USC second baseman Joe De Pinto seems to be enjoying his new role in the middle of the Trojans’ lineup.
The senior took over the team batting average lead Tuesday with a 3-for-3 performance that helped lead USC (3-1) to a 6-3 victory over UC Riverside (1-3).
De Pinto is now batting .643 through the team’s first four games of the season thanks to his flawless performance Tuesday evening at the Riverside Sports Complex. De Pinto reached base in each of his four plate appearances, scored twice and knocked in a run.
“Joe has really played well so far,” said interim head coach Frank Cruz. “He’s really stepped up his game and something people don’t see is that he has really helped the freshman shortstop [James Roberts] feel comfortable.”
After falling behind 1-0 in the first inning, USC responded with three runs in the top of the second inning. De Pinto scored the Trojans’ first run of the game after reaching on one of the three walks surrendered by UC Riverside starting pitcher Dustin Emmons.
An inning later, De Pinto notched his 150th career hit as a Trojan with an RBI single up the middle to score USC’s fourth run.
The Trojans added another run in the sixth inning when junior Matt Foat led off the inning with a double over the right fielder’s head. He scored three batters later when freshman James Roberts collected his second RBI of the game with a single to left field.
In the eighth inning, De Pinto created another run for USC. He laced a pitch from Mark Garcia into the left-centerfield gap and used his speed to leg out a triple. De Pinto trotted home when junior Alex Sherrod grounded out to shortstop.
The Highlanders threatened in the bottom half of the inning after USC reliever Brandon Garcia walked the leadoff hitter and gave up a pair of hits. The second hit plated a run and forced Cruz to go to his bullpen for the seventh time.
In total, USC used nine pitchers. Starter Ben Mount pitched only two and one-third innings, allowing an unearned run on five hits.
Freshman Kyle Richter picked up his first collegiate win with one and two-thirds innings of scoreless relief. He struck out three batters while allowing two hits. Junior Chad Smith picked up his first save of the season with a 1-2-3 ninth inning.
“We were able to pitch a lot of guys and most came in and really did their job well,” Cruz said. “Three base on balls or fewer was our goal, and we were able to achieve that.”
The Trojans will head to Houston next to take on No. 22 Rice. USC will have a chance to go three games above .500 for the first time since April 2009, when they open play with a weekend series against the Owls on Friday at 2:30 p.m.