After dropping the first two games of a three game set against No. 6 North Carolina over the weekend, the USC baseball team managed to avoid a series sweep with a 5-2 victory over the Tar Heels (8-2) on Sunday.
The Trojans (8-3) fell behind 1-0 in the bottom of the fourth, and looked as they would go quietly in the top of the fifth. But with two outs, senior outfielder Garret Houts singled and stole second.
Junior second baseman Adam Landecker singled him home and advanced to third on a double by senior first baseman Matt Foat. Both scored on a single by senior catcher Kevin Roundtree. Roundtree moved to third on a double by sophomore third baseman Kevin Swick, and both scored on a single by sophomore shortstop James Roberts before the inning finally came to an end.
All told, six straight Trojan hitters reached base, all with two outs, and five players scoring to put USC up 5-1.
“It just clicked,” said USC coach Frank Cruz of the big fifth inning. “We just got the hits.”
Those five runs were more than enough for Trojan starting pitcher Stephen Tarpley. The freshman did not look like one against one of the best teams in college baseball, going six strong innings, allowing two runs on five hits, with just two walks to his seven strikeouts.
“Stephen pitched great,” Cruz said. “He really stepped up and helped us get out with a win.”
On Saturday, USC got another great performance on the mound, but senior Ben Mount’s seven and 2/3 innings of one-run ball were not enough as the Trojan fell 1-0 in an old-fashioned pitcher’s duel. Tar Heel starter Chris Munnelly allowed a leadoff single to the very first hitter of the game, and then did not give up another hit over seven shutout innings.
“Mount threw really, really well,” Cruz said. “It was a great game, but we squandered our best chance to score.”
The chance came in the eighth inning when sophomore outfielder Omar Cotto Lozada singled to start the inning and moved to second on a fielder’s choice. Cotto Lozada advanced to third on a wild pitch. He broke for home on another wild pitch, but was tagged out at the plate. It was one of just two times in the game the Trojans even got a runner into scoring position.
While the Trojans competed on Saturday, they were torn apart Friday 11-1. The Tar Heels scored three in the second off of senior pitcher Andrew Triggs and two more in the third to put USC in a 5-0 hole early. The Trojans got one back in the seventh, but their bullpen was decimated for six runs over the final two innings to put the game completely out of reach.
The Trojans traveled every player on the team to Chapel Hill “as a reward for their hard work in the fall,” according to Cruz. And while USC lost the series, Cruz said he felt his team grew from the experience of the road trip and level of the competition.
“We can take this and grow from it,” Cruz said. “But we can’t look behind at it. We’re always looking ahead.”
Ahead for the Trojans is another tough matchup. USC returns home Tuesday to host No. 15 Cal State Fullerton at six p.m. at Dedeaux Field.