University of Connecticut third baseman Mike Olt’s ninth inning double off the glove of USC senior centerfielder Mike O’Neill knocked in the game-winning run as the Huskies defeated the Trojans, 5-4, on a windy Wednesday night at Dedeaux Field.
The Huskies improved to 6-2 on the young season, while the Trojans (6-7) fell back under .500 after dropping the second game of a brutal stretch that finds them playing six contests in seven days.
“We hate losing. We’re very disappointed we haven’t played better at home,” USC coach Chad Kreuter said. “But I don’t think we can really hang our heads too much other than we readjust, and the kids have to keep on plugging away and not get down.”
Sophomore Brandon Garcia (0-1) took the loss for the Trojans, while reliever Scott Oberg (1-0) picked up the win for UConn. Kevin Vance earned the save.
USC hopped on board first in the second inning on O’Neill’s sacrifice fly that brought home freshman designated hitter Cade Kreuter. The Trojans added another run off UConn junior starter Robert Van Woert in the third inning when sophomore left fielder Matt Foat hit an RBI groundout to shortstop, driving home sophomore first baseman Ricky Oropesa.
But the Huskies mounted a two-out rally against USC sophomore starter Chad Smith, who had dominated the first four innings of the game. With runners on second and third and two down in the inning, Smith appeared to be on the verge of escaping the jam unscathed. But Smith threw a wild pitch that allowed designated hitter Matt Burnett to score from third. Huskies’ second baseman Pierre LePage then hit an infield single to second base, which allowed catcher Joe Pavone to touch home plate and tie the game at two.
Smith then balked, allowing LePage to advance to second, and sophomore shortstop Nick Ahmed singled home LePage in a long, gritty at bat that chased the pitcher from the game.
The Trojans tied the game in the bottom of the frame when Oropesa drove in O’Neill on a single to right field, but the Huskies took the lead right back when Pavone drove in a run in the bottom of the inning.
Once again, USC responded with a run of its own in the bottom half of the fifth on sophomore catcher Kevin Roundtree’s sacrifice fly to centerfield.
“What we take out of this game tonight is we battled,” Kreuter said. “The team competed but fell short.”
With the score tied at four, the game became a battle of the bullpens in the later innings. Each reliever held the opposing team scoreless until Ahmed led off the ninth inning with a single against USC sophomore reliever Brandon Garcia, and Olt drove him in two batters later.
A ninth-inning USC rally fell short when Foat struck out swinging, leaving junior second baseman Joe De Pinto stranded at second base to end the game.
Next up for the Trojans is a four-game series in Honolulu as USC will take on Hawai’i Friday through Monday. Sophomore ace Andrew Triggs (1-0, 4.12) will start off the weekend Friday for the Trojans against Josh Slaats (1-0, 0.52) of Hawai’i at 6:35 p.m.
“The road has been good to us so far,” Kreuter said. “Hopefully, it stays good to us out there. We’ve got to stay focused in Hawaii.”