LOS ANGELES–This weekend is proving to be a nice showcase for West Coast baseball, off the field as well as on. Yesterday I got the chance to check out UC Riverside’s new locker room and offices (hand-built by former Highlander Troy Percival). Today I’m at lovely Dedeaux Field on the campus of Southern California, where the Trojans are taking on Washington State. USC just built a beautiful Hall of Fame complex that is worthy of the program’s unparalleled tradition, featuring large cases for the school’s gaggle of national championship trophies, tributes to Rod Dedeaux, Mark McGwire and other USC greats, and even some plush leather couches and a giant flat-screen television. Earlier this year, the Trojans replaced their wooden outfield wall with a nice padded wall, and next year they’ll add a brand new video scoreboard and new batting cages. This program is clearly headed in the right direction, and it’s easy to get excited about that outstanding freshman class and the promising group of 2007 recruits.
USC has struggled of late, losing nine of its last 11 games, thanks largely to an offense that has gone into a tailspin. The bats came alive a bit today, and freshmen like Robert Stock and Grant Green had some good swings. The Trojans scored six times over the first two innings, allowed the Cougars to cut the deficit to 6-4, then padded their lead with three more runs over the fourth and fifth innings. If they can hold on, they’ll even their record at 22-22. This is a must-win series for a team that still has a chance at an NCAA tournament bid thanks to an RPI bolstered by a tough nonconference schedule, but improving that 4-9 conference record is imperative. One other thought: USC junior Matt Cusick rapped out a couple of hits, showing signs of emerging from his season-long funk. The former third baseman looked very good defensively at second, making a terrific diving stop on a sharp ground ball up the middle and demonstrating good range and smooth actions all afternoon.
Washington State, meanwhile, has been a little banged up. Sophomores Jared Prince and Travis Coulter are both playing with injured shoulders–the athletic Coulter is limited to DH duties, and Prince has been relegated to just the outfield after also going 6-2, 4.53 off the mound as a freshman. He’s pitched just five innings this year, posting a 10.12 ERA, and Washington State coach Donnie Marbut said he’s likely to have surgery after the season. Marbut seems optimistic about the direction of his program as well; he said Oregon State’s recent success has presented a challenge for Washington State on the recruiting trail, but it also shows recruits that it is possible to win in the Pacific Northwest, which could help the Cougars keep in-state players local. The Cougars have a solid recruiting class lined up for next year and could be a factor in the Pac-10 in 2008, particularly if Prince comes back strong.
Next up on my tour of improved West Coast facilities is a stop at UC Irvine later this afternoon. The Anteaters will hold a dedication ceremony for The Newkirk Pavilion at Anteater Ballpark before the game.