Although the Trojans have defeated the No. 1 and No. 2 teams in the country this season, no matchup is more important to USC baseball than this upcoming weekend. Crosstown rivals UCLA will make the 20 mile trek to USC's Dedeaux Field with first place in the PAC-12 and bragging rights on the table.
The Trojans defeated then No. 8 UCLA back on March 8th in the final game of the Dodgertown Classic by a score of 8-4. Coming off two walk-off wins over Vanderbilt and TCU, the Trojans were too much for the Bruins to handle. Led by junior A.J. Ramirez, the Trojans scored a run in six of the nine innings, while the bullpen only gave up four runs on ten hits, none later than the sixth inning.
After sweeping the weekend, the Trojans cemented themselves in the national championship conversation. While the men of Troy have fallen off a bit since their 15-1 start, the Trojans have yet to lose a series this season, and recently swept a top 25 team in Arizona this past weekend.
This weekend's matchup will feature two of the best bullpens in all of college baseball. Senior pitchers Grant Watson and David Berg pace a stellar Bruin bullpen that boasts a conference best 2.22 ERA. Although USC has no superstar starter, per say, as a team the Trojans are second in the PAC-12 with a respectable 2.75 ERA.
Freshman Mitch Hart has been a pleasant surprise for USC this year, going 5-0 in seven starts, while Junior Marc Hubberman has made a huge leap this season with a 5-1 record and a team best 1.11 ERA out of the bullpen.
For everything the Trojans give up to UCLA in pitching they make up with their outstanding offense. As a team the Trojans bat .307, good for best in the PAC-12, while scoring an average of seven runs per game. The Trojans also feature one of the best hitters in the country in RS Junior Bobby Stahel. Stahel sits in the Top 5 in the NCAA for both batting percentage, an outstanding .435, and hits, 54.
In other words, the Trojans are not afraid to get into an offensive battle, they embrace it. Similar to the last time these two teams met, the Trojans will look to wear out the Bruin bullpen as the game goes on - the Trojans scored 2 runs in both the fifth and seventh innings. The Trojans will need to put pressure on the Bruin's starting pitchers once again if they hope to come out of the weekend victorious.
Since dropping all three games in the Dodgertown Classic, the Bruins have rebounded extremely well. Winners of 12 of their last 14 games, the No. 6 Bruins (23-6, 10-2) enter this weekend as leaders of the PAC-12. Meanwhile, the No. 8 Trojans (25-6, 7-2) have won five straight games and eight out of their last nine, sitting second in the PAC-12.
You don't need me to tell you how important this weekend is for a Trojan team looking for their first conference title since 2002, and their first NCAA Tournament appearance since 2005. A series victory would all but ensure a postseason birth for the Trojans, while putting them in the driver's seat for the PAC-12 title.
The Trojans and Bruins are set to play Friday at 3 P.M, Saturday at 7:30 P.M, and Sunday at 2 P.M.