Sunday’s series finale became a battle of the bullpens in the first inning.
New Mexico’s relievers were up to the task, but USC’s were not. And the Lobos took advantage, beating the Trojans 16-7 to split the doubleheader and take the series, two games to one.
The rubber game between USC (5-6) and New Mexico seemed destined to be a shootout when the Lobos scored four in the top of the first, chasing USC senior starter Kevin Couture after just two-thirds of an inning.
The Trojans responded with six in the bottom of the first, roughing up New Mexico starter Mike Lachapelle. He also left after just two-thirds of an inning.
But Richard Olson came on for the Lobos and dazzled, throwing four and one-third innings of shutout baseball. That allowed his team’s bats to score 12 runs off of six USC relievers.
Most of the damage was done off of sophomore Jordan Hershiser (five runs allowed) and junior Brett Williams (five runs).
Justin Howard continued to be a thorn in the Trojans’ side, going 5-6 with two doubles, three runs scored and 5 RBIs. Every New Mexico starter had at least one hit, and eight of the nine starters scored at least one run.
USC had its chances after the first inning, putting at least one man on in every inning except the ninth. But Olson and two relievers kept the Trojans off the board until the eighth, when Keith Castillo’s home run to center field made it 16-7.
New Mexico finished with 16 runs on 20 hits, while the Trojans scored seven runs on 14 hits.
The Lobos’ game three drubbing came after the Trojans took the first game of the doubleheader, 6-2, with timely hitting and solid pitching.
Sophomore Ben Mount continued to shine, picking up the victory with five and two-thirds innings of two-run ball. He allowed just six hits and two walks, and only one of the runs was earned.
Junior Chris Mezger and sophomore Chad Smith combined to throw three and one-third shutout innings in relief.
Sophomore Ricky Oropesa scored three of USC’s six runs and seemed to break out of an early-season funk on Sunday. He went 3-5 with a two-run home run, a double and a stolen base in the first game Sunday to lead USC.
He moved from third in the lineup to the leadoff spot in the second game and went 2-5 with a double, a run scored and one RBI in improving his average to .262.
Sunday’s doubleheader was necessary after Saturday’s game was washed out by rain. The day off came after the Trojans suffered a difficult defeat in Friday’s series opener.
Redshirt sophomore Andrew Triggs was brilliant in the opener, pitching into the eighth inning and striking out a career-high nine batters. But Triggs allowed two runs in the eighth and junior reliever Ryan Cabral allowed the eventual winning run in the top of the ninth.
The Trojans broke through in the first inning Friday when sophomore Alex Sherrod delivered a two-run single to make it 2-0 early. USC sent seven men to the plate in that first inning against New Mexico starter Rudy Jaramllio, and it seemed as if they would hit him hard.
But Jaramillo settled down and shut the Trojans out the rest of the way, allowing just two hits over the next seven innings. He didn’t dazzle, striking out just one batter, but he did enough to pick up the victory.
Edwin Carl came on in the ninth and set the Trojans down in order to preserve the one-run victory.
USC now enters arguably the toughest stretch of its entire schedule. The Trojans travel to Pepperdine Tuesday, and they will play just two of their next 14 games at home.
Their only home games in that stretch are Wednesday against Connecticut and Tuesday, March 23, against the Waves.
USC has a four-game series against at Hawai’i, a three-game series at Pacific and a three-game series at Stanford in that stretch.
The Trojans will open their Pac-10 home schedule April 1st against Oregon State.