Pac-12 'Thursday Night Baseball' Preview: UCLA at USC
Who: UCLA at USC
On the call: JB Long and Wes Clements on Pac-12 Network and Pac-12 Los Angeles
Where: Los Angeles, CA
If this week’s ‘Thursday Night Baseball’ matchup is anything like the last time USC and UCLA played each other, Pac-12 baseball fans are in for a doozy at Dedeaux Field on USC’s campus.
Back on March 5, the Trojans responded from a three-run deficit to take a 4-3 win in extra innings against their crosstown rival UCLA. While that contest in March was a non-conference affair in Dodger Stadium, this weekend’s three-game set will count toward the Pac-12 standings as both schools enter the last month of the regular season.
Take a look at both SoCal squads entering Thursday’s anticipated showdown in Tinseltown.
In the visitor’s dugout: UCLA (21-20 overall, 10-8 in Pac-12)
The Bruins are looking to bounce back from Tuesday’s tough loss to San Diego State, when the Aztecs pushed across three runs in the top of the ninth to claim an 8-6 victory.
Perhaps the biggest problem plaguing the Bruins this season has been a lack of consistency at the plate. UCLA ranks dead last in the Pac-12 in team batting average (.254), but does possess some power, as noted by the team’s 30 home runs, which ranks second in the league.
On the flipside, the Bruins pitching staff has been tough to hit all year, as it ranks second in opponents’ batting average at .237 and tops in strikeouts (347).
Players to Watch
Sean Bouchard, 1B, Junior
The slugging first baseman has been the major power supply for UCLA’s offense this year, leading the team in hits (48), home runs (seven), doubles (12), RBIs (29) and slugging (.559) while ranking second in batting average (.316). Bouchard has also been a durable player for coach John Savage, as he’s the only Bruin to have played in all 41 contests so far this year.
Brett Stephens, OF, Senior
UCLA’s electric leadoff man has been red-hot during his current four-game hitting streak, posting a .438 batting average (7-for-16), while recording three doubles and six RBIs in that span. Stephens also brings some stellar defense to the Bruins outfield whether he’s playing in center or left, and has yet to commit an error this season.
In the home dugout: USC (19-22 overall, 6-12 in Pac-12)
The Trojans’ youth has been on display as the team grinds through Pac-12 play, as it hasn’t claimed a series victory since taking two out of three against Arizona State in late March. USC got a nice taste of winning on Saturday, topping No. 1 Oregon State, 7-5 in Corvallis, but the team has lost eight of its last 10.
The future looks bright for the program, but current problems on the mound are holding the Trojans back. USC enters Thursday’s contest with a 5.33 team ERA, which ranks last out of all Pac-12 teams.
Players to watch
Brandon Perez, 2B, Sophomore
Perez might not pack a lot of pop in his bat, but he’s the toughest out in USC’s lineup. He enters play on Thursday with the Pac-12’s fifth-highest batting average (.364), leading the Trojans with 56 hits and ranking second with 23 runs scored.
Lars Nootbar, IF/OF, Sophomore
The streaky sophomore was held hitless in 12 at-bats against Oregon State last weekend but the Bruins are familiar with Nootbar’s capabilities. In the March 5 Trojan victory, Nootbar delivered a two-run triple and go-ahead RBI double in the 10th. For the year, Nootbar is tied for the team lead in home runs (five), second in RBIs (25) and third in batting average (.290).