Baseball crushes Cardinal on the road

USC won its first true-road series of the season as it searches for momentum.

Sophomore outfielder Austin Overn started the season slow but is currently riding an eight-game hitting streak with five hits against Stanford. (Vic Xu / Daily Trojan)

History tends to repeat itself, and USC baseball should hope it does.

The Trojans (7-13, 3-3 Pac-12) went into a weekend series against Stanford (9-9, 3-3) needing some momentum after their early season struggles. They return home from the Sunken Diamond with just that momentum, taking two of three from the Cardinal, including Sunday’s rubber match after splitting the first two games.

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“I’m just happy for the guys because they just stayed in the fight,” said Head Coach Andy Stankiewicz in an interview with USC Athletics. “If we stay together, don’t point fingers, stay within ourselves and play as a team, we got a chance to keep getting better.”

USC came into the series with triple the number of losses to its name than wins, needing a jolt to spark its team. Although the situation was much more dire this year, the Trojans had similar circumstances heading into their matchup with the Cardinal last season. USC was 15-6-1 heading into the 2023 series but, after taking the final two games from Stanford, finished the season on a 27-16 run.

The Trojans hope for a similar turnaround, as they finally showed flashes of success during their weekend trip to the Bay. It was the young guns who got it done for USC at the plate, another trend that has seemed to carry over from last season.

Sophomore catcher Jacob Galloway continued his hot start to the season, driving in four runners to lead the Trojans in RBIs as he’s turned into one of USC’s most consistent players. But it was sophomore outfielder Austin Overn and freshman outfielder Brayden Dowd who stole the show.

Overn had a poor start to the year but is riding an eight-game hitting streak, hitting .419 during the span to improve his season batting average to .268. The sophomore continued to show off his speed, somehow turning a knock toward the left-center gap into a triple during USC’s 5-2 Friday night win.

Dowd, the other young performer, has only played in five games this season, with three of them coming against Stanford. The outfielder recorded four hits in five at-bats on the weekend, including the game-winning RBI on Sunday afternoon as he drove in the ninth run in USC’s 12-8 win with his first career triple.

“I liked the fact we won in the late innings,” Stankiewicz said in the interview with USC Athletics. “There were some good at bats late to keep the train moving.”

But it was different for USC on the mound, as the veterans carried the load. Junior pitcher Caden Aoki tossed his best outing as the Trojans’ Friday night starter, allowing only one earned run across six innings. 

Although Aoki came into the season as USC’s best pitcher — recording a Pac-12-best 2.98 ERA last season — this was only his first quality start in 2024.

“That was personal for our team, it’s now or never,” Aoki said in an interview with USC Athletics after Friday night’s win. “That was Trojan baseball through and through, so that feels really good for all of us.”

Junior pitchers Josh Blum and Xavier Martinez closed out Aoki’s start with three innings of one-run ball to give the Trojans only their second win when scoring five runs or less.

“[Martinez] piggybacking me was just outstanding,” Aoki said in the interview with USC Athletics. “He was practically the nail in the coffin it felt like, him going out and shutting them out for two innings, and we know we have Blum next. It just feels really good, and you know Blum is going to do that every time.”

Graduate pitcher Jared Feikes continued the veteran dominance out of the bullpen Sunday, managing three innings of work and only giving up one Cardinal run.

In total, upperclassmen relief pitchers — juniors, seniors and graduates — combined for a 5.21 ERA across 12.1 innings, which might seem high but not when considering Blum gave up three of the earned runs in his third inning of work Sunday when USC had already amassed a six-run lead. 

“The bullpen is huge, because if you’re coming out of the bullpen, it’s probably a big moment,” Stankiewicz said in the interview with USC Athletics. “So you gotta be ready to embrace that role.”

This Stanford team might not be as potent as last year’s edition — losing nine players to the MLB Draft, including Pac-12 batting champion Tommy Troy, Pac-12 Player of the Year Alberto Rios and Pac-12 Pitcher of the Year Quinn Mathews — but the series win should not be discounted for USC against a Cardinal team that has made three straight trips to the College World Series.

“It’s always big,” Stankiewicz said in the USC Athletics interview. “You win a series on the road in this conference, it’s a big deal.”

The Trojans were able to parlay their success over Stanford into a 7-3 win over Long Beach State (10-8-1, 0-3 Big West) on the road Tuesday night, suggesting that the wins over the Cardinal might have turned the tide for the second straight season.

USC will look to take its momentum from the series against the Cardinal into its crosstown showdown matchup with the UCLA Bruins (7-11, 2-4 Pac-12). The Trojans will travel to Jackie Robinson Stadium for the three-game set between Friday and Sunday.

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