Trojan baseball falls short of series sweep against LMU

Redshirt freshman outfielder Rhylan Thomas picked up an RBI in the sixth inning during Sunday’s game. (Charlie McCollum | Daily Trojan)

After almost a year-long coronavirus-induced hiatus, USC baseball opened its season this weekend with a 2-1 series win over LMU. The young squad’s solid pitching and defensive agility allowed the Trojans’ to pitch a shutout in game two of the series but ultimately wasn’t enough in Sunday’s 11-inning nail-biter.

During the series opener on Friday the Trojans experienced a rough start at bat with no hits and only two walks over the first five innings of the game. Meanwhile, on the mound, redshirt-junior pitcher Isaac Esqueda allowed a single and double in the first inning, leading to two runs for the Lions.

Redshirt freshman fielder Tyresse Turner broke the ice offensively for USC with a sixth inning home run to right field. Redshirt junior right fielder Jamal O’Guinn made it a tie game the next inning.

USC’s relief pitchers shut down LMU’s chances to respond in the final two innings, and LMU’s sophomore pitcher Alex Burge allowed a single in the ninth and a pair of subsequent walks that cemented the 3-2 walk-off victory for USC. USC converted exactly three hits to three runs by the end of the game.

“[It] took us a while to settle in and then to get a victory. To start the season no matter what year it is, it’s always good to be 1-0,” head coach Jason Gill said. “You don’t ever want to be chasing .500, you want to be ahead of it.”

While Saturday’s fences didn’t see any action from USC’s bats the Trojans still managed to pull off a dominant 5-0 win. Turner, Clay and O’Guinn picked up RBI’s alongside freshman shortstop Nate Clow whose single in the first jump-started the offense.

On the defensive side, redshirt sophomore pitcher Chandler Champlain picked up from where he left off last season, striking out six batters while walking zero. 

With the help of redshirt sophomore first baseman Clay Owens and some outfield hustle from O’Guinn, only one LMU player advanced to third during Champlain’s six innings. Redshirt junior pitcher Brian Gursky made quick business of LMU’s batters during the final innings, striking out four of his 10 batters to pick up the save.

“They are trusting their defense and I think our defense played excellent behind them,” Gill said. “Zero errors and a lot of balls put in play, and so, that’s kind of a recipe for success.”

On Sunday, The Trojans let a 6-5 third inning lead slip away. For the next six innings the teams battled back-and-forth on the scoreboard, resulting in USC burning through six pitchers. In the ninth inning another fielding error allowed Lions’ freshman pinch hitter Evan Leibl to advance the runner on third and tie the game 8-8. 

“Offensively, I wouldn’t have changed a thing,” Owens said. “We put our team in the position to win the game multiple times, but it just didn’t work out for us in the end.”

USC looked like it could secure a win in the first extra inning with redshirt freshman second-baseman Connor Cirillo advancing to third. Unfortunately for USC, Cirillo was left stranded after redshirt junior shortstop Ben Ramirez grounded out to LMU’s pitcher. 

The game came down to the bottom of the 11th inning when USC redshirt junior pitcher Jason Starrels allowed a single from junior centerfielder Kenny Oyama to seal the deal with a pinch runner scoring. 

Despite failing to close out the series sweep, several new Trojans stepped up and proved themselves in the team’s first outing. Clow, who logged his first RBI Saturday, also clinched a homerun on Sunday in his debut as a freshman pitcher and shortstop. Behind the plate, freshman catcher Garrett Guillemette led the defense with 18 total putouts and one assist with a second-base stealing caught on Sunday. The freshman also logged two hits and a run over the course of the series. 

The Trojans now look forward to a home series against Cal Poly next weekend. First pitch is Friday at 5 p.m.