On Tuesday, the USC Trojans lost 8-5 to the Long Beach State Dirtbags at Dedeaux Field, after giving up 4 runs in the ninth inning.
Entering the game, the Trojans were looking for improvement on the mound. In last weekend’s sweep from UCLA, the Trojans gave up 42 runs in the three games.
The pitchers had an opportunity to thrive against a 16-24 Long Beach State team that had hit .230 as a team. While pitching was solid for seven of the nine innings, timely hitting from Long Beach State and fielding mistakes by USC led to a 8-4 victory for the visiting team.
The bats on both sides came out slow, as they went scoreless and combined for one hit through the first three innings. Long Beach State came close in the top of the second, when a single, a walk and an error had the bases loaded with two outs. USC freshman pitcher John Beller ended the inning by striking out shortstop Santino Riviera with a swinging strike.
The Dirtbags opened the scoring in the fourth inning after a throwing error by freshman shortstop Ben Ramirez. Long Beach State right fielder Joey Sanchez followed up with an RBI single in the next at-bat, giving the Dirtbags a 2-0 lead.
The Trojans responded in the bottom of the frame. Junior center fielder Lars Nootbaar hit a single for the team’s first hit of the game, advancing freshman right fielder Jamal O’Guinn to third after he was walked. Redshirt junior designated hitter Stephen Dubb singled with the bases loaded to score both O’Guinn and Nootbaar, tying the game 2-2.
Junior first baseman Dillon Paulson scored on a sacrifice fly to left field by junior second baseman Chase Bushor.
The Trojans tacked on another run in the fifth when redshirt sophomore catcher Kaleb Murphy scored on a Paulson groundout, bringing the score to 4-2 for USC. The team had a nice cushion, but Dubb struck out looking with runners on second and third.
USC failed to put the Dirtbags away, though. When Beller fielded a bunt attempt with runners on first and second, his throw to third brought in a runner to cut the Trojans’ lead to one.
Beller was then replaced by sophomore Chris Clarke after allowing eight hits and striking out four in a little over seven innings.
Long Beach State tied the game with an RBI groundout from pinch hitter Tristan Mercadel. The Dirtbags would take the lead in the top of the ninth when Jones stung a double down the left field line. Jones’ pinch runner Garrett Nelson would score from third on an infield single by left fielder Brooks Stotler, bringing the score to 6-4 in favor of Long Beach State.
The Dirtbags did what USC couldn’t do earlier in the contest: use their momentum to put their opponent away.
Mercadel added two more RBIs with a single into center. Clarke allowed 4 runs in 1.2 innings, and was replaced by sophomore closer Connor Lunn.
Down 8-4 in the bottom of the ninth, doubles from Ramirez and sophomore pinch hitter Matthew Acosta cut the deficit to 3 with two outs. USC’s best hitter, Nootbaar, was up with a runner on second, so the Trojans had life. After falling behind 0-2, Nootbaar worked back to a 2-2 count, only to strike out looking at a fastball right down the middle.
Nootbaar’s final at-bat was representative of the game for USC; a slow start, hopeful middle, but ultimately nothing but disappointment. The Trojans had control of this game in the middle innings, but Clarke’s poor performance sunk their chances.
For a team that ranked second in the nation in fielding percentage before the game, four errors (three of which led to 4 runs) is unacceptable. If the defense had played up to its typical high standards, Clarke could have entered the game with a 4-run lead and less pressure.
There is no doubt that this was a frustrating loss, especially coming on the heels of last weekend’s disappointing effort against the Bruins. Long Beach State is a below average team in an inferior division. Head coach Dan Hubbs will have to take action to light a fire under his team as the Trojans hit the road for this weekend’s road series against Oregon.