USC baseball’s seven-game win streak to begin the 2012 season was aided largely by high scoring innings. On Tuesday night at Dedeaux Field, the Trojans got another big frame but had to withstand an early barrage of runs.
They did, overcoming Cal State Fullerton’s four-run fifth inning to escape with a 7-4 victory. The Trojans scored the last seven runs of the ballgame, with the two biggest coming courtesy on Kevin Roundtree’s two-RBI single that gave USC its first lead of the night.
The win moves USC to 9-3 on the season heading into a weekend series with Cal State Bakersfield.
“Even when we fell behind, we were confident,” USC head coach Frank Cruz said. “We felt like we were going to take good at-bats and get ourselves back in the game. The big thing is that everyone trusts their teammates, and we had to work as a team to come back.”
Tuesday starter Brandon Garcia no-hit the Titans through four innings but fell victim to a string of singles and an RBI triple by Richy Pedroza in the fifth that gave Fullerton a 4-0 lead. Garcia finished the frame but gave way to the bullpen immediately following.
“Brandon pitched real well to start off but he might have lost a little gas,” Cruz said. “If anything, it was my fault for leaving him in there a little too long. Once that happened, we needed to hold them the rest of the way.”
USC’s relievers did just that, keeping Fullerton at bay while the offense finally broke through against Fullerton starter Koby Gauna and several arms out of the Titans bullpen. USC’s James Guillen, Brad Douthit (who picked up his first win of the year), Wyatt Strahan and Friday starter Andrew Triggs combined to shut out the Titans on one hit over the last four innings.
“I put Triggs in because he begged me,” Cruz said of the decision to close out the game with his staff ace. “He told me his arm felt great and that he’d only need a few pitches.”
The pitchers were aided by their defense, as well. Senior right fielder Alex Sherrod made a diving catch in the seventh to rob Fullerton’s Michael Lorenzen of extra bases, and junior second baseman Adam Landecker virtually went into the Trojan bullpen from his second base position to make a sliding catch in foul territory.
“We’re a very good defensive team,” Cruz said. “If you look at the stats, we’re fielding at a very high percentage. And we played like it out there tonight.”
The Trojans came into the game with a .980 fielding percentage, making only eight errors in the team’s first 12 games.
At the plate, USC began to rally from the 4-0 deficit with two runs in the sixth. Senior catcher Kevin Roundtree’s fielder’s choice got the Trojans on the board, and Kevin Swick’s sac fly drew them to within two.
Then the USC offense really got going. Freshman catcher Garrett Stubbs’ lone hit of the night scored Omar Cotto to pull the Trojans to within one. With one out, back-to-back singles from Sherrod and senior infielder Matt Foat set the stage for Roundtree’s clutch at-bat.
Roundtree, who had grounded into a fielder’s choice with the bases loaded the sixth, was determined to come through in the seventh against Fullerton’s freshman right-hander Willie Kuhl.
“He threw me a good curveball first pitch, so I was actually thinking off speed the next pitch,” the Trojans’ catcher said. “Then he threw a fastball in, and luckily I was able to get a pretty good piece of it and pull it down the line.”
Garcia, in the game as a pinch hitter after being removed from the mound, then knocked in Roundtree to close out the scoring. When all was said and done, USC had 14 hits, all but one of them singles.
“We’ve been battle-tested this year, especially after going up against a team like North Carolina,” Roundtree said. “When we were behind, the atmosphere stayed the same, and that’s a strength of this club.”