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Diamond Deacs Weekend Preview: USC @ Wake Forest

The Diamond Deacs look to get on the right track this weekend against Southern California

USC celebration

It was a rough opening weekend for the Diamond Deacs (2-3), as they fell three times (twice to Houston, once to Nicholls State) down in Houston. They bounced back with a nice 15-8 mid-week win over UNC-G, but now welcome the Southern California Trojans to Winston-Salem for a three game series.

The Trojans are one of the best college baseball programs historically, having captured 12 National Championships, but their last one was in 1998. They actually went from 2005-2015 without making the NCAA Tournament at all, and haven’t appeared in the College World Series since 2001.

While they may not be the powerhouse that they used to be, they have a strong team this season and this will be a good barometer of where the Deacs stand early on.

Despite leading the Pac-12 in batting average last year, Southern California finished the season 28-28., They are looking to get back into the NCAA Tournament, and have high expectations accompanying them.

The Trojans will enter the weekend at 4-0, having crushed the Coppin State Eagles by a combined run tally of 37-8. They played an exhibition game against the NC Dinos on Wednesday, who I believe is a Korean professional baseball team. They dropped that by a score of 5-2.

This afternoon (4 PM @ David Couch Ballpark, ACC Network/ESPN3) will feature a pretty good pitching matchup, as USC’s Mitch Hart (1-0, 0.00 ERA, 9 K’s) will face off against Wake’s Parker Dunshee (0-1, 10.80 ERA).

Tomorrow (4 PM) will feature Connor Johnstone (1-0, 0.00) coming off of the first complete-game shutout since 2006 (which is unbelievable when you think about it) against Brad Wegman (1-0, 1.50).

On Sunday (1PM), Donnie Sellers (0-0, 2.45) will take the mound against Marrick Crouse (1-0, 4.50) of Southern Cal.

All six projected starters are right-handed.

Wegman and Crouse are both new to starting this season, and it will be interesting to see how they fare against a strong contact lineup in Wake Forest. Pryor, Fairchild, and Sheets will all push their pitching staff, and will hopefully generate enough runs for the Wake pitching staff to manage.

It would be ideal if Wake Forest can take the series against the Trojans and tonight will go along way in doing that. Dunshee allowed 6 earned runs his last time out against Houston, while striking out 5 guys and allowing no walks. He only got one run of support, but will need to be a lot better today against the Trojans.

The projected lineup for the Deacs for the majority of the weekend should look like:

  1. Jonathan Pryor (LF)
  2. Johnny Aiello (3B)
  3. Stuart Fairchild (CF)
  4. Gavin Sheets (1B)
  5. Keegan Maronpot (RF)
  6. Logan Harvey (C)
  7. Christian Long (DH)
  8. Jake Mueller (2B)
  9. Patrick Frick (SS)

Ben Breazeale will likely see a fair amount of action this weekend too, and may take over a game or two at catcher. He caught Dunshee last weekend before exiting early with an injury, so he may start there again tonight.

The bullpen has started out struggling again in a small sample size of 19 innings pitched so far. They have allowed 14 earned runs (6.63 ERA), and allowed 6/15 inherited runners to score. That will need to improve as the year goes along. It looks like Drew Loepprich will be relied on heavily, as he has already thrown 5.1 innings, but allowed 4 earned runs.

As far as who to watch on the USC side, center fielder Lars Nootbaar has started off the year hot, batting 8-12 with 2 HR and 10 RBIs through four games. The middle infield duo of Frankie Rios and Brandon Pereze have combined for 8 RBIs and are both batting in the mid-.300’s as well.

There is great weather projected for today’s series opener, so get out there after work and support the Diamond Deacs if you can. They deserve your support, and the changes that have been made to Couch Ballpark are worth viewing as well.