It was a game that the Trojans wanted desperately to win. Aside from the satisfaction, pride and bragging rights that come with conquering the crosstown rival, a loss to No. 9 UCLA on Sunday would represent the team’s fourth straight.
USC just couldn’t keep up. After several valiant comeback attempts, the Trojans succumbed 6-5, dropping to 8-6 overall.
“It’s tough, especially against your rival with a packed house and you lose that way…it hurts,” senior third baseman Kevin Swick said.
Dedeaux Field was brimming with fans Sunday, prompting those who couldn’t find seats to facilitate their own standing room only section, which too became quickly crowded. Yet despite the flocks of fans, donning both blue and red, the venue remained silent for five and a half scoreless innings until an explosion off the bat of sophomore shortstop Blake Lacey solicited more noise from the stands.
Lacey livened up the crowd with his soaring RBI-double to left, but the lead would be short-lived. The Trojans couldn’t produce a single shutdown inning.
In the top of the seventh, senior Bob Wheatley departed after an error planted a Bruin at second. Wheatley threw a commanding 6.2 innings in which he allowed only one unearned run. In relief, sophomore Kyle Davis allowed three unearned runs, unable to escape unscathed from a bases-loaded, two-out jam in which the payoff pitch plated two go-head runs.
“We made two errors Friday and two today and today it really cost us,” USC head coach Dan Hubbs said. “Today we just didn’t play catch. There’s no doubt this hurts because in my opinion, that should’ve been a 4-1 win for us, maybe 5-1.”
Still trailing in the bottom of the eighth, the Trojans were gifted with a bases-loaded, no-out opportunity to rectify their critical errors and they almost squandered it. On a would-be inning-ending double play, a sloppily handled throw to first plated the tying runs.
The play was representative of a lot of USC’s play of late: offensive luck and offensive plight. Subsequent efforts would be fruitless, and the comeback kids would fail to come back.
“We’ve hit a little rough patch,” Hubbs said. “Every team goes through some adversity. We’ll go through ours right now and then be ready to play.”
The Trojans fell twice against the Pepperdine Waves last season, and Saturday’s afternoon matchup would not snap their losing streak. After holding what appeared to be a promising six-inning lead, USC buckled, never to recover from a five-run blunder, losing 10-4.
Eager to take advantage of early gifts in the form of a hit baseman and a wild pitch, freshman designated hitter Jeremy Martinez singled home the team’s first run. Additional hits from infielders Kevin Swick and Dante Flores pushed the score to three.
The powerful arm of junior Wyatt Strahan, however, couldn’t deceive the Waves. The righthander lasted only five innings, and was yanked after a spot of trouble that caused his line to balloon to six earned runs off seven hits and a pair of walks.
As if Strahan’s sixth-inning blemish wasn’t enough, a usually reliable bullpen faltered. Sophomore Sean Adler was unable to stop the bleeding, surrendering three additional runs himself, and could not retire a hitter in the seventh. In his relief, senior James Guillen would give up one run more, letting the Pepperdine run total reaching double digits.
“If you’re going to keep a good team in the game, then you’re asking to get beat,” Hubbs said. “Then we had a rough inning that broke it open for them.”
The Houston Cougars entered Friday’s contest touting a microscopic 0.73 staff ERA, which, as low as it was, was just shy of ace Aaron Garza’s 0.41. Garza entered Friday’s game after receiving his third consecutive American Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Week honor. His numbers turned out to be no fluke, and it was with a dominant pitching performance that he and the Cougars toppled USC, 6-1.
Hubb’s analysis was simple: “Friday we just flat-out got beat.”
Sophomore Kyle Twomey struggled with command early out of the gate, walking in the first Cougar run with two outs in the first inning. He would record six innings of work in the loss, allowing four runs (two earned) on eight hits and three walks.
Twomey certainly could have used the help of his teammates offensively, but he never got it. Garza limited the Trojans to one hit through the first five innings and only one run on five hits throughout eight innings.
The Trojans ultimately fell on their own swords, allowing a competitive Houston team to take advantage of sloppy play and free opportunities. Twomey and the bullpen allowed six walks and in yet another critical sixth inning, only one hit reached the outfield in a three-run rally.
The Trojans have yet to win on the road, but the team has a chance to change its luck and end its slump in a 6 p.m. matchup at Loyola Marymount on Tuesday. After all, there’s still plenty of time.
“It’s still early and we still have a positive record. We can turn this around,” Swick said. “We definitely have to clean up some stuff: on defense we’ve been a poor over the past week and a half, so if we clean that up, and get a couple of knocks, we’re right back in it.”