Just about everything was frozen at Dedeaux Field on Wednesday night.
Fans, media, broadcasters —and bats.
It looked for a long time like neither team would ever push a runner across home plate, and neither did until the seventh inning. Then, with USC and Loyola Marymount tied at one in the eighth, senior center fielder Greg Zebrack led off with an infield single and advanced to second on a sacrifice bunt by junior shortstop James Roberts. With two outs, freshman right fielder Vahn Bozoian bounced a ball past the Lions’ third baseman and into left field, scoring Zebrack from second for what proved to be the winning run.
True freshman pitcher Kyle Davis came on to get the last three outs in the ninth, having pitched 2 2/3 scoreless innings in Sunday’s 4-3 win over Nebraska. He dispatched the Lions in quick fashion, allowing just one runner on an infield hit.
“Kyle did what we expect him to,” USC coach Dan Hubbs said, showing tremendous confidence in his young closer. “He’s comfortable out there in the big spot.”
Scoring was far from plentiful for the majority of the game. For six innings, USC and Loyola Marymount battled in a scoreless contest, with just five combined runners reaching as far as second base.
Trojans starter Brent Wheatley threw five shutout innings in his collegiate debut but was outdone by Lions starter Patrick McGrath, who threw six.
“I could have gone four more (innings),” Wheatley said emphatically. “But I’m thrilled with the start. It was awesome.”
In the top of the seventh, the Lions put runners at the corners with one down against senior reliever Matt Munson. LMU left fielder Mitchell Esser laid down a swinging bunt that traveled no more than 15 feet up the third baseline. USC sophomore catcher Garrett Stubbs could have let it roll foul, but instead chose to pounce on the ball, hoping to tag out the oncoming utility Kevin Garcia from third base. But Stubbs couldn’t pick up the ball cleanly, and when he finally did Garcia had already leapt over him for the game’s first run. The Trojans played small ball of their own to get the run back in the bottom of the seventh. Junior third baseman Kevin Swick led off with a walk, advanced to second on a bunt and to third on a wild pitch. Senior second baseman Adam Landecker brought him in with a liner down the left field line for an RBI double.
“It was huge to get that run back,” Hubbs said. “We’ve talked over and over about being able to answer after they score and being able to shut down after we score. And we did those both today.”
Between Wheatley, Davis and Bozoian, the Trojans had all freshmen collecting the win, the save and the game-winning hit, respectively.
“Well, we do have 16 of them,” Hubbs joked. “And we’ve got plenty more who we’ve got to find times to get in games.”
The Trojans are a young team, especially on the mound. Freshman Kyle Twomey started for USC on Sunday. Of the nine pitchers to have taken the mound for the Trojans this year, five are freshmen. The Trojans start a pair of freshmen in the outfield as well in Bozoian and Timmy Robinson, with Turner Clouse mixed in at times, too.
“This freshman group is a really tight group,” Wheatley said. “We’ve got a lot of great players, too, but more importantly we’re really close and we’re always pushing each other and rooting for each other.”
With just one day off before the weekend, more freshmen figure to see action when the Trojans take on Cal State Northridge in a three-game set starting Friday. The series will start at Dedeaux Field on Friday before moving to Northridge on Saturday and finally returning to Dedeaux for the finale on Sunday, where Twomey will be on the mound.