It is one of the most gut-wrenching and disappointing sights in baseball: watching the other team celebrate a walk-off victory.
Eight weeks ago, the USC baseball team watched Long Beach State celebrate a walk-off win on a frigid Tuesday night in Long Beach. Today, the Trojans (18-21) have a chance to return the favor as they host the Dirtbags (19-18) at 6 p.m.
“[Long Beach’s] game-winning single was hit to me,” said junior right fielder Alex Sherrod. “I had a chance to throw the guy out and I bobbled it. You try to release the mental brick, but personally, I’m still hanging on to that. You try to put your losses behind you, but I’m still thinking about it.”
When the Trojans last faced Long Beach, they scored two runs in the seventh to even the game at four and threatened to take the lead in the ninth. It was the Dirtbags, however, who came through with an RBI-single in the bottom of the ninth off junior closer Chad Smith to walk away with a 5-4 win.
Junior pitcher Ben Mount started that game and gave the Trojan’s five innings of one-run ball. But with Smith out for the season with an elbow injury, USC interim coach Frank Cruz is trusting Mount to fill the closer’s role.
The righty is third on the team with a 2.89 ERA and has allowed just one run in his last eight and one-third innings of work.
“Mount has a lot of confidence right now,” Cruz said. “He’s keeping the ball down well. Most importantly, he’s just throwing strikes.”
Mount’s move to closer means freshman Kyle Richter will make his third career start today.
The young lefty has electric stuff, as opponents are hitting just .216 against him. But he has struggled throwing strikes, issuing 13 free passes hitting two batters in 19 and two-third innings of work.
Against Loyola Marymount last Tuesday, however, Richter started the Trojans off with two perfect innings before being removed to save his arm for the weekend.
“That won’t happen this week,” Cruz said. “We’ve got an extra day’s rest, so we’ll let Richter go a little more.”
Last weekend, the Trojans played Washington in a Thursday through Saturday series instead of the traditional Friday through Sunday to avoid playing on Easter, meaning the team only had Wednesday off.
This weekend the Trojans are back to the classic scheduling, giving them the usual two days of rest.
USC took two of three from the Huskies this weekend to notch its third-consecutive Pac-10 series win, but dropped the final game of the series for just the second time this season in Pac-10 play.
Although the series victory is important, losing the final game leaves the team and Cruz with what the first-year coach calls a “sour taste.”
“It was a good series,” Sherrod said. “But obviously you want to complete the sweep when you have the chance.”
Although the Trojans cannot sweep the Dirtbags, they have a chance for something almost as special: revenge.
But Cruz, Sherrod and the rest of the team know that they can’t get too caught up in that.
“Obviously you want to get them back,” Cruz said. “But it’s not so much about exacting revenge as it is about us just getting back on the winning track.”
First pitch is at 6 p.m. at Dedeaux Field.