USC baseball takes on No. 24 UCLA in a three-game weekend series starting tonight at 6 p.m. at Dedeaux Field.
The conference opener for both teams is actually their second meeting of the season, as USC (8-13) shut out the Bruins (9-7) two weeks ago at Dodger Stadium during the Dodgertown Classic. Tonight will feature promotional giveaways, including concert tickets and an iPad, among others.
Senior pitcher Logan Odom went seven and one-third scoreless that day, and the Trojans got a pair off Bruin pitcher Adam Plutko to take a 2-0 victory. The two will return to the mound reprise the matchup Sunday.
The Friday opener will feature Trojan junior right-hander Andrew Triggs (2-1, 4.20 ERA) against UCLA star Gerrit Cole (1-2, 1.67 ERA). Cole boasts a mid-90’s fastball, a changeup and a power slider. He was drafted by the New York Yankees 28th overall in 2008 but turned down a reported $4 million contract to go to school.
“He’s legitimate,” said USC coach Frank Cruz. “He’s gotta be one of the top draft prospects in the country. He’s got command, he’s got everything. He’s the real deal.”
For Triggs, it’s all about not getting too caught up in the rivalry and the matchup.
“It’s more special than other starts,” Triggs said. “But if you start making it into more than it is you get in trouble. You try to treat it like any other start, but you know the implications.”
With junior right fielder Alex Sherrod out with an ankle injury, the Trojans will look to sophomore Alex Glenn to step up and fill the gap. Glenn is hitting just .182 with three RBIs this season, but he does have a pair of homers to his name.
“It’s a big deal,” Glenn said. “I’m not even from California, but I know how important the rivalry is. When we won earlier [at Dodger Stadium] it was one of the best feelings I’ve had as a Trojan.”
After Cole in the Bruin’s rotation comes junior Trevor Bauer and his 1.40 ERA.
“There’s no let up in their pitching,” Cruz said. “That’s the way they’ve been for years. Doesn’t matter what their record is, they can pitch. They’re just a good ball club.”
Bauer will take the hill against Trojan junior Austin Wood (1-3, 5.06 ERA) on Saturday before Plutko-Odom repeats itself Sunday.
Although a matchup with the Bruins is motivation in and of itself, the fact that the series will open up Pac-10 play makes it even more important to the Trojans.
“What better way to start?” Triggs said.
As always, the conference is loaded. Six of the 10 teams are currently ranked by Baseball America, and eight have found their way into the top 25 at some point this season.
“The Pac-10 is as good as it’s been in a long time,” Cruz said.
Glenn took it a step further. “It’s almost like a minor league. Every team is stacked,” he said.
Ultimately, it boils down to the rivalry. The eyes of players and coaches alike light up when asked about the chance to play the Bruins. The excitement is palpable all around the program.
“This is why people come to USC or UCLA,” Cruz said. “To play in this rivalry. You gotta love it.”