Wyatt Strahan is becoming a freshman fixture in the Trojans bullpen.
After dealing 2 1/3 scoreless innings over the weekend, including his first career win on Sunday, the freshman righty was again stellar on Tuesday night in Long Beach. Strahan shut out Long Beach State in both the eighth and ninth innings, facing just seven hitters to preserve the Trojans’ 4-2 victory over the Dirtbags and record his first career save.
“He’s one of our two closers right now,” said USC coach Frank Cruz of the freshman Strahan. “He’s done real well for us so far.”
What proved to be the winning run was a case of textbook case of good situational hitting. With the score tied and one out in the fourth, shortstop James Roberts stepped to the plate with runners on second and third. The sophomore knocked a ground ball to the second baseman, whose only play was to first, allowing senior rightfielder Alex Sherrod to score the eventual winning run from third and put USC up 3-2.
“He just put the ball in play,” Cruz said of Roberts. “That’s all he needed to do in that situation and that’s just what he did.”
USC was the first to strike. With two down in the second inning and Sherrod on second base, sophomore designated hitter Jake Hernandez smacked an RBI double to right to give the Trojans a 1-0 lead.
The Dirtbags came right back in their half of the second. With runners at the corners and two down, senior pitcher Brandon Garcia balked, tying the game and putting a runner on second.
An error once again put runners at the corners, and the next Dirtbags hitter capitalized with a knock to center to give Long Beach State a 2-1 lead.
But USC answered in the third, as senior catcher Kevin Roundtree came through with a clutch two-out RBI single to tie the game, and the Trojans took the lead on Roberts’ groundout in the fourth.
Meanwhile, Garcia was mowing down the Dirtbags on the mound, putting them down quietly in the third, fourth and fifth, before being removed after allowing a two-out single in the sixth.
All told, Garcia went 5 2/3 solid innings, allowing two runs, one earned, on five hits with one walk and four strikeouts.
The USC bullpen was superb in relief of Garcia, using a combination of four pitchers to shut out the Dirtbags over the next 4 1/3 innings.
The Trojans added an insurance run in the eighth. Senior first baseman Matt Foat doubled with two outs, and then scored on two subsequent wild pitches to give USC a 4-2 lead.
USC threatened again in the ninth, but Foat hit into a bases loaded 4-6-3 double play to end the inning.
All told, the Trojans stranded eight runners in the game, including at least one in every inning from the second through sixth.
That could be viewed as a positive: The only innings the Trojans went down in order were the first and seventh.
But runners left on base were a huge problem for the Trojans last year, and could come back to bite them at any time.
“It’s early,” Cruz said of both his team’s struggles and successes. “We’ve got a long season ahead of us and we’ll see how it plays out.”
But for now, the Trojans are 4-0. They will next put their perfect record on the line against 0-3 Akron this weekend at Dedeaux Field.