For a team coming off a disappointing 23-32 campaign in 2012 and playing under the leadership of a first-time head coach, one would hope that it could at least rely on a relatively soft schedule in order to boost its players’ confidence.
Unfortunately, this does not appear to be the case for this year’s USC baseball team.
Of the 10 teams the Trojans are scheduled to play over their Pac-12 conference season (Colorado has no team), six are ranked. And that doesn’t even include the likes of perennial power Cal, though the Trojans beat the Golden Bears twice out of three games last season.
USC’s nonconference series includes Fresno State this weekend and Texas Christian in May, two teams that have received votes in the latest NCAA rankings. Needless to say, the Trojans’ schedule is among the toughest in the nation.
Making matters worse is USC’s proximity to top-class local baseball schools. Midweek games are often scheduled based on geography: it’s during the school week, and teams do not want to travel cross-country and miss school.
Many schools that play tough weekend schedules, such as SEC schools, tend to pad their midweek games with relatively easy victories. Take for example No. 3 Vanderbilt, whose midweek slate includes the likes of Evansville, Lipscomb and Buffalo.
Those midweek “cupcakes” are not an option in Southern California, however. On USC’s schedule this year is No. 18 Cal State Fullerton and No. 22 UC Irvine, not to mention the always-strong Long Beach State Dirtbags, who visit Dedeaux Field tonight in their only matchup with the Trojans this year.
Though posting a mediocre 5-3 mark thus far, the Dirtbags’ record is deceptive. Two of those losses came to the aforementioned Vanderbilt Commodores and another against No. 11 Arizona. But Long Beach also came away with a win over each of those teams, and USC coach Dan Hubbs knows his team will not be able to take the Dirtbags lightly.
“It’s going to be a battle,” Hubbs said. “We know that we have to play well to win. We’re young and inexperienced — especially on the mound — but we played well over the weekend and we’ll build from there.”
The Trojans took two out of three from Cal State Northridge this past weekend, a series win that was capped by freshman pitcher Kyle Twomey’s complete-game effort in the rubber match on Sunday. It was a monumentally important start for the Trojans, who had a taxed bullpen after back-to-back extra-innings games on Friday and Saturday.
“It was huge for us because we were very depleted,” Hubbs said of Twomey’s start. “It really allowed us to rest our guys and save them for Tuesday.”
Had Twomey struggled in his start, Hubbs said he would have brought in freshman Brent Wheatley out of the bullpen. With Twomey’s effort, however, Wheatley’s arm was preserved to start tonight’s game.
Wheatley threw five shutout innings against Loyola Marymount last Tuesday and is aiming to lock down that fourth starter role in USC’s midweek contests.
The Trojans suffered a small injury over the weekend as sophomore catcher Garrett Stubbs was forced to sit out all three games with what Hubbs referred to as a “tweak just outside of the knee.” That was no matter, however, as junior designated hitter Jake Hernandez strapped on the gear and caught all 30 innings. Even better, it allowed Hubbs to slot hot-hitting freshman utility man A.J. Ramirez in the designated hitter role. Ramirez went 5-for-12 with three RBIs over the three games.
“To be honest, I was trying to find a way to get him in the lineup,” Hubbs said of Ramirez. “And this just opened up a spot. But when Garrett’s able to go he’ll be back.”
First pitch is scheduled at Dedeaux Field for 6 p.m.