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UCLA and USC Set For Critical Baseball Series

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With nearly identical win-loss records, the Trojans and Bruins meet in Westwood as the final race to the NCAA regionals begins.

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The Trojans aren't quite on the radar yet. Many of the postseason projections at the moment do not have them as one of the bubble teams. At 21-17 (9-9), USC is currently on a six-game winning streak, which includes three wins over Arizona that gave them their first conference series sweep in five years. But it's still not enough. Trojan Baseball needs something more to get national attention.

Maybe two or three wins against their crosstown rival and defending NCAA champions will do it.

Starting Thursday night, USC begins a three-game road series against the UCLA Bruins, who are 22-16 (9-6) and just 1.5 games ahead of USC. With 18 games left on the schedule, the Bruins have a little bit more breathing room, but with conference top dogs Oregon and Oregon State also facing each other this weekend, a sweep for either side would throw them into the top tiers of the conference while leaving the loser's postseason hopes in serious trouble.

On Thursday, USC will turn to Wyatt Strahan, who looks to build off his complete game shutout of the Wildcats last week that made him the Pac-12 Pitcher of the Week and dropped his ERA from 4.25 to 3.86. The Bruins will send in their ace, James Kaprielian (5-3, 2.12), who has only allowed seven runs in his last six starts and leads the team in strikeouts with 68.

On Friday and Saturday, the Wheatley brothers will take the mound, with Brent (3-1, 2.98) on Friday and older brother Bob (3-3, 3.86) in the getaway game. The Bruins' Friday pitcher is Grant Watson (4-5, 3.68), who is 2-0 against USC including a win at Dodger Stadium in 2012 in which he only allowed one run through six innings. For Saturday, the Trojans will face Cody Poteet (3-2. 4.44), who earned the win the last time these teams faced in March at Dedeaux Field.

On the offensive side, look for the catchers to make some splashes. UCLA has junior Shane Zeile, nephew of former Dodger and UCLA alumnus Todd Zeile. It has been a breakthrough year for Zeile, as his .353 batting average makes him the only Bruin currently hitting over .300. For the Trojans is freshman Jeremy Martinez, who is making himself a prime All-Pac-12 candidate. He leads the team in walks, on-base percentage (.419), RBIs (24), and runs scored (20). During USC's winning streak, he is 12 for 25 at the plate, and the Trojans will need him to stay hot against UCLA's excellent pitching staff.

The first two games will be broadcast on the Pac-12 Network, with the Thursday game at 6 PM and the Friday game at 7. Follow @USC_Baseball for live tweet updates and click here for tickets, which are $8 a pop.