to hit the ball well and just plain play good baseball. I think if we do that, we can beat them and anyone else in the country.”
The first pitch in the crosstown rivalry is scheduled for today at 3 p.m. at Dedeaux Field.