Trojans hang on for wild 15-10 victory
USC head coach Dan Hubbs calls his team the “cardiac kids” because of his players’ propensity for late-inning drama.
It’s unclear exactly how close they came to actually giving him a heart attack on Sunday against Utah, but they couldn’t have been that far off.
The Trojans (16-23, 8-10 Pac-12) blew a 10-2 lead, allowing a game-tying single with two outs in the bottom of the ninth, before scoring five runs in the tenth and taking the rubber match of the three-game series against the Utes 15-10.
“Hey, it was nice to jump out to the big lead,” said an understandably pleased Hubbs. “A lot of good happened over the weekend, and we played great on Sunday, really, except for that one inning.”
But that one inning almost did the Trojans in. USC led 8-1 after three innings and 10-2 after five, the highlight being a two-RBI triple by freshman outfielder Timmy Robinson, who was 3-for-6 and has seen his average jump 80 points in the last month and 20 this weekend alone.
Junior Bob Wheatley, the Trojans’ ace for much of the season, returned from injury after missing his last two starts. He tossed two perfect innings in a controlled outing before usual Sunday starter Kyle Twomey came on in relief. The freshman allowed a pair of runs over three pretty rough innings of work before bowing out before the sixth.
“I figured we’d have two guys go two innings each, and then we’re good to go,” Hubbs said.
If only it were that simple.
Sophomore Nigel Nootbaar allowed hits to the first three hitters he faced in the sixth, putting him in a jam with runners at second and third and a run already in. Then the USC defense made three errors on its next two plays, allowing two more runs to come in and cutting the lead to 10-5.
“We really threw and kicked the ball around,” Hubbs said. “And that obviously didn’t help [Nootbaar], especially because he wasn’t pitching well anyways.”
Freshman Brent Wheatley came in with runners at the corners and nobody out and promptly walked the first hitter he faced to load the bases. He induced a sacrifice fly out of the next hitter, but then allowed a single, a double and hit a batter before he was removed with two on, one out and seven runs in.
“It was kind of unbelievable,” Hubbs said of that sixth inning. “You’re just trying to make it stop.”
Fellow freshman Kyle Davis came in to stop the bleeding, getting a pair of strikeouts to mercifully end the inning after seven runs, five hits, three errors, a walk and a hit batsman. What was a 10-2 lead was suddenly 10-9.
Davis pitched well, sending Utah down quietly in the seventh and eighth before the Utes mounted a rally in the ninth, eventually plating the game-tying run on a bloop single with two outs.
Seemingly dead in the water, having just blown an eight-run lead and having not scored since the fifth inning, the Trojans roared back in the 10th. Robinson smacked a bases-loaded single through the left side to score a pair, giving him five RBI for the day.
Freshman left fielder Bobby Stahel followed that up with a two-RBI double and then scored on a wild pitch to put the Trojans up 15-10. Davis came back out for the bottom of the inning to seal a victory for USC.
“Hey, to put up five in the 10th after blowing an eight-run lead, that shows a lot,” Hubbs said. “I was really pleased with the way we bounced back.”
All told, USC set a season high in runs with 15 and hits with 22. It’s the first time the Trojans had 20-plus hits in a game since their 21-hit performance in May 2008 against UC Riverside.
The Sunday finale was in sharp contrast to the relatively routine games that preceded it. Utah smacked the lifeless Trojans 10-0 in the opener on Friday, the first time all year USC was shut out.
The Trojans returned the favor with a 7-4 win on Saturday that wasn’t as close as the score indicates. USC was up 7-1 headed into the ninth, but surrendered three runs in that final frame, perhaps a foreshadowing of the cardiac arrest to come the following day.
The Trojans continue their road trip with the first of a three-game series against Oregon State in Corvallis, Ore. on Friday, with the first pitch slated for 4 p.m.