Trojans set to take on high-powered Sun Devils

Victories for the Trojans are hard-fought. That’s not going to change this weekend as USC returns home to host the No. 17 Arizona State Sun Devils.

“It’s just another really good opponent that we’re going to play, so it’s going to be fun,” USC head coach Dan Hubbs said. “Still, there’s not an easy weekend in the conference.”

The Sun Devils (20-9-1) proved that yet again on Wednesday when they blasted UNLV for an eight-run second inning, flaunting their offensive prowess to notch an 11-3 win. That explosive inning doesn’t bode well for the Trojans (12-20), who surrendered six runs in the third inning in their last outing. Five of those, however, came from freshman pitcher Sean Adler, who was rocked by dominant No. 4 Cal State Fullerton in his first collegiate start.

Hubbs said he’s going to approach this weekend matchup like he did the Stanford series. Against Stanford, the Trojans were pitted against MLB prospect and eighth-overall draft pick Mark Appel. This weekend, USC will have another battle against another stellar pitcher in Trevor Williams, whom Hubbs called “one of the best pitchers in the country.”

In the USC dugout, the Trojans will defer from their regular rotation for the second consecutive Friday, skipping junior pitcher Bob Wheatley, who has been battling some finger discomfort. Instead, junior Sean Silva will take the mound again in what could turn into a bullpen game.

“If Silva is throwing well we’ll just let him run with it as long as he can,” Hubbs said. “But I’m not going to let the game get out of hand so everyone will be pretty much ready.”

Hubbs said he hopes he can get four or five innings out of Silva before resorting to his relievers. After that, it’s going to be a game of strategy, matching up pitchers against a feared Sun Devil offense to help the team go deep into the game.

While the reliability of USC’s bullpen is a guessing game on any given night, Hubbs sees the potential in all his players, despite what the season statistics read.

“Their numbers are pretty skewed,” Hubbs said. “When they give up runs, they come in bunches. Either that, or they pitch really well so the consistency is the big key for us.”

On offense, the plan is simple: “When they score, we answer,” Hubbs said. “When we score, we put up a zero [on defense].”

There’s been major improvement in young freshmen like outfielder Timmy Robinson (who homered Tuesday) and infielder Blake Lacey, while others like Vahn Bozoian and AJ Ramirez have had their hot streaks. Still, it hasn’t been enough to prevent the team from bringing home only one win in their last six games.

The team has discussed its inability to drive runs home and Hubbs said he’s told his players that in those situations, they have to give themselves up; They have to at the very least make productive outs that’ll plate the pivotal runs that have too often separated a win from a loss.

“When we get ahead, we’re giving up some runs and when we’re holding them down, we’re not getting those runs in,” Hubbs said. “We have to play a complete game.”

USC’s last victory was a comeback against Stanford and Hubbs said he hopes it will remind his team that they’re resilient and capable of winning, no matter the score and no matter how many outs are left in the game.

Conference games this season have continued to put the battle-worn Trojan team to the test, but Hubbs said that ultimately, the tough schedule will have positive residual effects for the coming seasons.

“I think that moving forward, for the rest of this year and the future of the program, based the fact that we’re getting as much experience as we are right now, the future looks really good,” Hubbs said.

The first pitch on Friday is at 6 p.m., followed by 2 p.m. starts on Saturday and Sunday.