Trojans drop first contest of the year in Malibu

Undefeated, no more.

USC baseball (7-1) lost its first game of the season Tuesday, falling to Pepperdine 7-2 in Malibu. The loss came after the Trojans began their 2012 season with seven straight wins.

Katherine Montgomery | Daily Trojan

Even though it was a question of when, not if, USC would eventually lose a game, USC coach Frank Cruz wasn’t happy.

“Of course it’s a disappointment,” Cruz said. “You don’t play this game to lose.”

The Trojans, aided by senior outfielder Alex Sherrod’s grand slam in the series finale against Akron, were on the wrong end of a bases-loaded home run against Pepperdine (7-2).

With the game scoreless in the bottom of the third inning, junior  second baseman Joe Sever put the Waves ahead to stay with a home run to left field off senior USC starter Brandon Garcia.

“They were able to come up with a huge timely hit,” Cruz said. “That was pretty much the difference in the game.”

Garcia (1-1), normally the Trojans’ designated hitter, made his second Tuesday start of the young season. Garcia pitched just four innings, giving up four hits and five earned runs while striking out four and walking four.

“It was just one of those days for Brandon,” Cruz said. “He’ll be fine. It happens sometimes, and today wasn’t his day.”

Cruz also praised Pepperdine for its strategy against USC.

“They worked the count a lot against Brandon and it paid off for them,” he said. “When you work counts and then get the big hit, good things will happen.”

The Waves, meanwhile, got a slightly better pitching performance from their starter, Matt Maurer (1-0).

The lefty pitched just 5 1/3 innings, but surrendered only two runs and struck out five while earning his first win of the season.

Pepperdine’s Andrew Alvarez and Michael Swanner combined to pitch 3 2/3 innings of scoreless relief to quell any hopes USC had to come back. Cruz emphasized that he was proud to see his team fight until the last out.

“If there’s a positive, it’s that they competed and they never, ever gave up,” Cruz said. “We never stopped fighting, which I was pleased about.”

USC scored its first run in the top of the fifth when senior outfielder Garrett Houts singled to center to plate sophomore shortstop James Roberts and pull the Trojans within three runs. It was as close as USC would get all afternoon, as Pepperdine answered with a run of its own after both Houts’ RBI single and another USC run at the top of the sixth. The Waves got their second home run of the game in the bottom of that frame courtesy of Sam Meyer.

Pepperdine added one more run in the seventh to close out the scoring.

“We’re hoping that we can start to get more guys on base, and we didn’t do that enough today,” Cruz said. “And then we need to knock them in more often.”

The Trojans will need to follow their coach’s advice if they are to have success in their upcoming weekend series with perennial powerhouse North Carolina.

The No. 6 Tar Heels feature a team nationally expected to advance deep into the College World Series.

“We’re going on the road on a long trip,” Cruz said. “We’ll have to be prepared and come out a bit sharper than we did against [Pepperdine].”