Baseball to face rival UCLA in Westwood

USC enters Jackie Robinson Stadium as victor of three of its last four matchups.

Junior pitcher Caden Aoki has struggled through his first five starts, posting a 6.20 ERA. The Pac-12 ERA leader last season seemed to get back on track last weekend against Stanford, only giving up one run in six innings. (Jaden Dhaliwal / Daily Trojan)

After a slow start to the season, USC seems to have finally found a rhythm, most recently taking two of three from Stanford and winning a weeknight bout with Long Beach State. Now, the Trojans will face the lone team they defeated in last year’s Pac-12 Tournament: UCLA.

Riding high off its victories, USC (7-13, 3-3 Pac-12) has seen certain players shine immensely as of late. Sophomore catcher Jacob Galloway’s knock against the Dirtbags (10-8-1, 0-3 Big West Conference) improved his hitting streak to 19 games, raising his batting average to an incredible .355. Galloway already has more hits this year, 26, than his total of 23 from last season.

Daily headlines, sent straight to your inbox.

Subscribe to our newsletter to keep up with the latest at and around USC.

“We’re starting to play more of a complete game,” said senior pitcher Tyler Stromsborg in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “At times, we’ve gotten away from it, but the pitching staff and offensive staff have come together and done a better job.”

Galloway isn’t the only Trojan on a tear, though. Sophomore outfielder Austin Overn is riding high on a hit streak of his own, which is up to nine games thanks to a pair of singles against LBSU. This all comes after a slow start to the year for Overn, as he mustered just one hit in his first five games. Since then, he’s only gone hitless in one game and his batting average is now up to a strong .273. He’s also been a ruthless thief on the base paths stealing 10 bags in 12 tries.

Overn will look to remind the Bruins (7-11, 2-4 Pac-12) of how much of an offensive force he can be. In USC’s most recent contest against UCLA — last season’s tournament pool play matchup — Overn notched a whopping five RBIs on a home run and a triple. 

On the pitching side, the Trojans have seen multiple firsts throughout their recent run. After starting the season 0-3, junior pitcher Caden Aoki picked up his first win of the year against the Cardinal (9-9, 3-3 Pac-12) in the first game of the series. Aoki’s woes to start the year were shocking considering he posted a sub-3 ERA last season which earned him the right to be USC’s Opening Day starter this year. Nonetheless, Aoki got back on track against Stanford and struck out four hitters while only giving up one run.

Junior pitcher Josh Blum — who still hasn’t been credited with a loss in 50 career appearances — also earned his first victory of the year against the Cardinal in the rubber match. Blum tossed three innings and gave up two homers, but the Trojans still held on to win.

Against Long Beach, one USC pitcher celebrated his first-ever collegiate victory: freshman pitcher Andrew Harbour. In his USC debut, Harbour threw two no-hit, scoreless frames.

Last season, including post-regular season play, the Trojans went 3-2 against the Bruins. Heading into the matchup, UCLA is coming off a series victory against Washington State (12-8, 2-4 Pac-12) but still only leads Washington (6-8-1, 1-2 Pac-12) in the standings.

The Bruins’ strongest hitter thus far has been junior infielder Duce Gourson. Gourson leads UCLA with 13 RBIs, including four dingers. He’s also posted a stout .926 OPS and isn’t afraid to take his base, earning a team-leading 15 walks as well. Gourson is just one of five qualified Bruin hitters with a batting average above .250.

Sophomore pitcher Cody Delvecchio leads qualified UCLA pitchers with a 2.45 ERA. Hitters have only a .203 batting average against him, so USC will have to carry over its offensive magic from recent games to score runs should they face him in the series.

“It is nice to play close to home,” Stromsborg said. “I think that there’ll be a ton of UCLA fans and a ton of USC fans. Both teams have a lot of guys that have grown up in Southern California.”

While the rivals have had peaks and valleys to begin the season, the upcoming three-game set could be huge for both teams in possibly climbing the Pac-12 ladder.

“Going into Pac-12 play is almost like a new season,” Stromsborg said. “We didn’t start off hot the first couple of weeks.”

The Trojans will venture out to Westwood to first face the Bruins Friday at 7 p.m., followed up with a pair of 2 p.m. starts Saturday and Sunday at Jackie Robinson Stadium.

© University of Southern California/Daily Trojan. All rights reserved.