Off to its best start since 2005, the USC baseball team will return home from a victory in Long Beach to take on Akron in a three-game weekend series at Dedeaux Field.
The Trojans started 4-0 thanks in large part to their starting pitching, which gave up a total of six earned runs during the season’s opening week. That performance was highlighted by freshman pitcher Stephen Tarpley’s nine-strikeout debut in the series finale against Jacksonville University and capped by senior pitcher Brandon Garcia’s gutsy 5 2/3 innings on Tuesday at Long Beach State.
“Three of the games were really tight in the late innings,” said coach Frank Cruz. “The fact that the team was composed enough to go ahead and win all three says something. We’ll take that experience with us to the later parts of the season.”
Now, USC takes on an Akron team still searching for its first victory in 2012. The Zips fell to Elon University in their season opener before dropping both ends of a doubleheader against Appalachian State on Saturday.
Against the Zips, the Trojans will feature what figures to be their regular weekend rotation with redshirt senior pitcher Andrew Triggs toeing the rubber Friday night and senior pitcher Ben Mount and Tarpley holding down Saturday and Sunday afternoon, respectively. Cruz, however, indicated that no one’s spot is 100 percent secure.
“It all depends on performance,” Cruz said about the makeup of his weekend rotation. “Things change, but I know that’s the way it’s going to be this week.”
If any of the Trojan starters are secure, it’s Triggs, whom Cruz called the team’s “de facto ace.”
“[Triggs] has been ‘the guy’ for three years here now,” Cruz said. “I don’t see that changing.”
Akron will likely counter with its own three-man rotation, which struggled in its first go-around of the year. Sophomore Jon Pusateri was the only Zips starter to go longer than five innings during Akron’s three losses, and senior Andrew Brown was tagged for seven runs in five innings on Opening Day against Elon.
Cruz isn’t letting the team take any opponent lightly, however, and stressed that his team still has several things to work on during the week.
“I’m not trying to give anyone the ‘coach talk’ but [the Zips] are a solid team,” Cruz said. “They have a very well-respected manager [Coach Rick Rembielak] and they’ll be a tough opponent.”
“I think base running is definitely something we can improve on. We need to have a bit higher percentage on our execution. We’re doing OK, but we need to be better.”
The bats, led by do-everything freshman Garrett Stubbs, who has seven hits in his first 16 at-bats as a Trojan, also drew Cruz’s praise for their performance in the season’s opening week.
“I think we’re taking some good swings,” Cruz said. “We’re taking some mature swings, which I would expect from some of our older players. But the younger guys are stepping it up as well.”
The three-game home stand will give USC time to prepare for its first big test of the year, a road series at perennial national power North Carolina that will likely provide an accurate gauge of where USC stands in the college baseball landscape.
First pitch on Friday against the Zips is at 6 p.m., Saturday’s afternoon contest begins at 2 p.m. and Sunday’s series finale is a 1 p.m. first pitch.