The USC baseball team will look to extend its seven-game winning streak this weekend as they face the fifth-ranked Arkansas Razorbacks at Baum Stadium. This looks to be the toughest opponent the Trojans have faced this season.
After an opening day loss to Utah Valley, the Trojans have managed to grind out victories, holding a 7-1 record this season. Despite their record, the wins haven’t come easily for the Trojans. Just recently, they squeaked past a 1-6 Loyola Marymount team late in the eighth inning thanks to a solo shot by junior shortstop Chase Bushor to win 3-2. Additionally, the Trojans have had a few games this season where they have had more runs than hits.
The team has not played the “sexiest” baseball by any means, but they have managed to win games because they have been exceptional at basic aspects of the game.
For example, the Trojans have been focused on defense so far this season, making virtually every play they could have made. In fact, according to the NCAA, the Trojans lead the nation in fielding percentage, .997, with only one error in their first eight games.
“The defense has been fantastic,” head coach Dan Hubbs said. “They make the routine play. They made balls on the run, balls in the hole, we’re not killing ourselves with stupid mistakes. And that’s what we’re going to have to do. This team is going to be built on pitching and defense and our bullpen and then getting the timely hit. I think we’ve been successful at doing that for the first couple of weeks.”
Despite posting a .276 team batting average on the season, which ranks 92nd in the nation according to the NCAA, the Trojans have managed to score runs because they still get their runners on base and into scoring positions, even if it isn’t through hits.
The Trojans have been walked 51 times this year, boosting their on-base percentage to an impressive .407. Furthermore, the Trojans have done an excellent job of converting runs with runners in scoring positions which has helped them grind out victories.
The bullpen has also played its part for the Trojans this season. Sophomore pitcher Connor Lunn and redshirt junior pitcher Brad Wegman have both looked great this season as relievers. Lunn has four saves on five appearances this season with eight strikeouts and one hit.
Similarly, Wegman has only allowed one hit in six appearances this season, striking out five batters in the process. Both pitchers have yet to allow a run in over 12.1 innings pitched between them.
However, this series against the Razorbacks will be the first real test for the Trojans. The No. 5 Razorbacks hold a 6-2 record, having recently lost to Cal Poly and the University of San Diego over the weekend. Despite their recent losses, the Razorbacks only dropped one spot in this week’s NCAA ranking. The experts still believe they have one of the most talented rosters — and pitching staffs — in the nation, and because they have obliterated some of their opposition.
In just their second game, Arkansas beat Bucknell by a resounding score of 32-4. On Wednesday night, the Razorbacks crushed the Dayton Flyers 18-1. Arkansas can win games with ease against opponents that show them any kind of weakness.
With a combined ERA of 1.58 and multiple pitchers that throw upwards of 90 mph, Arkansas has one of the best pitching rotations in the NCAA. According to SBNation, junior pitcher Blaine Knight has thrown pitches as fast as 97 mph.
Despite this, Hubbs said he was confident in USC’s ability on the field.
“I think it will be a big challenge for us,” Hubbs said. “Obviously, we feel like it’s probably going to be the best team we’ve played up until this point. It’s a hostile environment, they get a ton of fans. It’s a great postseason-type atmosphere, so I’m excited to see how the guys respond to it. I know this: if I was one of the players, I would be more than excited going out there and getting the chance to face a top five team in the country at their place in front of a bunch of people.”
After their series against the Razorbacks, the Trojans will prepare to face three more ranked opponents in the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic next weekend. The Trojans will play both TCU and Vanderbilt at Dedeaux Field and will then close against UCLA at Dodger Stadium.