USC’s baseball team entered Tuesday’s road game against UC Santa Barbara at a bit of a crossroads. After starting the season 10-5, the Trojans had dropped seven of their last 10 games, falling to 14-11 on the year. The bats had gone quiet and the pitching staff wasn’t helping either. After losing the last two games of their previous series against Washington, USC got back on track with a 9-3 road win over UCSB.
Things didn’t start out well for the Trojans as Santa Barbara’s designated hitter Clay Fisher hit a 2-run home run in the first inning off of freshman starter John Beller. However, the recently dormant lineup erupted to give the team a much-needed lift.
A single in the top of the second inning from sophomore catcher Blake Sabol drove in sophomore center fielder Matthew Acosta to get the Trojans on the board. Two sacrifice flies from junior first baseman Dillon Paulson and Acosta in the next inning gave USC a 2-run edge by the end of the third.
Sabol continued his hot hitting in the fifth inning, singling to right to score Acosta and junior first baseman Dillon Paulson. Paulson would contribute an RBI of his own with a double in the next inning, driving in freshman second baseman Ben Ramirez.
Acosta took advantage of several blunders from Santa Barbara to put the game away in the late innings.
First, he hit a solo home run to right center in the top of the seventh, his third bomb of the season, making the margin 7-2. After redshirt junior designated hitter Stephen Dubb singled and advanced to second on a wild pitch, Acosta reached first on a throwing error by Gaucho third baseman Drew Williams, with Dubb coming around to score on the play. Finally, after advancing to third, Acosta scored on a passed ball, giving the Trojans 9 runs, the highest number since their Feb. 24 match against Villanova.
Sabol led the way, going 3-5 with three RBIs on the day. Including his home run, Acosta scored four times, a career-high. Junior centerfielder Lars Nootbaar, Bushor and freshman right fielder Jamal O’Guinn also had multiple hits, contributing to a strong team effort at the plate.
“We got some clutch hits and clutch at-bats with men in scoring position, and that’s what we haven’t been getting,” head coach Dan Hubbs said after the game, on the official USC baseball Twitter account. “It was nice to see guys with multiple hits on the day and not just a bunch of one-hit days.”
Beller, making his first collegiate start, shook off the slow start to perform admirably for USC. The lefty went six innings, giving up only the 2 runs in the first and striking out four Gauchos, earning his second win on the season. Hubbs said he thought Beller gave the team “a shot in the arm” in his first start in college.
Beller referenced a second inning mound visit from Hubbs as key in bouncing back from the first inning home run.
“I was really just able to reevaluate everything and trust myself a little bit,” Beller said. “I just got more and more confidence as the game went on, not only because of some help from the defense but the bats also got going.”
Freshman pitcher Isaac Esqueda came on to relieve Beller in the seventh, giving up one run on a two-out walk with the bases loaded in the ninth inning. Freshman Brian Gursky came in to get the final out, wrapping up the score at 9-3.
The Trojans will need more hitting performances like this to give their young pitchers some cushion. Freshmen on the mound can crack under the pressure when the game is entirely in their hands but, as Beller said, some run protection can free them up to play their best.
“I mean, I really can’t ask for much else, we put up 9 runs today,” Beller said. “It’s great to pitch with a lead like that, and I’m just glad I was able to get it done for the boys.”
Next, the Trojans continue on the road for a weekend series in Tempe against Arizona State.