Trojans’ comeback falls just short

USC head coach Dan Hubbs calls them “nothing outs,” and it’s tough to describe in words exactly how frustrated they make him.

The Trojans may have only had six hits in Sunday’s rubber match against No. 15 Arizona State, but that didn’t mean they lacked chances to score. And at no time did they have a better chance then with the bases loaded and no outs in the seventh inning, trailing 6-4. Having battled back from a 6-0 deficit, USC looked poised to at least tie the game and maybe even take the lead. But a strikeout, a sacrifice fly and another flyout plated just one. Talk about “nothing” outs.

“It’s just unfortunate,” Hubbs said of the Trojans’ lack of clutch execution. “We had the guys we want up in the key spots. We had plenty of opportunities to win that game.”

The Trojans were victims of six strikeouts and too many weak ground balls and lame infield pop outs to count, dropping the final game of the weekend series to the Sun Devils 6-5 on Sunday afternoon, in front of 1,151 fans and a national TV audience on ESPNU.

The Trojans fell early and fell behind big, as freshman pitcher Kyle Twomey simply didn’t have his best stuff. Twomey got smacked around for five runs in the second inning, with every ball hit hard off the bat. He was removed in favor of fellow freshman Kyle Davis, who threw a clutch four innings of one-run ball.

It looked for a while, however, that Davis’ effort would be all for naught. Arizona State starter Alex Blackford carried a no-hitter into the fifth inning against the Trojans when the game suddenly changed.

Trailing 6-0 with two outs, freshman outfielder Timmy Robinson smacked the Trojans first hit of the game through the hole on the right side, scoring freshman shortstop Blake Lacey, who had walked and stolen second. Robinson then swiped second himself.

With another precious runner in scoring position, sophomore catcher Garrett Stubbs struck out swinging on a ball in the dirt, but the ASU catcher RJ Ybarra threw the ball away as Stubbs ran to first. Robinson came charging around third to score and Stubbs was safe. After another single, freshman designated hitter Bobby Stahel lined a clutch double down the left field line to score a pair and cut the Sun Devil lead to 6-4, and the Trojans were all of the sudden in business.

“We have a lot of guys who can come up big,” said Stubbs, who finished 1-for-3 and was stranded at second as the tying run to end the game. “But the thing is that we need to do it earlier in the game. It sucks to come out in the last inning and have the pressure, where earlier in the game you’ll have a few more opportunities.”

Even after squandering a golden opportunity in the seventh, the Trojans threatened with a runner on in the eight and again with two on in the ninth, but ultimately couldn’t push that final run across.

“I told the guys, you got to love to play these kind of games,” Hubbs said. “Where it’s your heart in your throat and every play is a big play, and every pitch is a big pitch. I love these kind of games. That was a regional-type game, and that’s what we need to get accustomed to.”

With momentum from a one-hit shutout in the opener on Friday night, USC couldn’t sustain the dominance on Saturday. The Sun Devils jumped out to a quick 2-0 lead in the first inning and never trailed in the game. USC got one back in the bottom of the third, but ASU bounced right back for two more of their own in the top of the fourth. The Trojan bats were ready, with 10 hits in the game, but they stranded a runner in scoring position in five of the first six innings.

It was a sharp contrast to Friday night, when USC played one of its most complete games of the season. Junior Sean Silva and freshman Brent Wheatley combined to throw a complete game, one-hit shutout against a powerful Sun Devil lineup. Silva tossed the first six, with Wheatley closing out the game for the Trojans.

At the plate USC banged out 12 hits, but it was the outs they made that pleased Hubbs the most. All season, the Trojans have hit into those same “nothing” outs, as in weak ground balls and pop ups that do nothing to challenge the defense or advance the runner. On Friday, they scored their first run with a leadoff double and a pair of groundouts. They scored their second with a single, a sacrifice bunt and another single. In fact, all five Trojan scorers advanced at least one base by way of a productive out.

Though the Trojans dropped the next two games, their performance Sunday is something they hope to build on. The team plays next on Tuesday at Loyola Marymount at 3 p.m. in the first of eight consecutive road games.