Sometimes you run into a hot team on a winning streak, and there’s nothing you can do. But when you give away outs and don’t get timely hitting, it becomes nearly impossible to win.
That was the case over the weekend for the USC baseball team. California improved its winning streak to eight games by sweeping a three-game set from USC (15-17, 2-7).
In the finale Sunday, the Trojans fell 4-3 as they filed to push across the game-tying run in the eighth inning when they stranded a pair of runners despite having men on first and third with only one out.
After junior infielder Joe De Pinto and freshman pinch hitter Cade Kreuter walked to lead off the eighth inning, USC got back-to-back singles by sophomore infielder Matt Foat and sophomore designated hitter Brandon Garcia, but junior third baseman Matt Hart struck out and senior center fielder Mike O’Neill flew out.
Cal (20-10, 6-3) took a quick 1-0 lead on first baseman Mark Canha’s fourth extra base of the series. Canha rocketed a fastball to dead center field just to the left of the 395-foot marker for a solo home run.
Hart tied the game in the bottom of the second inning with an RBI-single to center field, scoring Foat, who led off the inning with a single past the first baseman.
Stringing together three singles and then taking advantage of a pair of hit batsmen, Cal scored two runs in the fourth and added another in the sixth to make it 4-1 prior to the eighth inning drama. Brian Guinn collected his seventh hit and fourth RBI of the series scoring Marcus Semien with a single to center field.
USC had its worst defensive performance of the season Friday night, committing six errors. The Trojan pitching was just as bad allowing 18 hits — two shy of the season-high.
Sophomore first baseman Ricky Oropesa put USC ahead with a three-run homer as the Trojans took a 4-1 lead, but it was short-lived.
Senior Kevin Couture gave up three runs in the second inning to tie the game. He then failed to make it out of the third inning. Cal scored six runs to take a commanding 10-4 lead. The Golden Bears added another four runs, taking advantage of USC’s defensive and pitching struggles before the Trojans showed some life in the seventh inning.
They scored five runs to cut the lead to 14-9, highlighted by sophomore Taylor Wrenn’s three-run blast to right-center — his first home run as a Trojan. But that’s as close as they would get as Cal added two runs to make the final tally 16-9.
Cal’s Erik Johnson picked up the win improving to 5-1 while Kevin Couture fell to 2-1 on the season.
It was more of the same on Saturday. USC was hurt by defensive lapses and couldn’t come up with the timely hits as they fell 7-1.
After an error kept the fifth inning alive, Cal was able to score three runs taking advantage of another error and a passed ball. It added a run the next inning and then forced sophomore starter Ben Mount from the game in the seventh inning after Guinn singled home Jimmy Bosco to make the score 5-0.
The Golden Bears tacked on another pair of runs in the inning on a two-run double by Canha. USC added a single run in the bottom of the seventh inning on a Joe De Pinto fielder’s choice, but it was all they could scrape across against Cal starter Justin Jones.
Jones improved to 7-2 despite pitching from the stretch for the majority of the afternoon, allowing nine hits and two walks.
De Pinto, Foat and Kreuter all recorded multi-hit games, but the Trojans could never get the clutch hits, leaving eight men on base.
USC will now have four days to prepare for next weekend’s trip to Arizona State, who was No. 1 in the nation entering the weekend and is currently tied with Cal for first place in the Pac-10 standings.