Baseball looks to continue Pac-12 success

Three losses in the last four games have sunk USC baseball’s season record to 11-12, the first time the team has been below .500 since dropping its first series of the regular season against North Dakota in late February. The Trojans’ most recent loss was lopsided, as Loyola Marymount visited Dedeaux Field on Tuesday night and smothered the USC bats in an 8-0 blowout.

Coming into the season, expectations for the baseball program were high, largely due to a strong bullpen that many anticipated would anchor the team. The pitching staff has struggled with inconsistency so far this spring, however, and head coach Dan Hubbs admitted that will have to change if USC is to be a serious contender in the coming months.

“We need to pitch well at the start of the game,” Hubbs said. “The starters need to give us an opportunity to get into the game and get into the flow … and that gets difficult when you give up runs quickly.”

Hubbs is currently in pursuit of his 100th career NCAA victory — all previous 99 wins have come during his three-plus years in charge of the USC program — and he will get his next crack at the century mark against Stanford, as the Trojans resume their in-conference schedule this weekend. The team also seeks its second consecutive series win in Pac-12 play: USC sits at 2-1 in the conference standings after its opening series victory over California.

Hubbs anticipated a tough set up north, as the Cardinal have been pitching well and lead the nation in defense.

“We’re going to have to hold them down because their pitching has held people down,” Hubbs said.

Stanford currently sits at 12-7 on the season. Like the Trojans, the Cardinal won their opening Pac-12 series, winning two games out of three against Washington State. They are seasoned opponents, having already gone through the gauntlet with a four-game road series against Texas and a three-game set at home versus No. 3 Vanderbilt, but Hubbs said his team will be fine if the Trojans can take advantage of Stanford’s weaknesses.

“We want to try to extend the game, separate the game a little bit because they … [have] not shown that they are a good catch-up team,” Hubbs said. “When we have a chance to get a run, we are going to go get it.”

A series win in Stanford would put USC in a great position out of the gate in the Pac-12 standings and it could also act as a springboard for the team to start playing up to its lofty preseason expectations. Hubbs stressed that the Trojans had to pitch and play defense at a higher level, but he also praised his players’ resiliency through a slightly sluggish first two months. He was especially pleased with their performance at the plate, as USC’s bats have rebounded after their early season struggles with leaving men on base.

“You’re starting to see them drive guys in,” Hubbs said. “Now we need to match the pitching with it, and maybe we can go on a run here.”

The series opener between USC and Stanford at Klein Field at Sunken Diamond is scheduled to begin at 7 p.m. Friday. First pitch for remaining games is set for 1 p.m. on Saturday and 4 p.m. on Sunday. All three tilts will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Network.