It was Senior Day on Sunday at Dedeaux Field.
How fitting it was, then, that one of USC’s two seniors, righthanded reliever Danny Cooper, picked up the save with a superb performance.
After junior Brad Boxberger went six strong innings but exited with just a 3-2 lead, Cooper came in and shut the door, holding visiting Stanford scoreless for three innings. By the time Cooper recorded the last out — a pinch-hit groundout — the Trojans had managed two more runs and secured a 5-2 victory over the Cardinal (29-22, 12-12 Pac-10).
It was the first win of the three-game set for a reeling USC team that had lost 11 of its last 13. The spell dropped the Trojans from NCAA Regional hopefuls to unlikely postseason competitors.
“We had a huge monkey on our back,” said junior shortstop Grant Green. “We’ve lost our last nine weekend games, so we came out here and played a good game and kind of got that monkey off our back.”
It didn’t come easy though, as in the ninth inning with Stanford’s Brent Milleville on first base. Cardinal designated hitter Jeff Whitlow hit a grounder to Green at shortstop, who turned and started what appeared to be a game-ending double play. However, sophomore second baseman Joe De Pinto dropped Green’s toss to eliminate any chance of turning two and seemingly make Milleville safe at second. Yet, first base umpire Steve Mattingly ruled the runner out, and despite a spirited protest from Stanford head coach Mark Marquess, Mattingly didn’t budge.
“From what I could tell it did look like he might have bobbled it a little bit,” said redshirt freshman righthander Andrew Triggs, who was warming up in the bullpen at the time. “It definitely came down on our side, especially [considering it was] in the ninth inning.”
The Trojans opened the game with a manufactured run, as leadoff hitter Mike O’Neill singled and came around on a sacrifice bunt, an infield hit and an RBI knock into left field by freshman Ricky Oropesa.
From there, Stanford starter Michael Marshall held the USC offense in check, but the Trojans broke through for two more runs in the fifth. After a Billy Pinkerton RBI single in the sixth, Green capped the scoring with a solo home run in the seventh inning.
USC’s Boxberger struck out the first five Stanford hitters he faced on his way to retiring the first nine hitters in order.
“He definitely got off to a super strong start and it was exactly what we needed, especially after Friday and Saturday,” said redshirt freshman righthander Andrew Triggs. “It was really good to have someone be the stopper because you never like to have someone take three from you on your own field.”
Friday and Saturday weren’t pretty, as the Trojans were outscored 17-7 in the two losses with a restructured pitching staff. Boxberger, the usual Friday starter, had his scheduled start pushed back to Sunday because of a lingering illness, so lefthander Anthony Vasquez, the other senior on the roster, started the game instead.
Vasquez lasted eight innings but suffered from a Stanford offensive outburst, giving up all six of his runs in the third. He gave up five singles and a double but didn’t help his own cause, committing two errors — one fielding, one throwing — and hitting a batter, before coming out of the game down 6-2.
The Trojans rallied for four runs in the bottom of the ninth on a Vasquez grand slam, but reliever Ryan Cabral gave up two more in the top half of the inning and USC fell 8-6.
Saturday, junior righthander Robert Stock didn’t fare much better, tossing only four innings and giving up six runs in what amounted to his worst start of the season.
Stanford lefthander Brett Mooneyham shut down the USC offense, striking out 11 Trojans and allowing only one run in a complete game seven-hitter.
With postseason contention not mathematically impossible but certainly unexpected, USC (25-27, 11-13) will now travel to Cal for a weekend series that will likely conclude the Trojans’ season. Stock and Boxberger will start the Friday and Saturday games, respectively, and Vasquez will make his final collegiate start Sunday.