On a blustery Tuesday in Los Angeles, a pair of long fly balls caught the wind and carried the Trojans to a 5-2 victory.
In their first road win during the week, the Trojans seemed to right a lot of wrongs that have, for most of the season, been weighing them down.
“I thought this was a great job of coming back after a real tough loss on Sunday, a game we felt like we could’ve and should’ve won,” USC head coach Dan Hubbs said. “To come back and get this win was huge.”
USC (14-22) traveled across town to face Loyola Marymount (18-18) for a midweek, 3 p.m. matchup in its first of eight consecutive road games. The Trojans aimed to rebound from twin losses against No. 15 Arizona State despite USC’s late scramble to slate a starter.
In their previous meeting earlier this season, the Trojans battled their way through a pitcher’s duel, ultimately beating the Lions by a slim 2-1 margin. This time, USC headed into the bottom of the ninth with an uncharacteristically comfortable buffer and completed a two-game season sweep.
Hubbs, who said Monday that he didn’t know who would start the game, settled on sending freshman Brent Wheatley to the mound. Wheatley started against the Lions in the team’s February matchup and tossed five scoreless innings.
On Friday, when he was pressed with finding starters to replace injured junior Bob Wheatley, Hubbs prepared to send out a tag team of relievers to carry the team. Instead, junior Sean Silva (who was recently named Pac-12 pitcher of the week) and Brent Wheatley pitched a combined one-hitter against Arizona State.
But on Tuesday, five pitchers contributed to the USC victory. Four of those five were freshmen, apparently ready to shed their rookie statuses and help improve the team’s last-place ERA in the Pac-12 conference.
Brent Wheatley was on a shorter leash and allowed only one earned run in two innings of work before passing the ball to a couple of pitchers who have been struggling to find their commands.
Freshman Marc Huberman entered the game with a 9.53 ERA, having given up 12 runs in only 11.1 innings. Similarly, senior Matt Munson was posting a 10.34 ERA, with 18 earned runs in his 15.2 innings of work.
The two pitchers found their grooves, though, combining for four scoreless innings of relief.
“Huberman’s been scuffling a little bit so it was nice to see him have a good, clean inning,” Hubbs said. “And then Mudson threw three really good innings that we needed desperately.”
Freshman Brooks Kriske put up a pair of scoreless frames and freshman Kyle Twomey allowed a last-chance run before shutting down the Lions for good.
On offense, the Trojans initially showed signs of repeating their worn-out habit of threatening to score but being unable to execute. Two early singles from hot-hitting freshman shortstop Blake Lacey and senior left-fielder Greg Zebrack were immediately matched with a pair of strikeouts. Even a walk to load the bases was all for naught.
But a slow start at the plate was short-lived, and the Trojans were able to remedy their two pitfalls: failing to respond after giving up runs and hitting with runners in scoring position.
Immediately after Wheatley allowed a run on a groundball RBI, USC answered with a couple of hits off the bats of seasoned junior hitters James Roberts and Kevin Swick. The pressure was on Zebrack, who defied the implausible with a two-strike, two-out RBI single to tie the game at one.
And the offensive feats didn’t stop there. The big swings of the bat that would end up dictating the outcome of the game were delivered in the top of the sixth inning by Jake Hernandez and freshman right-fielder Vahn Bozoian. The two scorched twin home runs that seemed to follow similar trajectories and set off a domino effect that enabled USC to flex offensive muscles it didn’t know it had.
Also worth noting: standout freshmen Lacey and Timmy Robinson kept their hitting streaks alive. Hopefully, a couple more Trojans can contribute streaks of their own in the upcoming long road stretch.
“I’m expecting Utah to be tough. They’re similar to us,” Hubbs said. “They’re in every game and they’ve found ways to not win some of them, but they’ve been close games.”
The team will head first to Utah on Friday before facing Oregon State and Pepperdine next week.