USC men’s baseball started a new era this weekend under interim head coach Dan Hubbs, and until the bottom of the ninth in the third game of the opening series, the Trojans were off to a rough start.
USC (1-2) faced three different teams in their opening weekend series, losing two games on the road against Cal State Fullerton and Bakersfield.
But the Trojans returned to Dedeaux Field to face Nebraska (0-4) in what began as an old-fashioned pitcher’s duel and ended in a thrilling 4-3 walk-off victory in USC’s home opener on Sunday afternoon.
“Sunday is that day where you either sweep the series, win the series or salvage the series,” Hubbs said. “I thought we did a great job of salvaging the weekend.”
Freshman pitcher Kyle Twomey took the mound for the Trojans in his first collegiate start and held his own in a game dominated early by starting pitching. USC took an early 1-0 lead in the second inning that lasted until the sixth, when Twomey surrendered three runs in his only rocky inning of the day.
As it did for most of the opening series, the Trojan offense looked like it was about to come up short. The team was unable to score in consecutive innings with runners in scoring position and frequently fell victim to elusive timely hitting.
In the bottom of the ninth, trailing the Huskers 3-2, the Trojans pieced together its best, and most clutch, offensive effort of the game. Freshman right fielder Vahn Bozoian and junior third baseman Kevin Swick tacked together a pair of hits, forcing Nebraska to intentionally walk the bases loaded. Sophomore catcher Garrett Stubbs tied the game with a sacrifice fly.
The team is no stranger to walk-offs and senior infielder Adam Landecker said he was confident stepping up to the plate in a high-pressure situation.
“When we came in for the bottom of the ninth, we knew we were going to win,” Landecker said.
He sent the team home with a two-out walk-off single and helped the team notch its first victory.
The win over Nebraska had added importance following the two tough losses that preceded it. On Saturday, Bakersfield took advantage of an inconsistent and inexperienced pitching staff and topped the Trojans, 9-4.
Three of the five Trojan pitchers stepped into new positions Saturday: Sophomore right-hander Wyatt Strahan made his first career start and freshmen right-handers Shane Gonzalez and Kyle Davis both made their collegiate debuts for the Trojans. USC sent five pitchers to the mound and the staff collectively allowed eight hits and walked 10 batters.
Offensively, the team struggled with plate discipline, striking out 11 times and walking only once.
The poor showing against Bakersfield followed a strong effort in the team’s season-opening loss to No. 22 Cal State Fullerton, in which the Trojans again struggled to muster any consistent hitting.
The Titans kept the Trojan bats quiet for all but two innings, starting off the game with 4.2 hitless innings and closing the game with three more. USC only reached base in the fifth and sixth innings, with its first base runner coming off a two-out single by Swick to break up a no-hitter in the fifth inning. USC’s only runs came off the bat of junior shortstop James Roberts, who launched a two-run home run to left field with two outs in the sixth inning.
Junior left-hander Bob Wheatley, who pitched four scoreless innings after surrendering a run in the first frame, gave up two go-ahead runs in the bottom of the sixth.
Friday’s loss marks the first time in five seasons that the Trojans have dropped an opening game.
Hubbs said Sunday that he’s focused on working with his young team and building confidence in his players, and freshmen such as Twomey are hoping to improve enough to keep the team’s momentum going.
“I hope I can continue to just go out and get good starts,” Twomey said. “As long as I can give us a chance to win every time, I’ll be content.”
A win against Loyola Marymount today would even their 1-2 record and give them a chance to bounce back.
“If we can hold our heads just above water until we really get in our groove, I think we’ll be in good shape,” Hubbs said.
USC was scheduled to play Loyola Marymount on Tuesday night, but the game was postponed because of impending rain and will be played this evening at Dedeaux Field at 6:00 p.m.
Freshman pitcher Brent Wheatley, brother of Friday night starter Bobby Wheatley, will start on the mound for the Trojans in his collegiate debut.