Long balls landed among the palm trees to no avail on Tuesday in one of the most picturesque parks in Southern California.
The Trojans (16-27), coming off a tough sweep at now No. 6 Oregon State, made their last stop of an eight-game road trip in Malibu, Calif. to take on the Pepperdine Waves (22-17).
With both teams trading early home runs in Home Run Derby fashion, it appeared as though USC would out-launch the Waves to a much-needed victory. Once again, however, the Trojan bullpen could not evade an ugly big inning and USC ended its trip on a sour note with a 9-5 loss in a season sweep against Pepperdine.
The long ball couldn’t help a Trojan team that has had difficulty taking advantage of runners in scoring position. An anemic offense contributed three home runs (five runs total) in the previous series against Oregon State and USC was ultimately unable to eke out a win against the Beavers.
On Tuesday, the Trojans scored all of their runs via the home run, but this burst of offense couldn’t make up for sloppy defense.
USC entered the game aiming to split both its road trip stretch and its season series against the Waves. The Trojans took the field in Malibu with a 3-4 record over their last seven away games, and in March, they suffered a 9-4 comeback defeat against the Waves at Dedeaux Field.
A weary Trojan team wasn’t about to catch any breaks in the last game before its anticipated homecoming.
The Waves won the last game they played on Sunday, April 21, before taking a week off for final exams and graduation. Aside from an extended rest period, Pepperdine had the advantage on the mound, sending out strong Sunday starter Aaron Brown, who looked to tack on another win to his consecutive five-game streak. USC, on the other hand, matched with its midweek starter, junior Sean Silva.
The Waves jumped ahead early against Silva, putting a two-run dent in the scoreboard in the first frame. Three consecutive singles loaded the bases and the Trojans narrowly escaped a big inning by soliciting three ground balls that produced only two runs.
Senior right fielder Greg Zebrack did some early damage control and answered with a home run to left field the very next half inning. Silva, however, was unable to suppress a retaliation effort by the Waves, who matched with a home run of their own.
The Trojan offense, eager to break its drought at Oregon State, refused to be quieted for long.
In the top of the third inning, freshman Timmy Robinson singled and demonstrated some heads-up baseball, advancing to third on a wild pick-off throw. Senior second baseman Adam Landecker tied the game at three with a timely two-run home run. Zebrack would add his second home run of the game in the top of the sixth, but the one-run lead was short-lived.
In the seventh inning, Trojans let the game completely unravel. It was the Murphy’s Law of innings: anything that could go wrong did.
Sophomore Nigel Nootbaar came in as relief and quickly found himself in a bases-loaded situation. He almost escaped the jam unscathed but the Waves capitalized on sloppy defense and poor pitching by the bullpen. Nootbaar and freshman Brooks Kriske allowed Pepperdine to excel thanks to three walks, two fielding errors, a wild pitch, a passed ball, a hit batsman — and only two hits. All runs by the relievers were unearned.
To make matters worse, USC committed its third error of the game in the very next inning when Zebrack collided with Robinson in the outfield and dropped what should have been a routine fly ball.
In the end, the five-run deficit was too much to overcome, even with junior Kevin Swick’s home run in the bottom of the ninth.
USC heads home after a disappointing 3-5 road trip and amid a four-game skid. The loss is particularly hard to stomach, but the Trojans will have to forget and move on as they take on TCU on Thursday, Friday and Saturday.