USC baseball is 7-0 for the first time since 1988 after sweeping the University of Akron over the weekend at Dedeaux Field, capped by a 9-5 win in the series finale on Sunday.
“It’s awesome to see these guys have fun and really enjoy what they’re doing,” USC coach Frank Cruz said of his team’s boisterous celebration in the clubhouse following the sweep. “It’s really neat. And I hope they don’t forget the feeling of winning, and how good it feels to win.”
It was the Zips who got on the board first, as freshman pitcher Stephen Tarpley struggled to find his control to start the game. Three walks and a hit-by-pitch, coupled with an error by senior right fielder Alex Sherrod, who lost the ball in the sun, put the Trojans in a 3-0 hole heading into the bottom of the second.
“I’m OK with [Tarpley] struggling now,” Cruz said. “To get that out of the way and understand ‘Hey, I really need to be prepared and I’m not gonna just step out on the mound and be good.’”
In the bottom of the second, back-to-back two-out hits by freshman second baseman Dante Flores and freshman center fielder Garrett Stubbs left the Trojans down by one run. After a walk, Sherrod stepped up with the bases loaded and promptly unloaded them, igniting the crowd at Dedeaux Field.
“They had been throwing me first-pitch changeups all series, assuming I was gonna take,” Sherrod said of his first career grand slam that put USC up 6-3. “So if you know a changeup is coming that’s pretty much [batting practice].”
The lefty Sherrod turned on the first-pitch changeup, smacking it high off the parking structure in right field and giving the Trojans a lead they did not relinquish.
Akron slowly began to chip their way back, plating one in the fourth and another in the sixth to make it a one-run game. But the Trojans broke the game open with three runs in the eighth to make the final score 9-5.
“It’s the most fun I’ve had here,” Sherrod said. “Winning makes everything better.”
The Trojan bullpen was stellar, using five pitchers over the final five innings while allowing just one run in relief of Tarpley, who went four-plus innings and managed his first career win.
In two games against Akron before Sunday’s series finale, the Trojans’ consistent offense and strong pitching also helped carry the team to victory.
On Saturday, the freshman connection of Flores and Stubbs made some of the game’s biggest contributions. With the score tied in the bottom of the second, Flores ripped a triple to right, then Stubbs knocked an RBI grounder to short to put USC in the lead.
Two innings later, Flores and Stubbs again combined to produce a Trojan run. Flores smacked a long sacrifice fly to advance runners to second and third, and Stubbs again grounded out up the middle, giving USC a 4-2 lead.
While the freshmen were playing small ball, Sherrod was again not. The Trojan right fielder crushed his first home run of the year — a parking-structure bomb to right field.
Bolstered by his strong offensive support, Trojan pitcher Ben Mount rolled through the Akron lineup. The senior put down the Zips in the first, fifth and sixth innings, including striking out the side in the fifth. And thanks to a double-play in the third and a runner caught stealing in the fourth, he faced just three hitters in every inning except the second and seventh.
Mount’s line read seven innings pitched, allowing just two runs on seven hits with eight strikeouts while walking exactly no one.
Perhaps Mount was inspired on Saturday by his teammate’s performance the night before. On Friday, senior pitcher Andrew Triggs asserted his dominance, going eight innings while allowing just one run on four hits, one walk, and eight strikeouts to pick up the win and improve to 2-0.