Coming off a 6-1 victory over Loyola Marymount, USC baseball turns its attention to crosstown rival UCLA. The No. 15 Bruins (22-10) host the Trojans (18-15) in a three-game series that starts Friday. UCLA is looking to regroup after managing only one run in an 8-1 loss to UC Irvine earlier this week.
The Trojans were clicking on all cylinders against the LMU Lions. John Beller struck out a career-high nine batters and only gave up one unearned run in eight innings of pitching. They relied on their bats to power them to victory. After three innings, USC was up 4-0 behind a two-run homer by Dillon Paulson and another one by Lars Nootbaar. Paulson sent another one yard in the bottom of the fifth.
The Trojans will walk into Jackie Robinson Stadium to face a pair of streaky Bruin hitters who can catch fire at any time. Left fielder Jeremy Ydens, who returned to the lineup in early April, has batted .395 in his nine games since returning from a hand injury. Sophomore Jack Stronach has been a revelation for the team, batting fifth at around .287 this season. Currently, he ranks as the fifth-toughest batter to strike out in the Pac-12.
USC and UCLA met earlier this season in the Dodger Stadium College Baseball Classic in a back-and-forth contest. USC escaped with a 3-2 win after an eighth inning homer by Nootbaar. Since then, however, the two Los Angeles programs have gone in two different directions. UCLA rebounded from the game at Dodgers Stadium by winning five in a row and now sit near the top of the Pac-12 standings. The Trojans' season has been up-and-down, not able to string together wins on a consistent basis.
USC head coach Dan Hubbs, who has preached all season about not overdoing it, echoed his own sentiment about the upcoming series.
"We just have to be able to take what they give us, not try and do too much," Hubbs said. "I'm expecting them to be close games and if we can just continue to do what we've been doing, I think we'll be in good shape."
All-time, USC leads UCLA in the series 262-137. More recently, UCLA has taken the Los Angeles baseball torch from the Trojans. They swept USC in their series last season, including a 13-0 rout.
Mark Prior played at USC in the early 2000s and was one of the nation's best players and an All-American pitcher. Earlier this year he was hired to coach the bullpen for the Dodgers. He believes the rivalry is the perfect combination of fun and competitiveness and a good showcase of Southern California talent.
"It's a fun rivalry because there is a lot of overlap. A lot of players know each other, grown up playing with each other, against each other in Southern California," Prior said. "There's obviously a lot of connections."
USC still has a chance to turn around their season and some impressive wins over a rival is the perfect way to kick-start it.