Red-hot USC baseball trots into Pac-12 Tournament on a roll

The Trojans secured the No. 4 seed for the second consecutive year Saturday.

Senior outfielder Carson Wells is batting .283 with 26 RBIs this season for the Trojans. He is currently riding a nine-game hitting streak. (Marcus Heatherly / Daily Trojan)

The Trojans chose the right time to wake up their bats and shut down opposing offenses.

Riding a six-game winning streak — the longest of its season — USC (28-27, 17-12 Pac-12) caught a spark to end its regular season schedule. A recent three-game sweep of the Utah Utes (32-21, 16-14 Pac-12) saw the Trojans complete a late comeback in the first game and dominate the early frames in the next two to finish the season strong. 

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Following the series, USC finished in fourth place in the Pac-12 with 17 conference wins for the second consecutive year.

USC’s recent momentum shift came after a dismal 20-8 beatdown courtesy of Washington State (21-32, 9-21 Pac-12) on May 10 — putting Head Coach Andy Stankiewicz’s bunch on a four-game slide — which seemingly whipped the Trojans into shape on both sides of the ball.

“It’s about how you finish,” Stankiewicz said in an interview with USC Athletics following the series finale against Utah. “We just stayed on it. Big effort all weekend by our starting pitching.”

Following the blowout, USC didn’t allow more than five runs in a game to end its regular season and found new life offensively. Two freshman infielders have contributed immensely to the team’s recent slugfests: Dean Carpentier and Kevin Takeuchi. 

Carpentier entered tournament play on a six-game hitting streak and a five-game RBI streak. He was also coming off a regular-season finale performance where he notched an important home run to spark the Trojan offense.

Takeuchi was also riding a five-game hit streak into the postseason and compiled six RBIs over his last four games.

Two returning outfielders, senior Carson Wells and sophomore Austin Overn, have also slugged impressively lately. Overn recorded hits in his last seven regular season games, registering 14 total over the stretch. He also became a doubles machine, hitting at least one two-bagger in seven of his last nine appearances.

Wells tallied four hits in the Utah series, extending his own hit streak to nine games. The Nevada native has become one of the Trojans’ more consistent hitters during the second half of the season and will look to continue producing quality at-bats in the postseason.

Junior pitcher Josh Blum has anchored USC’s bullpen, posting a 1.88 ERA and a 0.77 WHIP across 28.2 innings this season. He’ll look to avenge the Trojans’ starting pitchers in the later innings in high-pressure tournament situations. 

Senior starting pitcher Tyler Stromsborg — who leads the team with 62.2 innings pitched — began the year on a rough patch but closed out the season with a quality start across six frames against the Utes on Saturday. USC is also fortunate to see junior starting pitcher Caden Aoki return to the rotation after he missed over a month of action.

USC headed to Scottsdale, Arizona, to begin battle in the annual Pac-12 Tournament. Placed in Pool C, the No. 4 Trojans faced the very same Utah team on Tuesday afternoon they just dominated, defeating the No.7 Utes 7-6, thanks to a three-run eighth-inning onslaught.

Next, USC will face No. 3 Oregon (37-16, 19-11 Pac-12), a squad the Trojans struggled against offensively earlier in the season, only scoring eight runs across three games in a series loss.

“We’ve got some good momentum going into the tournament,” Stankiewicz said. “It’s a testament to just staying on it, just staying focused. It was a rough start, obviously everybody knows that, but we were able to stay in it, and stay in the fight.”

USC was also in Pool C in 2023 but could only eke out one win against No. 7 UCLA before falling to No. 3 Washington, which cut down the Trojans’ hopes of a semifinal bid. 

The tournament’s current format, now in its second season, provides an opportunity for lower seeds to make a splash and have a valid chance to win the Pac-12. As only seeds No. 1 through No. 9 qualify for the tournament, Washington State and UCLA (19-33, 9-21 Pac-12) both saw their seasons end early.

Even through all of the adversity, from an abysmal 0-5 start to the year to having to play home games across various stadiums in Southern California, the Trojans are in full gear to make a deep Pac-12 Tournament run thanks to some late magic.

“The goal is to be playing your best at the end,” Stankiewicz said. “We’re playing some really good baseball right now.”

The Trojans will face No. 3 Oregon on Thursday at 2:30 p.m. at Scottsdale Stadium.

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