USC baseball’s season has been tumultuous to say the least. The team started 4-1, then lost eight straight.
The Trojans appeared to get back on track with a thrilling 2-0 win over then-No. 13 UCLA at Dodger Stadium. Then they lost five in a row and started Pac-10 play 2-4. Their season has been marred by multiple losses to teams such as UC Santa Barbara, Pacific and UC Riverside. Yet they have taken series from the likes of then-No. 11 Stanford, No. 6 Arizona State and then-No. 2 Oregon State .
The team appears to have found some stability in recent weeks, both on the field and off. After taking two of three from the No. 6 Sun Devils, Frank Cruz was named full-time coach by athletic director Pat Haden. His team responded last weekend by handing the No. 2 Beavers their first series loss of the season.
This weekend, the Trojans (22-29, 12-12) host Washington State in a three-game set at Dedeaux Field in what will be both teams’ final games in 2011. Both teams are under .500, and although the Cougars (24-26, 8-16) can finish no higher than seventh in the Pac-10, USC could finish as high as fourth. For a program that hasn’t finished in the top half of the conference since 2005, that would be a huge step forward.
For that to happen, however, the Trojans will need to win their sixth Pac-10 series this season, which would be the most since their last postseason appearance in 2005. Last year the team won just two series in conference play. This year, they have been favored in just two series — this being one of them.
The Cougars have just two Pac-10 series wins this season against rivals Oregon and Washington — USC also took its series against those schools. However, the Cougars won a pair of games against UC Santa Barbara, a team that swept the Trojans.
Washington State is led at the plate by first baseman Taylor Ard. The sophomore has played in all 50 of the Cougars games this season and was the Pac-10 Player of the Week after leading WSU to a series win against Oregon, going 12-for-24 at the plate with nine extra-base hits. Ard is slugging .546 on the season and currently leads the Pac-10 in home runs, with eight, and RBIs with 50.
This series will likely be decided by pitching. The Trojans, as they have all season, will start three righties: junior Andrew Triggs on Friday, junior Austin Wood on Saturday and senior Logan Odom on Sunday. Wood and Odom are coming off dominant performances against the Beavers, while Triggs tossed a complete game against the Sun Devils.
The Cougars will kick off the series with Adam Conley on the hill. The lefty is projected to go in the first five rounds of the upcoming MLB draft, and leads Cougar starters with 102 innings pitched and a 3.35 ERA, fanning 82 hitters while walking just 24. Saturday starter Chad Arnold has struggled this season. The senior righty has posted a 6.75 ERA and has walked the same number of hitters as he has struck out. The season will close for the Trojans against righthander James Wise, who owns a 4-6 record and a 4.50 ERA.
Although it might seem as if neither of these teams have a lot to play for, that’s never the case. A sweep by the Trojans could put the Cougars last in the Pac-10. A sweep would also guarantee the Trojans a top-half finish. For a team picked to finish ninth in the Pac-10 at the start of the season, it’s hard to ask for much more.