Unbeaten USC out to end streak of losing seasons
Alabama's Ben Moore makes a leaping play to save a
Southern California has reason to hope its unprecedented down cycle might be nearing an end.
The Trojans this season are 7-0, with four victories coming on their final at-bat and a 6-1 win over powerful Cal State Fullerton to start last week.
"I think college baseball is better when USC is relevant and making trips to Omaha like they did for so many years," second-year coach Dan Hubbs said Monday. "Our job is to really get that back, and it may take a little bit of time. But I like the direction we're heading."
USC has had four straight losing seasons -- most in a row for a program that dates to 1889 -- and hasn't been over .500 since 2005. The Trojans' streak of eight years with no NCAA appearances is their longest since the tournament started in 1948.
The last of USC's record 12 national championships was won in 1998, and the Trojans haven't made it to Omaha, Neb., for the College World Series since 2001.
The Trojans had 17 freshmen on last year's 35-man roster, and Hubbs said he was willing to take his lumps while keeping an eye on the future. So far, so good.
Junior Wyatt Strahan and senior Bob Wheatley are the top starting pitchers. Strahan touches 97 mph, and the left-handed Wheatley has allowed one earned run in 12 innings. Senior Jake Hernandez (.429), sophomore AJ Ramirez (.409) and freshman Jeremy Martinez (.367) are the top batters.
USC opened with 11- and 15-inning wins over Northwestern. Over the weekend, the Trojans had two walk-off wins over North Dakota State, with Omar Cotto Lozada hitting a three-run homer in the bottom of the 12th on Sunday.
"I'm getting a few more gray hairs," Hubbs said. "I'll play as long as we have to if we come out with a win. They never feel like they're out of anything. I know for a fact that we couldn't have done this last year."
The 43-year-old Hubbs, who pitched for the Trojans in the early 1990s, took over last year after Frank Cruz was fired for violating NCAA rules governing the amount of time players can spend in coach-supervised activities. USC is in the final year of a self-imposed two-year penalty reducing practice time.
Here's a look around college baseball:
GAMECOCKS SHUTOUT RECORD: South Carolina set a school record with its fifth consecutive shutout in a 6-0 win over Eastern Kentucky on Sunday. The Gamecocks (7-0) have held opponents scoreless for 51 consecutive innings. The staff takes a 0.86 ERA into this this weekend's series against rival Clemson.
REA'S BIG DAY: Wes Rea homered three times and drove in eight runs in Mississippi State's double-header split with Holy Cross on Saturday. The Bulldogs are 4-4 after reaching the CWS finals last year.
BIG TEN REPRESENTS: The Big Ten went 5-4 in the Pac-12/Big Ten Challenge in Surprise, Ariz. Nebraska and Michigan State each went 2-1 with upsets of Oregon State, which was ranked No. 1 in one of the major polls. Indiana's disappointing start continued. The Hoosiers, who returned almost everybody from their CWS team, lost two of three and are now 2-5.
NO-HIT NOLA: Aaron Nola of LSU pitched no-hit ball for seven innings against Virginia Tech on Friday. He didn't come out for the eighth because of a pitch-count restriction. It was the furthest an LSU had pitcher had gone without allowing a hit since 1995.
POUNDING PAYTON: Mark Payton went 8 for 10 with five walks, a triple and four RBIs to lead Texas to a three-game series win over Stanford. Payton is batting .613 and slugging .935 through eight games.
RICE ON ROLL: Rice started last week by giving Wayne Graham his 1,000th coaching victory, against Texas State, and finished it with a three-game sweep of Purdue. The Owls recorded their highest run total since 2010 in Sunday's 23-3 victory, and they outscored the Boilermakers 35-5 in the series.