Trojans can’t excel during Dodgertown Classic

After starting with a 3-1 record after the first week of play, USC (3-4) dropped all three games in the Dodgertown Classic over the weekend, including Sunday’s non-conference game against its crosstown rival.

Against UCLA (6-0), the Trojans weren’t able to get runs across early in the game.

USC stranded runners on third base in each of the first two innings and had a runner gunned down at the plate in the fourth inning when junior Matt Hart tried to tag up and score on a fly ball to left field.

“When we have guys in scoring position and on third base, we need to put the ball in play,” junior Joe De Pinto said. “We need to hit. That’s the bottom line.”

USC put the first run on the scoreboard in the fifth inning when Cade Kreuter and Mike O’Neill hit back-to-back doubles, but the lead was short lived. UCLA tied the ball game up in the bottom half of the inning when Brett Krill doubled home Cody Keefer.

After his bullpen threw 10 1/3 innings in the first two games of the weekend, coach Chad Kreuter was hoping not to have to use his relievers early. But Bruin Steve Rodriguez’s line drive in the second inning nicked senior starting pitcher Kevin Couture’s pitching hand before hitting him squarely on his upper leg.

Couture stayed in the game for two pitches, but called the trainers out when he started bleeding and had trouble gripping the baseball. Kreuter said Couture would have an X-ray on his thumb Monday to assess the injury.

Sophomore Ben Mount replaced Couture and gave the team 4 1/3 solid innings, allowing only two runs.

“Mount stepped up big time,”  Kreuter said of the tough-luck loser. “But that really killed our bullpen when Couture had to go out.”

With the game tied 1-1 in the seventh inning, Mount left after throwing nearly 100 pitches, but Justin Uribe’s single up the middle later in the inning drove in a pair of UCLA runners. The Bruins tacked on three insurance runs in the next inning, including Niko Gallego’s blast off Shuhei Fujiya over the San Manuel Indian Bingo & Casino advertisement in left-centerfield for a home run.

USC finished with seven hits, including a pair by O’Neill.

The Trojans’ weekend started with an extra inning affair Friday night when they fell to Oklahoma State 6-4 in 11 innings at Dedeaux Field. After falling behind 4-0, USC scored a pair of runs in the eighth and ninth innings capped off by a two-run double by De Pinto to tie the game and give fans some free baseball.

But Oklahoma State centerfielder Dusty Harvard delivered the go-ahead single in the 11th inning off Fujiya to help give the Cowboys the 6-4 victory. Harvard also produced the most spectacular catch of the young college baseball season earlier in the game when he made a full-extension dive while sprinting deep into the left-centerfield gap.

On Saturday, USC fell 10-1 to Vanderbilt on a soggy Dedeaux Field. Much like the UCLA game, the Trojans scored first but couldn’t execute with runners on base to build to the lead.

“Two nights in a row we had opportunities to score early runs,” Kreuter said after Sunday’s contest. “And those runs could have been scored with ground balls.”

Sophomore Chad Smith didn’t make it through the fifth inning for his second consecutive start. He cruised through the first four innings but fell apart in the fifth.

Smith hit the first two batters and allowed a double and a walk before being removed from the game. All four hitters would come around to score.

Vanderbilt added three runs in each of the next two innings to turn what had looked like a pitcher’s duel early on into a blowout.

USC will return to the diamond Tuesday when they travel to Long Beach State to take on the Dirtbags at 6:30 p.m.

“We just need to come back and battle Tuesday and hopefully get on a little roll,” Couture said. “Our starters are doing well. We just need to work on our relief pitching.”

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