All season, throughout the ups and downs, USC baseball coach Frank Cruz has said that his players are fighters. And after looking lifeless in a three game sweep at the hands of No. 21 Arizona State over the weekend, Cruz stood by his claim.
“We’ll be fine,” said Cruz following the Sunday finale. “We’ll bounce back. Practice at 5:30 a.m. [Monday]; we’ll be ready to go.”
The Trojans (19-14, 5-9) were outscored 17-2 over three games against the Sun Devils (23-12, 9-6) in Tempe, falling to outstanding pitching and stagnant bats.
“We just couldn’t hit,” Cruz said. “Hitting is contagious. So is not hitting. It just takes over a lineup.”
Sunday, for the first time all series, the Trojans showed life early in the game. They took their first lead of the series on a hit-by-pitch, an error and a pair of groundouts. But that didn’t last for a single hitter in the bottom of the inning, as senior starter Ben Mount gave up a home run to lead off the inning, another two batters later, and then two more before he was pulled from the game. The Sun Devils tacked on two more in the third and it was all over against the lifeless Trojan bats. Two more in the eight gave Arizona State an 8-1 win to complete the sweep.
Sun Devil starting pitcher Darren Gilles went five innings, allowing just one unearned run and three hits. And that was the Sun Devil starter’s least impressive outing of the series.
The best belonged to Trevor Williams, who was sensational on Saturday. The sophomore outdueled Trojan freshman Stephen Tarpley and then some. Williams pitched a complete game shutout, giving up four hits, with no walks to his six strikeouts. The Trojans put a runner in scoring position just three times against Williams, who was aided by rally-stopping double plays in both the seventh and ninth innings.
Tarpley pitched well for the Trojans, but could not match Williams. He gave up a run in the first inning on a triple and a sacrifice-fly, then got out of a bases loaded jam in the second. From the third through sixth, Tarpley faced no more than four hitters in an inning.
But in the seventh, a single, RBI-double and an RBI-single gave the Sun Devils two more runs for a 3-0 lead, insurmountable against a pitcher as dominant as Williams. Arizona State tacked on one more in the eighth for good measure to make the final 4-0.
On Friday, it was Sun Devil ace Brady Rodgers who dominated. An almost surefire day-one draft pick, Rodgers was in control the entire game. The junior allowed one run on six hits over eight commanding innings. Most impressive was his control: Rodgers fanned seven Trojans without walking any.
Trojans ace Andrew Triggs was, like Tarpley the following day, impressive. But much like Tarpley again, the senior could not keep up with his Sun Devil counterpart. Triggs allowed two runs in the first inning behind a pair of singles and a two-RBI double, and then settled down nicely, shutting out the Sun Devils over the next five innings.
The Trojans got one run back in the fifth behind a double by senior designated hitter Brandon Garcia and an RBI-single by sophomore second baseman James Roberts. The Trojans threatened for more by putting runners on second and third, but both were stranded.
Like the night before, the Sun Devils broke the game open in the seventh. Triggs hit the leadoff batter, and after getting an out gave up a two-run homer to make it a 4-1 game. A triple and an RBI-single made it 5-1 Sun Devils before Triggs was removed.
After such a disappointing weekend, the Trojans will not have to wait long to get back on the field. They travel to Cal State Bakersfield on Tuesday and host UC Santa Barbara Wednesday evening at Dedeaux Field.