The baseball team hopes that its mid-week slip against Pepperdine will not derail the team from making an impact during the Pac-12 season. USC is set to travel to Eugene to meet a 14-12 Oregon team whose bats have recently come alive taking two of three games from No. 9 Cal.
Though Oregon head coach George Horton is known across the country as the coach who plays “small ball” on offense — a term that typically refers to an emphasis of getting runners on base and sacrificing batters to move that runner into scoring position and across the plate. Oregon culminated the weekend series with 15 hits in a 11-5 win Sunday to improve to a 4-5 record during conference play.
USC head coach Dan Hubbs says that Oregon will have to prove that they can hit the ball to score in order to defeat the Trojans, but he warns that this emergence of offense could be especially troubling when paired with Oregon’s trio of left-handed pitchers Cole Irvin, David Peterson and Matt Krook that he has been preparing his team for already in practice. Before Sunday’s game, the Ducks were batting .207 as a team, but they went 15-for-34 (.441,) Sunday against Cal, according to the Register Guard.
“Eugene is notoriously a tough place to score, so we are going to have to be able to execute,” Hubbs said. “When we get a lead-off double, we are going to have to drive that guy home. We are not just going to be able to give them opportunities to score without them having to hit to score.”
Despite noting that USC displayed an impressive hitting performance in their series win over Utah, Hubbs says that the offense seemed to be in a bit of “a lapse” against Pepperdine Tuesday. After winning the first two series games against Utah, the Trojans could not overcome a rocky performance from senior pitcher Kyle Davis who struggled immensely through two and one-third innings in the series finale, allowing five runs on six hits and eventually losing the game 14-8.
Senior outfielder and first baseman AJ Ramirez earned Pac-12 Player of the Week honors for batting .538 (7-for-13) with five RBIs and two home runs in a week when USC went 3-1. Ramirez contributed one hit or more in each of those games.
USC travels to Eugene after coming off of 3-2 loss at Pepperdine Tuesday in which Hubbs labeled his team’s performance as “vanilla,” because there was neither “nothing great” nor “nothing awful” about their execution. Due to their mediocre record (15-16), Hubbs acknowledges that every loss is now amplified for the Trojans.
“Every game from now on is important, and we have got to win as many of them as we can,” Hubbs said. “Every loss gets magnified because you did not play well earlier in the season.”
Hubbs credits his two freshmen, pitcher CJ Stubbs and first baseman Dillon Paulson, for their impact on the game Tuesday. He noted that Stubbs pitched significantly better than he had in the previous week, hurling seven strikeouts through four innings against the Waves.
Hubbs was particularly impressed with Paulson who had two hits in his two at bats and was instrumental in the Trojans’ 2 runs. In the fifth inning, Paulson had been walked and utilized a wild throw from reliever Jonathan Pendergast to advance to second, a bunt from redshirt junior shortstop Reggie Southall to get to third and an infield hit from redshirt sophomore second baseman Frankie Rios who grounded into a double play, but did give the base runner the distraction he needed to eventually cross home plate for USC’s first run of the game.
Paulson contributed a second time in the seventh inning when leading off with a double before being substituted out of the game for pinch runner redshirt junior Turner Clouse, who scored thanks to another timely bunt from Southall that allowed him to take third base before a sacrifice fly from Rios brought him home.
Though batters continued to strand runners on base and in scoring position after giving up the game-winning run in the bottom-seventh inning and eventually losing 3-2, Hubbs expects the team to improve against Oregon because he anticipates them to play with a greater “sense of urgency” in their fourth inter-conference series.
First pitch of USC’s three-day weekend series against Oregon is at 6 p.m. Friday in Eugene. Saturday and Sunday’s game start at 2 p.m. and 12 p.m., respectively.