Last week, junior pitcher Chris Mezger said the bullpen had to step up. He said the group of relievers had to minimize the damage and avoid the big inning. He couldn’t have pitched any truer to his words Tuesday night in USC’s 9-7 win over host Loyola Marymount at George C. Page Stadium.
The Trojans (13-12) moved to 5-1 in midweek competitions thanks to Mezger’s ability to come in and quell a Lions’ rally early in the first inning.
“Mezger did phenomenal tonight,” USC coach Chad Kreuter said. “I’m extremely excited about how he’s been pitching.”
LMU (13-12) chased senior Shuhei Fujiya from his first start as a Trojan before he even recorded an out. Fujiya loaded the bases with a pair of walks and a single through the right side before the Lions’ most dangerous hitter, Matt Koch, doubled down the left field line driving in two runs.
LMU’s infielder Matt Lowenstein followed with a RBI single that spelled the end of the day for Fujiya. Kreuter made the call to the bullpen for Mezger, his most versatile reliever. The lanky 6-foot-10 right hander was stellar once again, getting out of the jam and allowing only a squeeze bunt to score Lowenstein.
Mezger baffled the LMU hitters for four innings, allowing only one single while recording three strikeouts. He picked up his third win in relief, improving his record to 3-0 and lowering his ERA to 1.80 in 20 innings.
Juniors Logan Odom and Ryan Cabral and sophomore Brandon Garcia pieced together four innings, giving up single runs in the fifth, sixth and seventh innings before sophomore Chad Smith came in to slam the door shut in the ninth inning. Smith struck out two Lions’ batters and then induced a ground ball to third base to earn his second career save — his first this season.
“Chad had some really special stuff tonight,” Kreuter said. “We would like to have a defined closer, but right now the defined role in our bullpen is the hot hand.”
After scoring only one run in Sunday’s series finale at Stanford, the Trojans wasted little time getting on the scoreboard against the Lions. It took only two batters.
Junior second baseman Joe De Pinto was plunked by a pitch to lead off the game, and sophomore first baseman Ricky Oropesa doubled to the left-centerfield gap to score De Pinto. Oropesa came in to score later in the inning when LMU’s starting pitcher Aaron Griffin uncorked his first of two wild pitches.
USC continued the scoring in the second inning with another pair of runs on freshman shortstop Adam Landecker’s first career home run.
“We had a hit-and-run play on with a 2-0 count, and he fouled it off,” Kreuter said. “So I put [the hit-and-run] back on and he hit it over the big wall in left field.”
The shortstop reached base three times in the contest, scoring a pair of runs.
“It’s fun as a coach to watch another young player have success,” Kreuter said.
De Pinto also had a pair of runs and a pair of RBI after he drove in two runs in the top of the fourth inning. USC knocked Griffin out of the game and stretched its lead to 8-4 in the fifth inning with a pair of runs, including sophomore infielder Matt Foat’s fifth home run this season.
Griffin (2-2) was saddled with the loss after allowing eight runs (seven earned) on six hits and five walks in four and two-thirds innings.
Koch, Lowenstein and outfielder Ryan Hawthorne each recorded multi-hit games for LMU.
The Trojans will be back in action when they host Oregon State for a three-game series beginning Thursday.