USC baseball coach Frank Cruz put it very simply. His team needed to do one thing better: execute.
That’s exactly what they did last night against Pepperdine, rallying from a three-run deficit to come away with a 5-4 victory over the Waves (17-12).
The winning run came in the seventh inning courtesy of some of the very execution Cruz was talking about. Senior centerfielder Garret Houts walked with one out, stole second base on a ball in the dirt, moved to third on a ground out and scored on a two-out single by senior catcher Kevin Roundtree.
“Houts moving to second on that ball in the dirt was a big play in the game,” Cruz said. “That’s part of the execution we’re talking about — reading the ball in the dirt.”
Senior pitcher Martin Viramontes came in for the last two innings, allowing just one baserunner while recording his fourth save of the season for the Trojans (17-9).
“Our pitching is showing us they’re gonna keep us in game,” Cruz said. “We have to give them enough runs.”
The Trojans got on the board right away courtesy of some small ball. Houts and junior second baseman Adam Landecker led off the Trojan first with back-to-back singles to put runners at the corners, and Roundtree followed that up with an RBI ground out to second to put USC up 1-0.
On the mound for the Trojans was Bobby Wheatley. Making his first career start, the sophomore pitcher dealt three perfect innings before bowing out.
“Wheatley was incredible,” Cruz said. “The only reason we took him out is because we might have him start this Saturday and needed to save him.”
Junior Matt Munson came on in the fourth and promptly gave up back-to-back singles to put runners at first and second. The next hitter knocked a slow roller to sophomore shortstop James Roberts, whose hurried throw was well wide of first. The error tied the game at one and put runners on second and third, still with no outs.
The next hitter did the exact same thing, but this time Roberts thought better of hurrying a throw and held on to the ball, resulting in an infield single that put the Waves up 2-1. With runners at the corners, Munson induced a 4-6-3 double play, but that allowed a third Pepperdine run to score from third before finally getting out of the inning.
Pepperdine put another run across in the fifth after another Trojan throwing error, but USC answered right back in the bottom of the inning.
Senior designated hitter Brandon Garcia led off the inning with a leadoff double down the left field line, and advanced to third on a wild pitch. Roberts followed that up with an RBI single that blooped just over the head of the second baseman to make it a 4-2 game. A sacrifice bunt moved Roberts to second, and then a walk, a flyout and another walk loaded the bases with two out for sophomore first baseman Jake Hernandez, who worked his way into the starting lineup over the weekend.
Hernandez came through with a two-RBI single through the right side, igniting the crowd at Dedeaux Field and tying the game at four, setting the table for Roundtree’s eventual game-winner.
“It was a big opportunity for us to score some runs,” Hernandez said. “I want people to have confidence in me so I’m just trying to do the best I can.”
Garcia also emphasized the team’s need to execute down the stretch.
“We’ve been trying to make execution more of a priority,” said Garcia. “We understand that puts pressure on the defense. We got a couple of hit-and-runs down today. We need to get our bunts down and continue on this process of executing.”
The Trojans have a short week before they will need to execute all over again. The Bears come to Dedeaux for a Thursday through Saturday set to avoid playing on Easter.