Baseball drops two of three to Stanford on the road

The baseball team headed north this weekend to take on Stanford in the team’s second series of the year in conference play.

Although they sat one game below .500 entering the three-game set, the Trojans held a 2-1 record in the Pac-12 standings thanks to their series win over California in March. After taking the first game at Klein Field at Sunken Diamond, the Trojans blew a six-run lead on Saturday en route to a loss, setting up Sunday’s rubber game to determine the series winner.

USC took an early lead in the second thanks to an RBI groundout from redshirt junior Reggie Southall. Senior Kyle Davis toed the rubber for the finale and the Trojans’ ace was touched for three runs, scattering five hits and three walks across four innings of work. He ended up taking the loss, as the Trojans didn’t push across another run for the rest of the game, falling 8-1.

“It was obviously disappointing,” head coach Dan Hubbs said. “We just need to get better.”

The fourth-year coach said no single part of the team could be blamed for the Trojans’ shortcomings on Sunday.

“They gave us 11 base runners … and we couldn’t take advantage,” Hubbs said. “We struggled out of the ‘pen to hold them down and we made a couple errors to help score some runs for them.”

The series loss comes after the three-game set got off to a promising start. Redshirt junior Joe Navilhon started on the mound for the opener, coming off a career-long, 6.1-inning outing six days earlier against UC Santa Barbara.

The right-hander was even better on Friday, shutting out the Cardinal for six innings while giving up three hits and walking two. A sixth inning RBI single from senior David Oppenheim was the difference in USC’s 1-0 victory, as junior Jeff Paschke and senior Brooks Kriske came on in relief to stifle Stanford’s bats for the remaining three innings.

“Joe pitched fantastically,” Hubbs said. “He didn’t give them anything free. They had to earn everything.”

Hubbs, who earned his 100th career win as a head coach on Friday (all wins with USC), said it was good to record a shutout in light of the team’s recent pitching troubles.

Following up the pitchers’ duel, the Trojans looked to clinch the series win on Saturday, as sophomore Mitch Hart returned from injury to make his first appearance of the season. Hart was on a tight leash after his lengthy absence, and the righty went 1.1 innings, giving up two runs on two hits and two walks. He departed with a 5-2 lead, however, as USC’s bats went wild against Stanford starter Chris Castellanos.

The Trojans tattooed the Cardinal left hander for six runs in three innings and they launched three home runs on the day against Stanford pitching. Junior Jeremy Martinez went yard in the first inning and junior Corey Dempster and redshirt sophomore Frankie Rios homered back-to-back in the fourth to drive in 4 of USC’s total 8 runs, as they raced out to a 6-run lead.

What seemed like a comfortable win suddenly evaporated, however, as the Cardinal roared back to score nine unanswered. No Trojan reliever was able to hold Stanford off the board, and the arms out of the bullpen largely struggled with their control. The Cardinal finished the game with more runs (11) than hits (10), in a shocking loss for USC.

“You can’t take anything positive out of those last four innings,” Hubbs admitted. “We just gave them too much. When you have a team on the ropes like that, you have to make them hit the ball, and they scored five runs on two hits to tie the game.”

USC will hope to turn things around quickly as conference play enters full swing. The Trojans will face off against Pac-12 foes every weekend from now through the end of the regular season, but before resuming the in-conference schedule on Friday, USC will host Pepperdine on Tuesday for the first of two meetings between the programs this season. The Waves’ visit to Dedeaux Field is slated for a 6 p.m. first pitch, and the Trojans will make the trip to Malibu exactly a week later to wrap up the season series.