Trojans continue their sliding ways in Pullman

By the time Washington State right fielder Derek Jones flied out to end the eighth inning Sunday afternoon at Bailey-Brayton Field in Pullman, Wash., the damage had been done —w both by Jones and the Cougars (31-18, 14-10).

Washington State beat USC 8-2 to complete its first ever three-game sweep of the Trojans (25-31, 5-19).

Down and out · USC senior righthander Kevin Couture has been unable to earn a win over his last three starts despite pitching superbly. - Geo Tu | Daily Trojan

Jones contributed a career weekend, blasting three home runs, knocking 11 RBI and scoring five runs.

For the Cougars, it was all about the big inning.

Four times they scored five runs or more: six runs in their first at bat of the series, 10 more in the fifth inning of the 20-7 rout Friday night, 11 tallies in the fourth inning of Saturday’s 18-4 beat-down and five runs before Jones’ flyout Sunday.

Saturday’s fourth inning was also a career inning for Jones. He began the 11-run onslaught with a two-run homer off the right field foul pole. And when the Cougars batted around, Jones ended the inning’s scoring. Jones launched Logan Odom’s 2-2 offering to centerfield for a grand slam.

In a series that featured Washington State’s largest margin of victory over USC (14), the most runs the Cougars have scored against USC (20) and the most runs scored all-time in a three-game series against USC (46), one of the few bright spots was the pitching of senior starter Kevin Couture on Sunday.

After struggling through much of the season, Couture seems to have put it all together for the final stretch, compiling a 2.00 ERA in his last four appearances — too bad he can’t seem to get any run support.

Over his last three starts, Couture has pitched 17 innings, allowing only four runs on 14 hits while striking out 15 batters. Yet, he sports a 0-2 record with a no decision because of USC’s inability to put runs on the board.

Against Washington State, the right-hander gave his team a chance to win, pitching six innings and striking out six and allowing only two runs. But for the third straight time in his starts, the USC offense provided Couture only one run.

Jones hit a solo home run in the sixth inning to give the Cougars a 2-1 lead. They added a run in the seventh inning before putting the game out of reach with the five-run eighth inning against the depleted Trojans’ bullpen.

Senior outfielder Mike O’Neill capped a strong week of hitting with his fifth consecutive multi-hit game. He recorded a pair of hits and scored Matt Hart with a RBI-single in the eighth inning. Infielder Hart, a junior transfer who spent his freshman season at Washington State, also notched a pair of hits in only his second start in the last month.

With a 5-19 conference record, the Trojans are assured of finishing last in the Pac-10 for the second time in Chad Kreuter’s four-year tenure and only the third time in the last 75 years.

USC started off the week with a promising bounce back after the heartbreaking loss in the UCLA series finale. Facing a hard-hitting New Mexico State (36-21-1) squad that averages over 10.5 runs per game, the Trojans held the Aggies to 11 runs in a two-game sweep. In both games, USC won in dramatic fashion in its final at-bat.

Tuesday night, a five-run seventh inning by New Mexico State tied the game 8-8 until the bottom of the 11th inning when sophomore infielder Ricky Oropesa deposited a pitch beyond the right-field fence for a walk-off home run. Senior Shuhei Fujiya picked up the win after throwing four and one-third scoreless innings.

Determined not to let Oropesa beat them a second straight day, the Aggies intentionally walked the left-handed slugger in the bottom of the eighth inning with a 3-2 lead and the tying run on second base. But senior outfielder Keith Castillo made them pay with a RBI-single through the right side.

Sophomore outfielder Matt Foat drove home the winning run with a single to center field, and sophomore catcher Kevin Roundtree pushed across an insurance run with a groundout. Sophomore reliever Brad Douthit collected the win after pitching three scoreless innings.

The Trojans will complete their season with four home games this week.