USC looks to continue hot hitting in Arizona series

Coming off two strong games to win a road series against Arizona State, the USC baseball team heads into this weekend’s series against Arizona hoping to build on a small sample size of success.

Junior third baseman Brandon Perez had one of his best performances of the season against the Sun Devils. Ling Luo | Daily Trojan

The lineup, which had been a major weakness for most of the season, led USC in their two wins, both of which included 14 hits and at least 8 runs scored. Head coach Dan Hubbs and his staff hope the team’s bats stay hot as the Trojans continue their season.

Arizona is a strong, well-rounded team. Their 20-11 record doesn’t convey the Wildcats’ ability, as they sit in the top five of the Pac-12 in nearly every statistical category. Aside from a recent series victory over ninth-ranked Oregon State, they have issues against top competition, with a 4-5 record in conference and a 1-4 mark against other Power 5 schools.

This Wildcats team is dangerous at the plate. They rank third in the Pac-12 with a .295 team batting average, third with a .419 slugging percentage and first with a .406 on base percentage.

They bat over seven runs per game, but have done so with just 16 home runs and 18 stolen bases on 31 attempts. They rank among the top teams in the conference in doubles and triples, but mainly, the Wildcats are simply smart at the plate. Arizona ranks second in sacrifice flies (18) and sacrifice bunts (29), first in walks (150) and have the fourth fewest strikeouts (186).

The Wildcats have the luxury of a deep lineup around star hitters. Five of their consistent starters have a batting average of .333 or higher, three of which have more than 30 RBIs. Perhaps their best hitter is sophomore second baseman Cameron Cannon, who is hitting .355 with a .562 slugging percentage. Cannon leads the Wildcats with 34 RBIs and is second in home runs (4) and extra base hits (15). Cannon is a tough out who won’t beat himself at bat, as evidenced by his 18 walks and .448 on-base percentage.

Another of Arizona’s star hitters is sophomore third baseman Nick Quintana. Quintana is the Wildcats’ most powerful bat, leading the team in home runs (7) and extra base hits (17). However, he still hits a high average at .333 and has a strong on-base percentage of .421. Quintana’s biggest problem is strikeouts; he has 23 of them, the most on the team.

Arizona’s pitching is also intimidating; they boast the sixth best-earned run average in the entire NCAA at 2.73. They also allow the 24th fewest hits per nine innings with 7.52. They don’t strike many hitters out, but they don’t walk them, either. They simply don’t allow many baserunners.

The pitching staff has three consistent starters, the best of which is junior Cody Deason. Deason posts an incredible 2.00 ERA and allows hitters to bat just .187. He’s also thrown 45 strikeouts and has given up 0 home runs in 45 innings pitched.

The Wildcats also get good production from their bullpen. Senior closer Tylor Megill is the key contributor in late innings, as he’s amassed five saves and four wins on the strength of his sterling 1.45 ERA. Megill, who allows just a .175 batting average, is doubly intimidating because of his 6-foot-6 frame. Expect to see him towering on the mound at Dedeaux this weekend.

Arizona is also a fine team in the field. Their .976 fielding percentage is tied for fifth in the conference and 45th in the country. Three of their four leaders in errors play in the infield; junior first baseman Alfonso Rivas and Quintana have five, and Cannon has four. Making solid contact and running out ground balls could be key in the Trojans’ effort this weekend; if they put the ball in play and hustle down the line, they could take the couple of extra baserunners necessary to winning what could be a close series.

USC cannot be complacent; they took advantage of a mediocre Arizona State pitching staff to put up big numbers last weekend. But, Arizona’s staff is far too talented to allow the Trojans to just smack the ball around. There’s no doubt that Arizona has been the better team this season, but there is a path to a series win for USC. If USC secures solid pitching and good contact, they could take two games from a very talented team.