The year started with great promise. USC won four of its first seven games in walk-off fashion, showcasing the never-say-die spirit that sparked life back into Trojan Baseball. Life has not been as grand lately, losses in 8 of their last 10 games, but head coach Dan Hubbs still believes this program can right the ship in against the extremely competitive Pac-12 Conference.
After taking the conference opener in a tight three-game set against No. 12 Oregon, USC faltered on the mound in back-to-back contests before eventually dropping two of three games in the series. The Trojans will return home for one non-league contest against the Stony Brook Seawolves, who reached the 2012 College World Series in historic fashion.
The Trojans won their last Tuesday night affair defeating LMU 6-1 at Dedeaux Field, also ending the Lions' seven-game winning streak. In these classic mid-week match ups, USC is actually 2-2 this season and will once again ride the arm of the younger brother on the staff in sophomore righty Brent Wheatley (2-0 2.60 ERA).
After posting a top-25 bullpen in the season's first seven games, the Trojans ERA has suddenly risen to 3.20 overall which still vastly eclipses the clubs post 5.00 ERA from last season. While only posting six runs in the Oregon series, USC will look upon young players like Blake Lacey, Timmy Robinson and Jeremy Martinez to complement the strong offensive efforts from AJ Ramirez (.339) along with seniors Kevin Swick (.382, 9 RBI) and Jake Hernandez (.357, 6 RBI) in some key games over Spring Break.
SCOUTING THE SEAWOLVES:
The Seawolves come to Dedeaux Field after dropping two-of-three at UC Riverside over the weekend. They are batting .261 as a club (USC hitting .275), and are led by Kevin Krause, who is batting .360 with 12 RBI through 12 games played. The Trojans are 1-0 all-time against Stony Brook defeating the Seawolves 10-0 back on March 19th, 2005.
Stony Brook currently has seven players from Southern California including Brandon McNitt, Austin Shives, Josh Mason, Chad Lee, Robert Chavarria, Jeremy Giles and Daniel Zamora. Through 13 games this season, Southern California native Joshua Mason (Woodland Hills, Calif.) is leading the local charge batting .295 with five RBI.
Stony Brook Seawolves (5-8, 0-0 America East, Projected Conference Champions)
Head Coach: Matt Senk, 24th season Overall Record: 653-433-3
|03/18/14||vs. Stony Brook||Dedeaux Field||6:00 p.m. PT|
|03/21/14||at Stanford||Stanford, Calif.||7:00 p.m. PT|
|03/22/14||at Stanford||Stanford, Calif.||3:00 p.m. PT|
|03/23/14||at Stanford||Stanford, Calif.||3:00 p.m. PT|
|03/25/14||at Loyola Marymount||Los Angeles, Calif. (Page Stadium)||6:00 p.m. PT|
|03/28/14||vs. Washington||Dedeaux Field||6:00 p.m. PT|
|03/29/14||vs. Washington||Dedeaux Field||2:00 p.m. PT|
|03/30/14||vs. Washington||Dedeaux Field||1:00 p.m. PT|
WHAT IT ALL MEANS:
While USC sits right in the middle of the current Pac-12 Standings, this next series against Stanford could say a great deal about the team's chances of qualifying for an NCAA Regional for the first time since 2004. The last time USC started 7-0 (2012) the Trojans severely struggled in Pac-12 play (7-21) under former head coach Frank Cruz.
USC's next conference foes (Stanford and Washington) have plenty of talent on the bump and have been predicted to battle for some of the final regional berths in this year's tournament. Given USC's recent struggles in the conference (no-winning record since 2005), this team can't afford is to fall behind with a poorest 2-9 or 3-8 Pac-12 record.
If the club continues to get excellent pitching from the top of the rotation with Wyatt Strahan (1-2 3.90 ERA) and Bob Wheatley (2-1 1.88 ERA), USC can compete with any team in the conference to build upon its three top-25 wins from earlier this season.
The biggest key for success however, will be whether the battle-tested bullpen can continue to throw strikes and keep USC in these tight contests that we've seen throughout the season, allowing their scrappy offense to contribute more game winning runs in some of the closing moments.