Baseball in need of sense of urgency after three straight losses

USC faltered in all phases of its game at three-day invitational in the desert.

Sophomore outfielder Austin Overn hit his first triple of the season against BYU. Overn recorded 14 three-baggers last season. For his production, the California native was named a Freshmen All-American. (Jasper Wolf / Daily Trojan)

The Trojans’ trip to the desert culminated in a frustrating loss Sunday.

USC traveled east for the MLB Desert Invitational, marking the opening of the 2024 baseball season. The invitational featured a game against Brigham Young University on Friday and Grand Canyon University on Saturday, and wrapped up Sunday against Ohio State.

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BYU struck early, putting up a three-spot in the second inning against Trojans’ junior pitcher Caden Aoki. A walk started the rally for the Cougars, followed by a soft grounder to the left side, resulting in a throwing error by freshman infielder Abbrie Covarrubias. A flare to right center loaded the bases with no outs. A perfectly placed infield single got BYU on the board. A critical 6-4-3 double play gave BYU its second run of the game without the benefit of a hard-hit ball. A single by sophomore outfielder Luke Anderson gave the Cougars their third run of the inning — all being unearned.

“We came in a little hesitant,” said Head Coach Andy Stankiewicz in a video that USC Baseball posted Sunday night on X, formerly known as Twitter. “Not trusting our training.”

Aoki settled in, striking out four in three shutout innings to keep the Trojans within striking distance. A lead-off, fifth-inning triple from sophomore outfielder Austin Overn and a sacrifice fly by senior infielder Ryan Jackson got the Trojans on the board.

BYU responded immediately with four runs in the sixth, courtesy of a two-run home run by freshman designated hitter Kuhio Aloy and a two-run home run by freshman infielder Easton Jones. 

USC didn’t manage a hit the remainder of the game while the Cougars added one more in the eighth. 

“We got to be more of a line drive approach,” Stankiewicz said. “I know that’s not popular. For what we are at, that’s got to be our style of game.”

USC struck out the Cougars 15 times in the game but only recorded three hits themselves. 

Game two was complete deja vu for the Trojans. GCU got on the board early, with the second pitch of the game going for a double from senior utility Tyler Wilson. A walk and two hits later led to a pivotal turning point for the Trojans. An errant throw by Overn, which could not be handled by Covarrubias, trickled into the dugout, allowing two to score.

“Our defense was away from us,” Stankiewicz said in the video USC Baseball posted on X Sunday night. “We’ve got to get these young men to understand it’s not just about offense, it’s about playing good defense, it’s about good baserunning, all of it.”

Similar to the first game, senior pitcher Tyler Stromsborg settled in going three scoreless after the first inning debacle. USC got its first and only run of the game on their first home run of the year from sophomore catcher Jacob Galloway.

“[Galloway] was a bright spot,” Stankiewicz said. “He stayed inside the ball really well. Not trying to do too much. He’s a great example of someone who has trust in himself.”

GCU plated one more run in the sixth inning off a home run by junior infielder Beau Ankeney. The Antelopes crushed two more  home runs in the final inning, by Ankeney again and redshirt junior infielder Eli Paton.

Junior right-handed pitcher Xavier Martinez struggled in one inning of relief for the Trojans, giving up three runs. 

USC orchestrated only four hits in the game in 30 at-bats, and struck out 13 times. 

“Chasing out of the zone, getting anxious with two strikes,” Stankiewicz said in the video USC Baseball posted on X Sunday night. “That’s a huge part of having good at-bats — controlling the strike zone — and we didn’t control the strike zone very well.”

On Sunday, the rubber match against Ohio State was set. In the fourth inning, USC struck first with a two-out rally, scoring two runs off back-to-back doubles by Galloway and sophomore catcher  Luca DiPaolo. The Buckeyes answered immediately with one in their half of the fourth. In the fifth they added two more runs, highlighted by a hit-and-run with junior left fielder Trey Lipsey scoring from first on a double by sophomore shortstop Henry Kaczmar.

Ohio State got one more run in the sixth and eighth, with the latter being unearned. The Trojans tallied five hits in the game, with Galloway accounting for three of the five.

“I know we are a much better team than what we’ve shown here,” Stankiewicz said. “We’re gonna get better.”

The Trojans finished the weekend committing six errors over the three games. On offense, they weren’t better, hitting 12-for-94 over the course of the three games.

“If we continue to play this way, we are going to continue to be frustrated,” Stankiewicz said. “There comes a time as an athlete where you say to yourself, ‘Enough is enough.’ I am hoping that our players here are gonna get in this bus and say, ‘That’s enough man, I’m gonna come back and start playing baseball the way I know how to play.’”

USC will look to bounce back Wednesday at 6:30 p.m. at Page Stadium against Loyola Marymount University.

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