Trojans Limp Into Berkeley to Face Stellar Cal Pitching

Photo: Sophomore second baseman Tony Renda has 20 RBI and a .354 batting average through 22 games this season for the Bears.
Kevin Foote/Photo
Sophomore second baseman Tony Renda has 20 RBI and a .354 batting average through 22 games this season for the Bears.

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The USC baseball team isn't short on stars.

There's Jordan Hershiser, the 6-foot-8 son of Orel, Shane Boras, spawn of super sports agent Scott and a handful of others who are the offspring of less famous Major League Baseball alum. Add to that four players who are related to former Trojan athletes and you've got a legacy-packed squad.

But that doesn't mean they're winning.

USC comes into a three-game series against the red-hot No. 13 Cal baseball team with a record of 9-16, second-worst in the conference. Meanwhile, the Bears are at the top of the Pac-10 and boast a 9-1 record at Evans Diamond, where righty Erik Johnson (4-1, 1.06 ERA) will throw the first pitch at 2:30 p.m. today.

As the Trojans enter the contest on a 1-6 slide, Cal has won its last seven in a row, including a sweep of Washington State to open Pac-10 play.

"It was a good transition from the regular season to the conference," left fielder Vince Bruno said.

The Trojans may be slumping into Berkeley, but Cal has been playing like title contenders. Their team ERA of 1.84 is the third-best in the nation and both Johnson and midweek starter Kevin Miller are both ranked in the top-30 for individual ERA.

The bullpen has been just as good. Setup man Logan Scott is limiting hitters to a .222 batting average, followed by closer Matt Flemer who has given up just two earned runs in 11 appearances.

The pitchers, as good as they've been, also have the new bats to thank. This year, the NCAA mandated that all Division I collegiate baseball teams switch to a new model of metal bat with a smaller sweet spot.

Whereas in the past less precise swings could still yield hits on the springy aluminum bats, now the bat is less forgiving. The result has been lower-scoring, faster-moving games.

And while that's meant the Bears have been almost untouchable on the mound - only one pitcher on the entire squad has an ERA over four - it's also meant the hitters have to do more work to light up the scoreboard.

"Our pitchers are pitching so well. We know they deserve the win," junior shortstop Marcus Semien said. "So we need to hit when they give up a few runs."

Probably as a direct consequence of the new bats, home runs have been few and far between for Cal. Semien leads the team with three; they have 10 total.

They're made up for a lack of power with small ball. They have 150 singles out of 221 total hits and have worked 81 walks.

That scrappiness fits the swagger of the team.

"I don't want to say we're afraid of losing," Semien said, "but we want to keep winning to keep ourselves in the driver's seat in the Pac-10."


Katie Dowd covers baseball. Contact her at [email protected]

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