Spring break was no break at all for the USC baseball team, as they played a packed set of games against strong opponents.
The Trojans played seven road games over the break, flying across the ocean to take on Hawai’i and traveled to Northern California where they faced off with Pacific. USC went 4-3 and evened its season record at 10-10.
Coming away with a winning record after such a long road trip might seem like a positive. But USC coach Chad Kreuter said a poll of the players and coaches would return a different answer.
“They’d say it was disappointing [to go 4-3],” Kreuter said. “It looks good for a road record on paper, but we gave away the first game at Hawai’i and didn’t pitch or execute as well as we needed to.”
After taking three of four from the Rainbows, USC dropped the first two games at Pacific before bouncing back Sunday with its largest offensive output of the season, scoring 15 runs and knocking 21 hits.
Freshman Cade Kreuter started the onslaught in the second inning when he hit his first of two home runs. He finished the week batting .409 (9-22) to boost his average to a robust .360 — best among full-time starters.
Sophomores Matt Foat and Ricky Oropesa also hit home runs Sunday. Foat had a big game going 2-4 with five RBI while Oropesa’s home run was the culmination of a stellar week.
In his last five games, the left-handed hitting sophomore has batted .600 (12-20) with three home runs, four doubles and nine RBI — recording RBI in all five games.
With a solid relief effort allowing two runs in 4.1 innings, sophomore Brandon Garcia picked up the victory Sunday. Garcia’s effort was emblematic of the team’s last six games — when the relief pitching was solid, the team won.
In the March 12 series opener against Hawai’i, USC blew a 2-0 lead in the bottom of the seventh inning when it committed three errors. Sophomore starting pitcher Andrew Triggs didn’t help his cause committing two of them. The bullpen then allowed four runs the following inning to give the Rainbows an 8-2 victory.
The Trojans took the next three games from Hawai’i, only allowing three runs and while winning 3-1, 12-2 and 9-0.
Sophomore Ben Mount pitched his first complete game March 13, allowing one run on five hits and striking out eight. The following day, senior Kevin Couture pitched five innings to pick up the win while juniors Chris Mezger and Logan Odom threw four scoreless innings allowing only one hit.
In the series finale, sophomore Chad Smith, senior Shuhei Fujiya and Garcia combined for the best pitching performance of the season — zero runs, three hits, 11 strikeouts.
The team hoped to carry its success into the weekend series against Pacific but struggled from the mound. Triggs gave up six runs, Mount allowed four runs, the Tigers got to Couture for seven runs and the bullpen combined to surrender six runs in eight innings.
Only Garcia’s relief performance and the offensive outburst on Sunday saved USC from being swept.
Kreuter said the team’s pitching struggles are all very similar.
“In the seventh or eighth inning, we give up runs in bunches,” Kreuter said. “It’s usually just one pitch. Something like a 1-2 breaking ball that we hang instead of getting in the dirt.”
“The guys did a really good job of correcting that in Hawaii,” he said. “We’re heading in the right direction. We’ve just got to get over that hump and learn from those mistakes.”
The Trojans will look to carry momentum from Sunday’s 15-9 win as they host Pepperdine at 6:30 p.m. tonight in their final tune-up game before the conference schedule begins this weekend.
After his strong outing last Monday against Hawai’i, Smith will get the start.