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Arizona baseball: Wildcats open Pac-12 home slate vs. USC Trojans

Arizona faces Corey Dempster and the USC Trojans at Hi Corbett

JC Cloney delivers a pitch at Hi Corbett Field
Rachel Huston

A great adage coined long ago states that there's no place like home.

That phrase rings true for sports teams of all shapes and sizes, but especially for Arizona Wildcats head coach Jay Johnson and company after last weekend's debacle in Corvallis.

The Wildcats, who entered last week's series against the top-ranked Oregon State Beavers as the ninth-ranked team in the nation, endured a nightmarish three day stretch.

They lost the first two games of the series in heartbreaking fashion, falling 4-3 and 5-4, respectively, on dueling walk-offs.

The Wildcats followed that up by getting run out of Goss Stadium in Sunday's finale, losing 11-7 on a fog-laden Sunday.

Veteran southpaw Rio Gomez was hammered by the Beavers in that tilt, surrendering five runs (three earned) in 3 2/3 innings pitched.

The Cats’ inconsistent pitching on Sunday sullied a phenomenal effort turned in by sophomore infielder Alfonso Rivas, who went 3-5 with four RBI.

Luckily for Johnson and the Cats, they return to the cavernous enclave in Midtown Tucson that they call home, as they'll face the USC Trojans this weekend for a three game tilt.

The Trojans, who were picked 10th in the 11-team Pac-12 in the preseason, have put together an encouraging season so far. They come to Tucson with a 15-8 overall record, and are 4-2 in Pac-12 play.

They're fresh off a series win against ASU in the City of Angels, winning two out of three games, despite being outscored 15-11 in those contests.

The Trojans' surprise start has a lot to do with their balanced lineup, with four hitters in their starting nine hitting above .300. They are led by Brandon Perez, who's hitting .338 in 22 games.

The Wildcats’ starting rotation of JC Cloney, Randy Labaut, and Rio Gomez will have to get back to doing what they do best; pitching to contact.

They'll also need their offensive attack led by Rivas, who's fourth in the conference in batting average (.395), ninth in slugging (.579), first in on-base percentage (.525) and second in RBI (30), to carry them forward.

Rivas, as well as contact-turned-power threat Jared Oliva, who surprisingly ranks third in the conference with three dingers and first with 32 RBI, will need to be sharp for Arizona to get the series win.

With that being said, here are the Trojans that the Wildcats would be smart to study up on, ahead of Friday's 7 p.m. first pitch:

1. Brandon Perez (Sophomore SS) As listed above, the Newport Beach native has been a phenomenal two-way infielder for the Trojans this year, leading the team in average (.338) and hits (27), while only making two errors in 22 games in the field. The Mater Dei product has posted an impressive .756 OPS as well, and seems to be the go-to bat for head coach Dan Hubbs. Arizona pitchers would be wise to keep a close eye on the six-foot-tall infielder, as he's proven he can put the ball in play with ease.

2. Corey Dempster (Senior outfielder) Dempster is really the Trojans’ version of Cody Ramer, as the senior's proven himself to be the team's unquestioned leader and offensive tour de force. Dempster is punishing pitchers so far, posting a .325 average in 19 games started, plus an .857 OPS and 40 total bases. Dempster will likely slide into the two or three hole in the Trojans’ lineup this weekend, and can put pressure on corner infielders, as the Loyola High School product has above-average speed, posting a team-high 10 stolen bases last year. Arizona should be all-too-familiar with Dempster, who torched them for six hits in ten at-bats during their three-game series in late April last year. Don't be surprised if Dempster, who's hit a team-high eight doubles this year, finds a way to be a nuisance for Arizona once again this weekend.

3. Brad Wegman (Junior pitcher) Wegman, after a rough start to his junior season, has rebounded nicely in two Pac-12 starts. The Temecula native, who went 2-1 with a 3.48 ERA in 20 2/3 innings a year ago, has an uninspiring 2-3 record and 4.60 ERA this year. His conference stats have been much better though, posting a 1-1 record and 1.69 ERA with nine strikeouts in 10 2/3 innings pitched. Wegman is not listed as a starter this weekend, but when used, he and Chris Clarke (who stands a whopping 6-foot-7-inches tall) could provide some serious issues to the heart of Arizona's order.

4. Lars Nootbaar (Sophomore infielder) — The real pop in the Trojans’ lineup this year has been Nootbaar. He leads the team in home runs (4) and has put up a ridiculous OPS of 1.053. His power threat has turned him into the conference’s leading walk drawer, earning 23 bases on balls this year, three more than the next best mark in the Pac-12 (Arizona’s Cal Stevenson — 20). You would expect him to strikeout a decent amount, but there are three other USC players with more Ks this year. Shut down Nootbaar, shut down USC.