It’s rivalry weekend in Southern California as the 18-15 USC Trojans face off against the 13th ranked 22-10 UCLA Bruins across town at Jackie Robinson Stadium.
The last time the two teams faced off was at the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic on March 11. The game ended dramatically, as USC junior left fielder Lars Nootbaar hit a go-ahead home run late in the eighth inning to bring the game to a 3-2 win for the Trojans.
THE SEASON SO FAR
SC The team hopes to come ahead again this time around, since they have not done very well against ranked teams — they hold a 2-5 record against teams that are ranked. They lost all their games against the Stanford Cardinal and only earned one other win against Arkansas.
Despite holding an above .500 record in overall play, the Trojans possess a 6-9 record in conference play, ranking seventh in the Pac-12 standings. The Trojans have yet to win a Pac-12 series against a higher ranked team, having lost to Stanford, Washington and Arizona.
After starting the season on the right foot with a 7-1 record, the Trojans have fallen short, going 11-14 over their last 25 gamesand look far from the team they were at the start of the season. Both the defense and the offense have not played well thus far — or at least not up to the standards of a typical USC baseball team.
“Well, we got to try and win as many games as possible from here on out,” head coach Dan Hubbs said after the loss to UC Santa Barbara on Tuesday. “I still believe that this team is capable of going on a run, but we have to play well. We have to pitch well and we have to play well.”
On paper, the UCLA Bruins are the favorites going into the weekend. The Bruins rank eighth in the country in ERA with 2.85, while the Trojans have a lackluster 4.76 ERA in comparison. The Bruins also have a better batting average, .277 compared to the Trojans .248, and a better on base percentage; .397 over USC’s .332.
PLAYERS TO LOOK OUT FOR
There are a few players to watch in the series this weekend. For the Bruins, sophomore outfielder Jeremy Ydens leads the team in batting average with an average of .378 in 98 at-bats this season. Along with Ydens, sophomore infielder Chase Strumpf has proved himself as the team’s primary slugger, as he has already crushed 8 home runs. He also holds a .333 batting average this year.
On the USC team, freshman shortstop Ben Ramirez is a player to watch. After suffering a broken wrist earlier in the season and being out for about a month, he has come back into the Trojans’ lineup and immediately made an impact both offensively and defensively. He has batted .319 average this season, the best batting average for the Trojans.
Junior first baseman Dillon Paulson is another player to watch for on the Trojan team. After hitting 2 home runs in the 6-1 win against the LMU Lions, Paulson now leads the team with six home runs on the year. Nootbaar follows closely behind with 4 home runs.
EXPECTED STARTING PITCHERS
Most likely pitching for the Bruins is senior pitcher Jake Bird who in nine starts has an impressive 1.65 ERA, while allowing only 11 runs all season. He has posted 36 strikeouts on the season. Despite his rather impressive numbers, he is not unbeatable. He holds a 4-2 record entering this series.
Freshman pitcher Zach Pettway has been equally impressive this season and is also a viable option to start at the mound for UCLA. He holds a 5-1 record with a 2.85 ERA while leading the team in strikeouts with 43. He’s been impressive at defining the strike zone, walking only nine batters this year.
For the Trojans, freshman pitcher Kyle Hurt will most likely hit the mound this weekend. He has been inconsistent all season, but flashed pure brilliance earlier in the year year when he threw a no-hitter against Utah. And while he has struck out 42 batters so far this year, he hasn’t shined all season. He holds a 2-3 record on the year with an 4.20 ERA.
Both teams hope to improve their respective records and standing within conference play. The games will take place at Jackie Robinson Stadium Friday night at 7 p.m., Saturday at 4 p.m. and Sunday at noon.