Baseball welcomes the Pac-12’s finest

The Trojans will battle No. 2 Oregon State at yet another home venue this weekend.

Graduate pitcher Jared Feikes made his first start on the season against UCLA and struggled giving up five runs. The transfer made his mark as a reliever earlier in the season, only giving up two earned runs in seven appearances. (Marcus Heatherly / Daily Trojan)

Consistency issues have plagued USC this season, but the Trojans look like a vastly improved team since the start of the season, with wins in four out of their last six games. During the latest stretch, Head Coach Andy Stankiewicz’s squad portrayed a tale of two extremes: busy bats on some nights and minimal hitting on others. With three meetings against red-hot No. 2 Oregon State on the horizon, USC will have to stay resilient to come out ahead.

In the Trojans’ (9-15, 4-5 Pac-12) series loss to UCLA (10-12, 4-5 Pac-12), USC commenced the three-game set with a 15-run slugfest, then proceeded to fall short offensively in the next two games. Against Fresno State (16-8, 6-3 Mountain West) on Tuesday, USC caught an offensive spark en route to a blowout 10-1 win.

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“Great game tonight. This is what we’re capable of doing,” Stankiewicz said in a postgame speech posted on X, formerly known as Twitter, on March 26. “This type of baseball is what we’re about.”

However, the Trojans’ offensive inconsistencies haven’t stopped senior outfielder Carson Wells from putting on a show lately. After going hitless in six straight games earlier in March, Wells has been an RBI machine with five in his last three appearances and is now riding a four-game hitting streak. Coming off a career-best .283 batting average in 2023, Wells smashed his first home run against the Bruins in the season finale and will be looking to continue swinging the hot bat.

Sophomore catcher Jacob Galloway snapped his 22-game hitting streak against the Bulldogs but still managed to put the ball in play and drive in two runs in the weeknight matchup. He’ll hope to start a new one against Oregon State, whose 3.60 team ERA is the lowest in the Pac-12.

“I’m feeling good,” Galloway said in a postgame statement posted on X on March 22. “Coach Jewett has been giving us great plans to go try and execute.” 

Sophomore outfielder Austin Overn will also strive to be a catalyst in the upcoming series. Overn registered two hits against Fresno State and hasn’t struck out in the last three games, something he struggled with at the beginning of the season.

Unfortunately, strikeout woes have become a theme for USC. The Trojans lead the Pac-12 with 229 batters sent to the dugout on strike three and aren’t generating baserunners at the rate they need to be, placing 10th in the conference with a lackluster .337 on-base percentage.

USC’s starting pitching unit has been shaky lately. Junior pitcher Caden Aoki improved to a 2-3 record after handling UCLA in the first game of the series, but the same couldn’t be said for the next two games’ starters. Senior pitcher Tyler Stromsborg and graduate pitcher Jared Feikes each struggled immensely after Aoki’s Friday night gem.

The Beavers’ offense has been led by reigning Pac-12 Player of the Week junior infielder Travis Bazzana. The Sydney, Australia native leads the conference with 14 home runs, 36 RBIs and a .467 batting average. The USC pitching staff will hope to shut him down early and prevent him from continuing his electric tear. Oregon State won its last four games, outscoring Washington (6-11-1, 1-5 Pac-12) 31-3 in its most recent series.

The Oregon State offense is deep from top to bottom, with a few other hitters posting batting averages above .400 and a handful surpassing the .300 mark. The team hits for power and has a Pac-12-leading .606 slugging percentage.

The Beavers have also been dominant on the pitching side. Junior pitcher Jacob Kmatz owns a 2.08 ERA and a sub-1 WHIP and freshman pitcher Eric Segura co-leads the Pac-12 with four wins. Both of Oregon State’s losses this season came in close contests.

The Trojans will host the series at yet another “home” ballpark, Cicerone Field at Anteater Ballpark in Irvine. This three-game set will be the only home series at the stadium, but USC will face the UC Irvine Anteaters (19-3, 5-1 Big West) there as the away team later in the season.

“We’ve got a big weekend in front of us,” Stankiewicz said in his postgame speech. “Let’s get a little momentum going into it.”

This series will be a huge test for USC and could be a drastic turning point if it can overcome the nationally ranked powerhouse. The Beavers and Trojans will open the series Thursday at 6:30 p.m. in Irvine.

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