Pitching woes doom Trojans in loss

The Trojans are off to a scorching start at the plate through the first four games of the season, batting .316, hitting 8 home runs and scoring 44 runs as a team. USC has scored seven or more runs in each game this year. (Tomoki Chien | Daily Trojan)

On a cold and drizzly night at Dedeaux Field, the bats were ablaze for both the Trojans and the Anteaters, but it was UC Irvine who came out on top at the end of the offensive barrage, 8-7.

Although sophomore pitcher Caden Aoki started out the game strong with a one-two-three second inning for the Trojans, it quickly fell apart for him in the third inning. After he struck out an Irvine hitter to start the inning, Aoki gave up two straight singles to set up a first-and-third situation for junior center fielder Caden Kendle. The Anteater veteran laced a triple to earn his fifth and sixth RBIs on the season and give Irvine a 2-1 lead.

Irvine would score another run in the third inning but, after a mound visit, Aoki was able to get two more outs to end the inning. Aoki was pulled from the game after the third inning, but according to Head Coach Andy Stankiewicz, it was not due to his performance.

“He was on a pitch count. He’s coming off a bit of a shoulder deal and so we knew he was just going to give us a start here on Tuesday,” Stankiewicz said in an interview with the Daily Trojan. “He did a nice job. He got hit a little bit later. But the most encouraging thing was to see him out there.”

With Aoki out of the game, the Trojans had to rely on their bullpen to get the last 18 outs. Although the relief efforts started out strong, giving up just 2 runs in four innings, the Anteaters broke through in the eighth inning. Kendle had another extra-base hit to give his team an 8-6 lead, which is all Irvine would need on offense to win the game.

“I think [the bullpen was] just kind of a little bit off,” Stankiewicz said. “We were good in spurts, but we weren’t good enough to hold it and to be a little more competitive.”

Despite the loss, the Trojan offense was able to score at least 1 run against four of the five Irvine pitchers. Strong offensive performances have become a trend for the Trojans, with USC scoring at least seven runs in each of their four games this season. Redshirt freshman second baseman Bryce Martin-Grudzielanek led the charge, hitting a bases-clearing double in the fifth inning to tie the game at 4-4. Martin-Grudzielnek added his fourth RBI of the game off a groundout in the ninth inning to make the score 8-7. Despite scoring 7 runs, Stankiewicz wishes his team could constantly produce that offensive pressure. 

“I think we were kind of in spurts. We’ve put some good at-bats together, and then we kind of go. We just gotta be more consistent across the board and just really work on trying to put good at-bats together,” Stankiewicz said. “We had some big swings at times. We found ourselves chasing out of the zone, which is something that we’ve got to work on.”

Part of the lack of offensive consistency may have been due to the conditions for the game, with it being held at night and the weather getting down into the low 50s. This stopped the ball from traveling as far as it would have if it were hit during a warm, sunny day. Junior left fielder Carson Wells was a victim of this when, in the ninth inning, he smashed a ball into right-center field and started to jog around the bases as if he had hit a home run. The ball eventually hit the wall and did not go over the fence, forcing Wells to pick up speed to get into second base safely.

“Usually at night time here, it gets a little damp. The ball doesn’t travel as much,” Stankiewicz said. “And so we understand that’s what we have got to commit to, our line drive game.” 

Despite the loss, USC will use this as a learning opportunity to get better as the season goes on.

“We just gotta keep working, we have a long way to go,” Stankiewicz said. “Good teams win one-run ballgames and so the more we’re in them, the better prepared we are going to be.”

The Trojans will look to get back on track when they travel to Auburn for a three game series later this week. The games were supposed to be held at Dedeaux Field, but were moved to Auburn because of the rainy forecast in Los Angeles.