Coming into an Easter weekend set against the Cal Golden Bears, USC’s baseball team had won a dismal three of its last 15 games. It hadn’t won a conference road series since April 2011, and seemed in danger of losing 15 games in the month of March alone.
Instead, the Trojans walked out of Berkeley with an impressive series win, playing the kind of baseball USC head coach Dan Hubbs has been waiting for all year.
The Trojans (11-16, 4-5) took the Thursday and Friday matchups in a pair of complete team efforts, and went into the Saturday finale against the Golden Bears (16-12, 5-4) looking for their first conference road series sweep since 2003.
The Trojans led 4-0 in the fifth inning, but disappointingly fell back into old habits that plagued the squad throughout the frustrating month of March and was unable to hold the lead.
Freshman shortstop Blake Lacey smacked a two-run homer — the first of his career — to give the Trojans a 4-0 lead in the top of the fifth. But in the bottom half of the inning, freshman pitcher Kyle Twomey — stellar to up that point — walked and hit the first two batters, then gave up a three-run homer to cut the Trojans’ lead to 4-3.
After USC was held scoreless in the top half of the sixth, Twomey allowed a pair of solo shots in the bottom half as Cal took a 5-4 lead. When the offense failed to respond again in the top of the seventh, Twomey and the Trojan bullpen imploded in the bottom half. Twomey gave up two singles to the first three hitters he faced and was removed in favor fellow freshman Marc Huberman, one of the more reliable pitchers for Hubbs this season in a wildly inconsistent bullpen.
But Huberman was also shaky, surrendering four consecutive singles without recording an out before being lifted. With the bases loaded, senior Matt Munson was called in to relieve Huberman. Munson promptly allowed a grand slam before settling down and getting the Trojans out of the inning, but not after they surrendered eight runs en route to a 15-5 defeat.
Saturday’s blowout, however, was not at all representative of the first two games of the series. USC took advantage of four Golden Bear errors on Friday to battle back from a 3-0 deficit and cruise to a 9-5 win. Every Trojan starter had a hit, and six recorded at least one RBI. Sophomore starting pitcher Wyatt Strahan tossed six solid innings of three-run ball to earn his long-overdue first win of the season.
In Thursday’s game, junior starting pitcher Bob Wheatley and his Cal counterpart, Ryan Mason, engaged in an impressive pitchers’ duel, each going seven strong innings. But Mason, who allowed just three runs (two earned), was outdone by Wheatley, who gave up only one unearned run.
USC allowed Cal to tie the game at 3-3 in the eighth, but the Trojans were able to string together three straight singles to plate the winning run in the ninth, giving the team the momentum it needed to earn a much-needed series win.