Sun Devils serve as Trojans’ next test

Fresh off the team’s first loss to rival Loyola Marymount since 2008, USC baseball will now venture into the desert, hoping to reinvigorate its season.

The Trojans are in Tempe to take on No. 22 Arizona State, a team playing its best baseball of the season with four wins in its last five games. That streak includes a tidy three-game sweep of No. 17 Oregon State last weekend.

“They’re a top program in the country,” USC coach Frank Cruz said. “They play the game very well and very hard. ‘Fearless’ is how I’d describe their game. It’s how everyone would like to play.”

Like the Trojans, the Sun Devils have struggled a bit in Pac-12 play, posting a 6-6 record. That record, however, is a bit misleading; five of the six losses were against powerhouses UCLA and Oregon, programs that are currently ranked No. 7 and No. 21 in the nation. Those losses were a result of a combined seven runs, as well.

“I expect a grind-it-out, tough weekend, which is like all weekends in the Pac-12,” Cruz said. “We just have to try and take care of our business, play fundamental baseball and we’ll be better off for it.”

The lack of fundamental baseball was a contributing factor in the Trojans’ loss to LMU on Tuesday evening. USC made three errors in the field, and left the bases loaded in three separate innings, a fact that Cruz bemoaned afterward and cited as crucial to success against a team like ASU.

“Leaving the bases loaded like that is just inexcusable,” Cruz said. “We have to be able to execute in those situations. I kind of think it’s an attitude that you have when you come to the plate. You have to relax because you can’t get up tight with men on base.”

Cruz was quick to take some of the blame for the Trojans’ loss Tuesday night.

“The other thing against LMU, I feel like we weren’t prepared to win,” Cruz said. “And that was my fault. I need to try and prepare these guys a little bit better, because I don’t think we deserved to win Tuesday night. And we didn’t.”

One thing USC cannot control is the bug going around the clubhouse. Cruz reported that several players have taken ill during the past week, which forced him to shift around his lineup on a near daily basis.

“I can only play people who are healthy,” said Cruz. “It’s a flu thing that has kind of been going around some other places, too.”

The bug might affect USC’s starting rotation for the weekend series with Arizona State. Cruz reported that freshman starting pitcher Stephen Tarpley was the latest victim of the illness, and that his availability would determine how Cruz will use his pitchers when facing the Sun Devils.

“I’m going to be held hostage to the health of our players,” Cruz said. “That’s just stuff that happens during a long season, where an illness might make its way through the team, and it’s going through us right now.”

USC will likely go with seniors Andrew Triggs and Ben Mount, its two regular Friday-Saturday starters, to take on Arizona State in the first two games of the series.

The Sun Devils have quite an answer, however, likely countering with the two-headed pitching monster of Trevor Williams and Brady Rodgers. In 16 starts, the two pitchers are 11-3 with earned run averages of 1.65 and 1.12, respectively.

Friday and Saturday’s games both begin at 6:30 p.m., with a Sunday game at 12:30 p.m. to close out the series.