USC coach Frank Cruz has referred to his team as “prizefighters,” but they’re still searching for that knockout punch.
For the fourth consecutive game, the Trojans (3-5) blew a lead, battled back from a deficit and had their fair share of chances to win the game.
But Tuesday night, it was Long Beach State freshman pinch-hitter Johnny Bekakis who delivered the knockout blow, singling home the winning run off junior closer Chad Smith with one out in the bottom of the ninth to give the Dirtbags a 5-4 win.
It’s the Trojans fourth straight loss and the third by just one run.
The Trojans struck right off the bat in the first. After junior catcher Kevin Roundtree doubled and junior first baseman Ricky Oropesa reached on an error, senior captain and second baseman Joe De Pinto got USC on the board. With a full count, De Pinto ripped a two-RBI two-bagger down the left field line to give the Trojans a quick 2-0 lead.
The Dirtbags threatened in their half of the first, putting runners at the corners with one down. But junior pitcher Ben Mount got out of the jam by inducing a lineout double-play to freshman James Roberts at shortstop.
Mount pitched well, allowing a bunt RBI in the second but otherwise mowing through the Long Beach State lineup until his defense let him down in the fifth inning, as the Dirtbags evened the score at two.
Mount was lifted from the game after the fifth inning, after allowing just one earned run on five hits and striking out four. The Dirtbags took advantage of Mount’s exit.
A leadoff single, a sacrifice bunt and a bloop double that kicked chalk on the left field line gave Long Beach State the lead. Sophomore pitcher Matt Munson entered to try to squash the rally, but designated hitter Jonathan Kim smacked Munson’s first pitch down the left field line for a double, giving the Dirtbags a 4-2 lead.
USC got the runs back in the seventh inning, as freshman centerfielder Omar Cotto Lozada flashed his speed. He led off with an infield single, advanced to second on a passed ball, went to third on a sacrifice bunt and scored on a wild pitch.
After a walk and a wild pitch put Roundtree on second base, De Pinto came through with the clutch hit USC hadn’t found in a week. He ripped a single to right field plating Roundtree to tie the game. The Trojans couldn’t regain the lead, however, and the Dirtbags capitalized in the ninth.