USC is aiming for the fences and hopefully some baseballs will end up there, too.
With only 17 games left in the regular season, the Trojans (16-23) are reflecting on the relative success they’ve had in their first year under USC head coach Dan Hubbs.
The team is boasting seven everyday starters with batting averages above .300, including freshmen Blake Lacey and Bobby Stahel.
Though the offense has been underappreciated in a season full of missed scoring opportunities and close losses, it showed up with a bang in USC’s road battle over the weekend.
After being shut out for the first time all season against a similarly youthful Utah team, the Trojans bounced back for 22 runs off 32 hits in the final two games of the series. USC will need that resurgent offense when it heads back out on the road to take a crack at a formidable foe in Pac-12 conference leader Oregon State (31-8).
The new spark of life that Hubbs witnessed in the Utah series makes him optimistic about his team’s chances against the Beavers.
“We’ve proven that we’ll get on base against anybody in the country, and I’m planning on us being on base a lot on Friday, Saturday and Sunday,” Hubbs said.
If USC can carry over its performance from last weekend, Hubb’s optimism might come to fruition. He plans on keeping his lineup relatively the same, and even though senior infielder Adam Landecker is day-to-day on defense, Landecker will take the designated hitter slot at the very least.
Hubbs said that even when the team loses some players, others step up.
“The benefit of guys struggling or being in and out of the lineup for an extended period of time is that it gives other guys a chance to get at-bats,” Hubbs said. “We’re going to need those guys to continue to get at-bats and fill in the lineup.”
In conference play, those at-bats have helped give USC a slight advantage over the Beavers in batting average (.286 to .281) and hits (381 to 367). Though those statistics look good from a distance, Oregon State takes almost twice as many walks and has scored 58 more runs.
The Beavers really distance themselves from the Trojans in pitching. They lead the conference with a 2.07 ERA. USC, by comparison, is dead last with a 4.81 ERA.
Hubbs isn’t worried about Oregon State’s pitching staff, though.
“We’re pretty comfortable with where we’re at and we know we have guys that are capable of pushing them,” Hubbs said. “I’m very optimistic that we’ll be able to handle their pitching.”
USC’s numbers on defense, on the other hand, give him pause.
The Trojans were rattled last Friday for 10 runs and struggled to maintain their hefty leads in the following two games. On Saturday, USC got careless with a 7-1 lead and allowed Utah to put a three-run dent in its solid pitching performance. The following day, a 10-2 lead was quickly squandered in a nightmare ninth inning.
Hubbs chalked up the mishaps to a combination of not pitching well and playing poor defense, but the real problem lies in one of this season’s trigger words: consistency.
“On the mound, we need to be more consistent,” Hubbs said. “That’s what’s going to give us the optimism moving forward.”
Other reasons to look forward to an improvement in pitching include the return of junior ace Bob Wheatley after three weeks and what could be a bounce-back performance from hot-and-cold freshman Kyle Twomey.
The team will play four more games on the road before returning home to Dedeaux Field, but Hubbs said USC is looking forward to the challenge.
“Obviously, this is a huge test this weekend but I think that we’re at the part of the season where it doesn’t matter if you’re on the road or at home,” Hubbs said. “You just have to go play good baseball.”