Trojan baseball finds success in Pac-12 opening series

The USC baseball team improved its record to 11-5 after a series win against Utah at home over the weekend. The Trojans took two out of three games against the Utes, coming off a 3-2 win at Dodger Stadium over No. 17 UCLA.

Photo by Alex Zhang | Daily Trojan

The Trojans won the first and third games of the series against Utah, and USC’s improvement on the mound this season was evident in their victories. The team threw a combined no-hitter in the first game, led by 7.2 stellar innings from freshman starter Kyle Hurt.

“I just felt really good out there,” Hurt told USC Athletics. “I didn’t really know I had the no-hitter going until the fifth inning. After I finally realized I was just going into the dugout, taking deep breaths and trying to keep myself composed.”

The sophomore tandem of relievers Austin Manning and closer Connor Lunn finished the job, bailing out an offense that mustered just two runs on nine hits.

“It was huge to have [Manning] and [Lunn] finish that off,” Hurt told USC Athletics. “[Manning] did a great job getting a quick out in the eighth and then of course [Lunn] picked up his sixth save of the year. It was pretty fun.”

Lunn continued to excel in his sixth save of the young season and Hurt earned his second win in 2018.

“[Hurt] really set the tone tonight,” head coach Dan Hubbs said. “Giving up no hits into the eighth inning is an incredible feat … I was just proud of how our guys stuck with it time after time. The story of the night is really Kyle throwing 7.2 no-hit inning and what a great job the pitching and defense did.”

But the Trojan bats faltered again in a 4-0 loss the next day, as the lineup couldn’t get anything going against Utes senior starter Tanner Thomas. The Men of Troy managed only two hits, both in the second inning, and wasted a nice performance from junior reliever Solomon Bates — who gave up one hit and struck out six batters in 3.1 innings of work.

USC’s hitters would spring to life in Game 3, however. In the second inning, redshirt junior infielder Stephen Dubb hit a double to right center, driving in 2 runs. In the seventh, after a sacrifice fly from sophomore pinch hitter Brady Shockey made it a 3-run game, outfielder Matthew Acosta hit a 2-run home run to make the score 5-0.

“I thought the guys responded well after getting shut out yesterday and came out ready to play,” Hubbs told USC Athletics. “I was proud of them for that.”

The Utes scored 2 runs in the ninth, but the outcome was never truly in doubt. Junior pitcher Quentin Longrie picked up the win after tossing seven shutout innings.

“We definitely wanted to take care of business this weekend,” junior shortstop Chase Bushor told the Pac-12 Network. “Tough loss last night, but it was good to see the team rally together and come out and get a good win today.”

The Trojans will play a road game Tuesday against UC Irvine, which stands at 10-8 after dropping the final two games of their last series with Utah Valley. Irvine is headlined by senior first baseman Ryan Fitzpatrick, who leads the team with a .350 batting average and 14 RBIs. USC’s pitching staff will have to deal with him carefully.

Early in the season, the Trojans have established themselves as one of the premier fielding teams in the nation, ranking first in college baseball in fielding percentage at .993 and errors with just four in 16 games. These are the stats of a polished team, a far cry from the youthful struggles of the 2017 season, and they make the Trojans much harder to defeat when the team doesn’t beat itself with poor performances. If USC can continue this success in the field, they could earn a few extra wins in a competitive Pac-12.

As for possible areas of improvement, redshirt junior third baseman Angelo Armenta and junior outfielder Lars Nootbaar have struggled early in 2018. Armenta is hitting just .191 with three RBIs so far this season. Nootbaar, expected to be the Trojans’ leading hitter coming into the season, hasn’t been much better with a .208 batting average and three RBIs. As two of the more experienced players on the team, USC will need these two to pick it up if the team is to reach its full potential.

After they take on the Anteaters, the Trojans begin a three-game road series against No. 3 Stanford on Friday.