USC continues winless streak with loss against Riverside

USC baseball player up at bat waiting for a pitch.
The Trojans comeback hopes were amiss as they fell to Riverside Wednesday night. (Louis Chen | Daily Trojan)

On a brisk and windy night at Dedeaux Field, the Trojans fell short of a comeback against UC Riverside in the two programs’ first matchup since 2012. The atmosphere in the stadium seemed to mirror the game; there was a sense in the bleak air among the mere 179 fans that the game wasn’t going to fall the Trojans’ way. USC had the tying runner on third base in the bottom of the ninth, but redshirt freshman infielder and UCLA transfer Bryce Martin-Grudzielanek could not cash in, as the Trojans fell to the Highlanders 6-5.

The Trojans had a rough start from the very beginning. Sophomore starting pitcher Fisher Johnson gave up a triple to junior utility Tyler Weaver on the game’s opening pitch. It was a windy night in Los Angeles, and senior right fielder Cole Gabrielson struggled to catch the flyball from Weaver that looked routine. Johnson only surrendered one run in the first inning, but in two innings pitched, the pitcher allowed six hits and three earned runs. 

“He was up in the zone. He’s got good stuff, he’s a sinker ball guy … and once you get the ball up, wherever you’re playing, you’re gonna get hit a little bit.” said Head Coach Andy Stankiewicz in a postgame interview. “So he just left some balls up around the zone instead of sinking it like he usually does.”

The Highlanders stormed out to a 3-0 lead, but the Trojans quietly came back in the second inning with a pair of bases-loaded free passes to tie the game at three. Senior catcher Connor Clift had a big day at the plate. Clift batted in the Trojan’s first run of the ball game, and hit his first career home run in a USC uniform in the eighth inning to cut UC Riverside’s lead to two. 

As for lineup changes for the Trojans, Clift made his third start behind the dish, and freshman infielder Ethan Hedges made his second start of the season at first base.

“We’re trying to figure out who needs to be where … We want to give other guys opportunities as well.” Stankiewicz said. “Clift was swinging the bat, he had a good day offensively as well, just creating opportunities for guys and some guys are taking advantage of it.”

Ultimately, the one thing that hurt the Trojans was the control of their pitchers. USC’s eight pitchers walked six batters and hit one. 

“Unfortunately [walks were] a big part of it. You can’t give free bases up. We gave up too many in those middle innings as we gave up three [runs].” Stankiewicz said. “It’s a tough lesson, we got to be better.”

The Trojans will look to snap their five-game winless streak over the weekend with matchups against Sacramento State, Tulane, and UCLA. Stankiewicz has no concern about the availability of arms even though he used seven pitchers out of the bullpen Wednesday.

“Everybody went one [inning], so our bullpen will be ready to go this weekend,” Stankiewicz said. 

Junior right-handed pitcher Tyler Stromsborg will get the nod Friday night against Sacramento State. Stromsborg is 1-1 on the season with a 5.73 ERA. He will be looking to limit the walks and raise his strikeout rate against the 6-1 Hornets.

“[We] need a big night out of Stromsborg, we need him to pitch well and get deep into the game and give us an opportunity to put runs on the board, but he’ll be ready to go,” Stankiewicz said. “I have no doubt in my mind, he’s been steady and getting better in his outings.”

Although the Trojans are averaging 8.75 runs per game, while hitting .302 as a team, Stankiewicz made a point about how the bats needed an awakening against UC Riverside. 

“We didn’t swing the bats well. We were swinging the bats well in spurts, we chased out of the zone, the wind was blowing in, we got to hit line drives … big swings in conditions like this it’s just hard,” Stankiewicz said. “It’s a good lesson offensively for us as well.”

To top that, it’s even more difficult to win games when pitchers have a combined 5.53 ERA. 

The big showdown over the weekend is on Sunday when the Trojans travel to Jackie Robinson Stadium to take on the crosstown rival UCLA Bruins. The Bruins are 6-2 on the season, ranked No. 17 in the nation. 

USC swept their opening series against Marist, but have struggled since.

“We won three out of the gate, you know we’ve struggled since, so we just got to figure out a way to get a win … bounce back and play good complete [baseball],” Stankiewicz said.

The Trojans will look to get back in the win column as they take on Sacramento State at Dedeaux Field Friday night at 6:30 p.m.