Baseball faces Arkansas at Dedeaux

Junior pitcher Chris Clarke appeared in two games of USC’s opening series against Nebraska Omaha, allowing one hit and no earned runs with three strikeouts in three innings of work. (Tucker Judkins/Daily Trojan)

After starting the season with a 2-1 record, the Trojans look to maintain their winning form as they host No. 16 Arkansas in a three-game series starting Thursday night.

Last weekend, the Trojans beat University of Nebraska Omaha twice in a three-game series as they opened their season. Despite winning two games, the Trojans demonstrated glimpses of inconsistency against the Mavericks.

The Trojans had trouble starting games over the weekend. On both Friday and Sunday, the Trojans found themselves behind early on in the game and were playing catch-up instead of trying to anchor their lead.

On opening night, the team trailed the entire game until the ninth inning, when senior second baseman Brandon Perez saved the day by hitting a walk-off single to win the game 6-5. On Sunday, USC found itself behind by 11 runs after four and a half innings and was unable to make up that deficit despite scoring 8 unanswered runs late in the game.

Those two performances, however, contrasted Saturday’s game, during which the Trojans looked comfortable and confident throughout each inning. The team did not allow the Mavericks to score early in the game and by the time the Trojans finished the fourth inning, the game was put to bed.

“I just kind of want to preach a calm and level-headed mentality,” Perez said over the weekend. “Just so we don’t have too many highs and too many lows throughout the season. That we just stay consistent throughout.”

The Trojans will need to find some consistency before they take on Arkansas Thursday. The Razorbacks started the season 3-0 by sweeping Eastern Illinois at home over the weekend. Arkansas scored easily, putting up 30 runs in three games.

While both teams have only played one series so far this season, the Razorbacks have a combined batting average of .376. The Trojans lag somewhat behind, but still boast a strong batting average of .323 thus far.

The Razorbacks will be difficult to pitch against, as they have multiple home run threats in their lineup, with four different players going yard over the weekend. Moreover, the team also holds a slugging percentage of .584.

The Trojans also have players in their lineup who can hit with power. Both senior shortstop Chase Bushor and sophomore right fielder Jamal O’Guinn went yard over the weekend. The Trojans have a slugging percentage of .505 to start the year.

With both teams capable of scoring runs, pitching will be particularly  important. The Trojans gave up 17 runs last weekend while the Razorbacks allowed just 12.

Some pitchers struggled over the weekend for the Trojans, most notably freshman Chandler Champlain. Champlain gave up 5 runs in his first inning on the mound and had to be pulled from his first college start before the inning ended.

However, sophomore pitcher John Beller was lights out on Saturday, pitching seven scoreless innings against the Mavericks. Beller, who predominantly started midweek games last season, appeared confident on the mound and looks to have a bigger role in the rotation this year.

“I thought [Beller] had some dominant Tuesday starts last year,” head coach Dan Hubbs said after Saturday’s game. “He has a lot of ways to attack you. For a guy who’s not very tall and not very big, he’s got incredible grit. There’s zero fear on the mound when he’s out there. He’s attacking the strike zone, making guys hit his pitch, and you need that.”  

These two teams faced off last March in Arkansas with the Razorbacks winning the series 2-1. Despite losing, the Trojans, who were unranked, played one of their best series of the year against Arkansas, who at the time were ranked No. 5 in the nation.

The two teams split the first two games of the series and the third game went down to the wire. The Trojans led by 1 run going into the final inning of the game, but Arkansas scored twice at the end to claim the series.

While the Trojans are not expected to win all three games in this series, it is critical that they remain competitive throughout the series and avoid blowouts. The team’s confidence should be high, if they manage to keep each game close.

The first game of the series will take place at 7 p.m. Thursday at Dedeaux Field. There will also be games on Friday and Saturday night, both at 6 p.m.