Could David slay Goliath? Could the slumping Trojans, fresh off a win over Stanford, topple No. 4 Cal State Fullerton in the teams’ final meeting of the season?
Maybe on a better day, but that’s an optimistic phrase to which the USC baseball team (12-20) is tired of clinging to. The Trojans traveled to Goodwin Field on Tuesday night, but fell just short to Fullerton, losing 6-4.
The Titans (29-4) are a powerhouse team. They’ve climbed the national rankings each time they’ve faced the Trojans this season and have only four blemishes opposing their 29-win record. For a Trojan team whose young potential talent has yet to be fulfilled, Fullerton represents what it one day might be.
To put an end to that notion, the Trojans sent freshman lefty pitcher Sean Adler, who has been featured often this season as a reliever, to the hill for his first collegiate start. Adler, who had previously shown a glimmer of success over a near-invincible Titan team as a closer, looked to help his team capitalize on its Sunday win, which stanched a four-game losing streak.
It initially seemed that the Trojans really would prove that they could beat any team on any given day if all the pieces fell into place, something that USC head coach Dan Hubbs has frequently pointed out this season.
Two of USC’s freshmen helped the team jump ahead early, attempting to reverse the Trojan curse of being unable to get runners home.
Infielder Blake Lacey got the first run across the board with an RBI double and would lead the team in hitting Tuesday night, going 3-for-4 with two RBIs.
In the very next inning, outfielder Timmy Robinson shredded the first pitch he saw to left field with a homer that gave Adler a two-run cushion.
But it wouldn’t be nearly enough.
To his credit, Adler aptly handled the Titans for all of 2 2/3 innings before he completely collapsed, allowing the surging Fullerton offense to break open the floodgates. After allowing consecutive singles, Adler gifted the Titans a bases-loaded opportunity by hitting the next batter. Immediately following, he surrendered an even more generous gift: a back-to-back grand slam and home-run combination that put the Titans up by three.
Hubbs yanked Adler off his brief starting gig for sophomore Nigel Nootbaar, who also had difficulty rescuing his team from a hellish inning. Nootbaar allowed a pair of hits and a walk that threatened to further blow open the inning but ultimately settled down for three more innings of scoreless relief.
With the lead squandered, USC desperately needed to respond to stay in the game but couldn’t quite do it.
The bases were never empty, and there were plenty of scoring opportunities by means of hit batsmen, a balk, hits and the occasional walk.
That’s not to say there weren’t some hopeful moments: A few hitters were able to push the count to 3-2 and the team recorded two productive sacrifice flies that cut their deficit to two. Granted, those two RBIs came in a bases-loaded, no-out scenario in which the Trojans could have really packed a punch.
Winning Tuesday night — which didn’t seem infeasible for a while — would have been a tremendous victory for a young team still struggling to find itself.
But that didn’t quite happen, and USC now walks away looking for another chance to assert themselves, this time in a three-game homestand against Arizona State starting on April 12.